Monday, October 04, 2010

Frank Rich and Sarah Palin's Tea Partying "Real Americans"

Frank Rich's weekend column is a Beltway Village classic: The Very Useful Idiocy of Christine O'Donnell New York Times 10/02/2010. On the face of it, Rich is doing a counterintuitive critique of the Republican Party in its "Tea Party" mode. But it also displays some of the typical political pathologies of the Village.

Before I complain more, though, I will say that Rich often makes liberal points and makes them well. And if you read to the end of his column, you'll see that he does do a decent job of explaining some of the big-money backing for the Tea Party activities. His basic point about the Tea Party is correct, that its a way "to camouflage a billionaires' coup as a populist surge."

The problem is that he buries those useful points under a stock Village presentation.

Since one of the requirements of being a star pundit is an inability to read or analyze polling data beyond the who's-up/who's-down horse-race ones - and even those not very well - it's not surprising that Rich's column ignores much the actual polling data on who the Tea Partiers are.

And it lets him authoritatively declare one of the Village's favorite pieces of conventional wisdom: that rightwingers like Sarah Palin really do speak for Real Americans.

The O'Donnell template [for her public image as a candidate]... is Palin. It was Palin's endorsement that put O'Donnell on the map, and it's Palin's script that O'Donnell is assiduously following. The once obscure governor of Alaska was also tripped up by lies and gaffes when she emerged on the national stage, starting with her misrepresentation of her supposed opposition to "the bridge to nowhere." But she quickly wove the attacks into a brilliant cloak of martyrdom that positioned her as a fierce small-town opponent of the coasts' pointy-head elites. O'Donnell, like Palin, knows that attacks by those elites, including conservative grandees, only backfire and enhance her image as a feisty defender of the aggrieved and resentful Joe Plumbers in "real America." [my emphasis]
Uh, Frank, did you somehow fail to notice that Sarah Palin lost in her Vice Presidential bid? The postelection polling indicated that Palin was actually a drag on the McCain ticket (although I'm generally skeptical of the notion that the Vice Presidential nominee much matters in the final vote).

Since her 2008 loss, Palin has not been polling well among the general public. But part of the conceit of Village pundits like Rich is that they simultaneously speak for what the regular workin' folks and that those same Real Americans are basically conservative Republicans.

Rich does give the Pod Pundit conventional wisdom a liberal twist:

By latching on to O'Donnell's growing presence, the Rove-Boehner-McConnell establishment can claim it represents struggling middle-class Tea Partiers rather than Wall Street potentates and corporate titans. O'Donnell's value is the same as that other useful idiot, Michael Steele, who remains at the Republican National Committee only because he can wave the banner of "diversity" over a virtually all-white party that alternately demonizes African-Americans, Latinos, gays and Muslims.

O'Donnell is particularly needed now because most of the other Republican Tea Party standard-bearers lack genuine antigovernment or proletarian cred. Joe Miller and Ken Buck, the Senate candidates in Alaska and Colorado, actually are graduates of elite universities like those O'Donnell lied about attending. Rick Scott, the populist running for governor in Florida, was chief executive of a health care corporation that scooped up so many Medicare and Medicaid payments it had to settle charges for defrauding taxpayers. Rand Paul, the scion of a congressman, is an ophthalmologist whose calls for spending restraint don't extend to his own Medicare income. Carl Paladino, the truculent man of the people in New York, grew his fortune as a developer with government handouts and favors. His California bookend, Carly Fiorina, received a golden parachute worth as much as $42 million from Hewlett-Packard, where she liquidated some 20,000 jobs. [my emphasis]
Hello, Earth to Frank! Earth to Frank! The millionaire reactionary, John Birch Society Liebling, and shameless shill for corporate interests, St. Ronald Reagan, also passed himself off to the non-millionaire portion of his voters as a champion of what BP's former CEO this year famously called the Small People. The Villagers got thrills running up their legs for years from George W. Bush, the so-far-most-destructive member of one of the richest families in the country, because, you know, he was the sort of guy that a Real American would want to have a beer with. Or, a near-beer, since Bush was a dry drunk.

Of course, much the same of what he says about the personal backgrounds of those various Tea Party candidates could be said about regular Republican and also Democratic Senate candidates. Because our election processes in America rely so heavily on private fundraising and because statewide campaigns are so expensive, most Senate candidates of both parties wind up being someone with business, family and social connections that generally reflect a higher-than-average personal income, to put it mildly.

The fact that the process selects heavily for particularly wealthy individuals for such candidates is problematic in itself. It means that the Senate is composed of mostly personally quite wealthy individuals who also have to rely on other wealthy people for much of the fundraising they will need for their next race.

But in terms of their politics and their willingness to fight for the platforms on which they run, their personal wealth is only one factor, and typically not the most important one. In the California Governor's race right now, Democratic candidate Jerry Brown is from a wealthy family and is himself wealthy. The Republican candidate, Meg "eMeg" Whitman, is personally very wealthy and has distinguished herself by the large amount from her personal fortune that she has injected into her race. But Brown has a long record as a pro-labor Democrat. eMeg is a rich Republican with conservative policies and no experience in government that would make her another failed Governor like Schwarzenegger, if not worse.

And look at Rich's description of the Tea Party: "struggling middle-class Tea Partiers" who are looking for "proletarian cred." (?!?) Of course, repeating polling has shown that those who identify with the Tea Party are more affluent, older people, more male than female, who are loyal Republican voters. But because Rich wanted to write a column about how that quirky Christine O'Donnell is just what Real Americans are looking for, he can just ignore that stuff and write his preferred script.

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