Now that voter discontent has appeared in the bluest of blue states, and it's focused on the president's handling of terror, taxes, and health care, it's become much harder to marginalize Tea Party activists and other critics of the administration as:
"extremist mobs" by the Democratic National Committee, pawns of the insurance industry by Senator Dick Durbin, "un-American" by Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer, "brownshirts" by Representative Brian Baird of Washington, "manufactured" and "Astroturf" by White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, "evilmongers" by Senator Harry Reid, accused of "fear-mongering" by the president, and been deemed "political terrorists" by Representative Baron Hill of Indiana.
It was always wishful thinking to believe that town hall protesters were a tiny segment of the country— all sound and fury signifying nothing. Even when it was a smaller group, their concerns were legitimate. It was disrespectful and dumb of Democrats to smear people giving voice to their worries, evincing the exact arrogance that turned voters in Massachusetts away from Martha Coakley.
As Brown's win showed, it signified something, indeed. Perhaps Coakley's loss would not have snuck up on national Democrats and Coakley herself if they hadn't spent the last year minimizing and denigrating administration critics. It's easy to think you've got an election in the bag when you assume your only opposition is a tiny clan of noisy, redneck racists (and, how many of those could there by in Massachusetts, anyway?).
It's easy to do a mediocre job selling one's sweeping health-care overhaul when you assume anyone against it just lives to hate poor people and/or do violence to President Obama.
Democrats fooled themselves into believing the town-hall/Tea Party caricature and ignored the feelings of real Americans.
And, to their electoral detriment, the media (particularly the MSNBC crew) abetted them in this fantasy. As of last night, the media have finally started to change their tune on the Tea Party movement. I was shocked to hear Chris Matthews concede that Democrats had not learned to talk to those critical of the administration, to assuage their worries. Perhaps that was partly because their picture of those critics was painted by...Chris Matthews, who called 60-something veterans "terrorists," and compared peaceful protesters to aspiring Timothy McVeighs. Maybe that had something to do with the lack of engagement.
David Gregory took the same turn as Matthews this morning, saying of Scott Brown's message, on "Morning Joe:"
"This is about incumbency and whether government's working for you...What Scott Brown spoke to is whether government is working. That's what really cuts through all this is whether government is working for the peple. That's what's fueling the Tea Party movement."
Oh, is that what's fueling the Tea Party movement? A benign and even noble critique of government as overreaching and irresponsible, and unresponsive to the real needs of citizens while it's indulging giant, ideological power grabs? I could have sworn it was racism.
Flashback to David Gregory's take on the health-care town halls of August. Here is his line of questioning on an August 16 "Meet the Press." It was ostensibly an entire episode dedicated to "making sense" of health-care reform, but it started with a discussion which portrayed the raucous but almost entirely non-violent health-care town halls as fringe, violent, racist expressions:
MR. GREGORY: All right. But let’s talk about the tone of the debate. There have been death threats against members of Congress, there are Nazi references to members of Congress and to the president. Here are some of the images. The president being called a Nazi, his reform effort being called Nazi-like, referring to Nazi Germany, members of Congress being called the same. And then there was this image this week outside of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, a town hall event that the president had, this man with a gun strapped to his leg held that sign, “It is time to water the tree of liberty.” It was a reference to that famous Thomas Jefferson quote, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” That has become a motto for violence against the government. Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, had that very quote on his shirt the day of the bombing of the Murrah building when 168 people were killed.
Senator Coburn, you are from Oklahoma. When this element comes out in larger numbers because of this debate, what, what troubles you about that?
Coburn tries to answer but Gregory jumps in:
MR. GREGORY: That’s—but wait, hold on, I want to stop you there. I’m talking about the tone. I am talking about violence against the government. That’s what this is synonymous with.
The movement was synonymous with violence against the government in August, according to David Gregory. Now, it's about whether government is working for the people.
The truth, of course, is it was always about whether government is working for the people, not racism or violence or fringe militia groups. And, if the media or Democrats had bothered to treat Tea Partiers' concerns with a modicum of respect in August, they might still have their Massachusetts Senate seat in January.
Of course, not everyone can see with new eyes.