Weigel at WaPo, on Tea Party

Good to see Slate’s David Weigel wearing his old WaPo jersey today, penning a Tea Party primer that breaks down five myths about the grassroots movement he calls “the most obsessed-over and overanalyzed political backlash since the 1960s.”

Think the Tea Party is a reaction to bank bailouts and not President Obama? Weigel counters:

If you think the tea party would have risen up to oppose a Republican president who spent like mad and violated conservative principles, then where was it in the Bush years?

Think the movement is hurting the GOP?

The tea party movement is giving Republicans a dream of an electorate, one in which surveys find more GOP-inclined voters enthusiastic about casting ballots than voters who lean Democratic. Democrats have done some damage to the tea party brand — its favorability has fallen in polls — but in general, the presence of a new political force that is not called Republican and is not tied to George W. Bush has given the GOP a glorious opportunity to remake its image, at a time when trust in the party is very low.

And if you think they’re going to become a legit “party,” well, think again.

The tea party is unlikely to even reach third-party status, because the vast majority of its members — up to 79 percent, in some polls — identify as Republicans and are savvy enough not to take actions that would help Democrats. (Liberals only wish that Ralph Nader thought like this.)

One of the myths we’ve spoken about—the assumption that this is one unified movement—is tacitly torn down by Weigel when he addresses the myth that Sarah Palin might be the Tea Party’s leader. “They’d like to be leaderless for now, thank you very much,” he writes. Still, it’s a pretty big point, and it would have been nice to see this sixth myth addressed more fully.

Weigel will wear the CJR jersey for our September/October magazine, which features a piece by the Tea Party expert arguing that the left-wing media’s dismissive and combative coverage helped the movement grow into a force. Here’s a sneak preview:

The attacks by the left press convinced them that they were onto something, that they were irritating the right people. The most offensive attacks—when CNN’s Anderson Cooper and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow referred to them as “teabaggers,” for instance—were met with demands for an apology. Attacks on the funding of the movement were brushed aside as partisan smears of a self-financed, grassroots uprising. “The attacks absolutely helped us,” says Eric Odom, a Republican activist named in the Playboy story. “Beyond the ‘tea bag’ stuff, look at the charge that we’re racist. The vast majority of this movement is not racist. When we hear things like that, we take it personally. We find it to be insulting and it makes us work even harder.

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Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor.