I actually feel guilty for making fun of these things. Or at least I start to feel guilty and then I read things like this. It’s true that many of the tea-party protestors were never interested in protesting spending or deficits before, but “Government spending” is, in and of itself, not a good or bad thing, any more than any other kind of spending. (Spending can be bad, but it can be good. Sometimes you make back what you spend.) It’s not about spending, it’s what you spend it on. It’s not surprising that conservatives are protesting the spending priorities of a Democratic administration.
But what makes these protests so confused and confusing is that they are being sold as protests against “spending,” in the generic sense, when they clearly are not about “spending,” they’re about what is being spent on. (Remember, conservatives wanted to replace the stimulus package with a package of tax cuts, which would cost the government as much or more. So the issue is not deficit spending; it’s that different sides have different ideas about how to run up a deficit during a recession.) For Fox News, this is a natural strategy: the network is trying to build a counter-cultural image to appeal to viewers who hate liberals but aren’t particularly proud of being Republicans. Focusing on buzzwords like “spending” and personalities like G. Beck helps to build that image. What they wind up doing is stirring up interests in protests that don’t seem to be against anything in particular, but that just helps re-enforce the network as the place to go if you’re upset and don’t really know why.
I do think that the message from the Tea Parties will gain traction, even though it makes no sense. Or maybe because of it. The other cable networks love the idea that “spending” is an all-purpose negative buzz word, at least when applied to domestic spending; they loved it during the Bush administration, they loved it during the Clinton administration, they always love it. The least-fair criticism of Bush was that he was a “big spender” on domestic programs (again, it doesn’t make sense to criticize “spending” independent of what the money is paying for), so it’s an all-purpose talking point that you’re going to be hearing a lot more of.
Looking for more?
Get the best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.