Media Over-Steeps the Tea Party
The arrival of the Tea Party on the political scene has been nothing short of explosive, as one can surmise from the movement’s incessant presence in the media. As a party, they are a relatively fringe group that argues primarily for fiscal conservatism and lower taxes. But as a news story, they are oh so much more—the Left has gone so far as to accuse the group of being a dangerous “cult,” while the right has championed the movement as a legitimate response to a growing government and out-of-control federal deficit. It seems that nobody quite knows what to make of the Tea Party, yet many believe that the future somehow rests on the fate of this particular group.
However, taking a step back, I find that neither of these assertions are true. While its politics may be flawed, the Tea Party is an entirely predictable and legitimate response to the record-high levels of public distrust in the government. It is a party born in a tumultuous time, amid the Great Recession and rising government mistrust, and regardless of who is responsible for the country’s current predicament, this is a group of organized and concerned citizens who honestly believe they are doing right by our nation. Additionally, political engagement is one of the pillars of democracy and has been integral in shaping our country into what it is today.
At the same time, examining the Tea Party in the context of the larger political system reveals that it does not have quite as much leverage as is conventionally thought. In a recent Texas gubernatorial primary race, not one of the Tea Party-endorsed candidates received a nomination, and they pulled such a low amount of shares of the total vote as to be nearly negligible. This proves that energy and passion don't amount to real political power, despite the media attention that comes with it.
The existence of the Tea Party and the public’s obsession with its ascent is more the fault of a broken media system—one that is ravenous for sound bites and intoxicated by fiery rhetoric. The question is whether the Tea Party movement would even exist in its current state if the media hadn’t been so eager to give them a platform. If there’s a lesson to take away from the Tea Party, it’s that sometimes the messenger deserves to get shot.