Tea Party Rise to Power Rebrands GOP

By Seth Sandronsky

Anthony DiMaggio is a social justice activist who has written a timely book on the myths and realities of the Tea Party, with its ties to corporate and GOP interests, and sheen of a grassroots social movement.

He disentangles big money and media errors of fact in The Rise of the Tea Party: Political Discontent and Corporate Media in the Age of Obama (Monthly Review Press). DiMaggio carefully looks at the reporting on the Tea Party and flawed assumptions. They yield mistaken conclusions.

Thus we see how the public got scant news on Tea Party incumbents’ role in national legislation that laid the groundwork for the housing crash and Great Recession. DiMaggio shows how the same news outlets, with Fox news in the lead, portrayed “insurgent” Tea Party politicians as challengers to GOP incumbents.

Political donors from the health-care, and real estate, finance, insurance and real estate industries laughed no doubt at this tactic. Accordingly, Tea Party railing against the alleged socialism of President Obama’s corporate-driven health-care reform has become a standard GOP talking point to deceive and distract.

For a half-year, DiMaggio and Paul Street, a radical author and commentator, observed local Tea Party chapters in the Chicago metro area. What they uncovered confirmed DiMaggio’s findings from interviews and public polls on the national Tea Party movement.

Locally and across the US it is a GOP-led, top-down, corporate-media driven phenomenon that uses “falsehoods, manipulation, and propaganda in communicating with their right-wing base.” One favorite is “out-of-control” federal deficit spending, and not the shortage of jobs that pay livable wages with benefits, as the main economic problem facing the US public. Despite weak local infrastructure and organizing, the Tea Party brand of the GOP has credibility as “an outsider force” to the two-party system.

Meanwhile, public anger over income inequality and job insecurity grows. The emergence of the Tea Party is a complex process. In brief, it is both a cause and an effect of a US governance crisis.

DiMaggio’s analysis of mass media coverage of the Tea Party expands the propaganda model of Chomsky and Herman [in Manufacturing Consent] that centers on official sourcing and US foreign policy. In DiMaggio’s model, domestic groups such as the Tea Party that back investor class interests that buy the ads that fund the corporate media are worthy of news focus.

The author’s use of data from the Pew Research Center and scholarly literature amplifies his point that such partisan, mainstream and even left-wing journalism largely missed the Tea Party’s “elitist, top-down organization structure.” Its aim was and is to “manufacture dissent.” We see how and why mass media’s uncritical reporting after the 2008 financial crash under President Bush 2 enabled a “rebranding” of the GOP as a populist political force. In this way, Republicans nabbed increased support from independent voters for the 2010 mid-term elections.

Credit falsely claims such as the one from Sarah Palin, former vice presidential candidate did, that President Obama’s health-care reform compelled “death panels” would ration treatment for elderly patients. Press coverage of her howler far surpassed reporting on single-payer health care, as DiMaggio details.

In a conclusion, he writes of a genuine grassroots movement in Wisconsin that contrasts with the Tea Party’s activism. Its robust rival has become the Occupy movement. DiMaggio serves up a rigorous political analysis of the Tea Party. His book is required reading.

Seth Sandronsky writes in Sacramento. Email ssandronsky@yahoo.com.

From The Progressive Populist, March 1, 2012


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