CNN and the "Tea Party": What's Going on Here?Submitted by Acharles on Tue, 09/13/2011 - 21:09
While watching the “Tea Party” sponsored debate last night, I couldn’t help noticing a few corollary aspects of the debate that were either simply paradoxical or the result of obfuscated presentation.
To be totally fair, technically the “Tea Party Express” (which is a definite group with a recognizable platform) was the co-sponsor of the debate last night. You wouldn’t know that from watching or reading the news though, so I think it's safe to use the generalizations that everyone in the media is presenting to the public. Besides, anyone who get’s offended or feels that it is inappropriate for me to use the general term “Tea Party” while making my points will only make my points that much more valid.
Ok. So, quite simply, what does it mean when we hear that the “Tea Party” is sponsoring a debate?
For starters, and I doubt this observation will be met with any serious objection, whatever people we are referencing when we evoke the “Tea Party”, we are referencing a vastly heterogeneous group. Moreover, (and again, this is not likely to be met with any serious objection) whatever banner this heterogeneous group is waving is either a recently woven banner or it is a banner being carried under a new name. That said, all political parties are heterogeneous to some extent, so let’s move on.
If the “Tea Party” is a party in the traditional political sense, what in creation are they doing sponsoring a Republican Party debate? How often do we find the Green Party clamoring to sponsor a debate for Libertarians? Or, more to the point, how would we feel about a CNN/ Tea Party debate for Democrats? I’m quite confident that, in the later case, people would be immediately stuck with confusion and would recognize that the two groups, regardless of how the comparatively more homogeneous media relentlessly portrays them, could not be synonymous, or they would cease to be exclusive. It should seem downright bizarre for any party, other than the Republican Party, to be sponsoring a debate between candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, unless the party in question is not a party in the political sense.
Ok. With that in mind, again, what exactly is a “Tea Party” sponsored debate?
CNN’s own Sam Feist suggested that the reason for a “Tea Party” debate is because “the Tea Party has become an important force”. Fair enough. The implicit congruency of this force notwithstanding, let’s grant, for the sake of argument, that it is possible for CNN to accurately and adequately capture and portray the force of the “Tea Party”. Given that absolutely no one is in agreement yet about what, or who, constitutes the “Tea Party”, it would seem a brazenly audacious undertaking for CNN to highlight it’s positions, in the course of 2 hours, without even a tenuous attempt to qualify the limitations of this method. If positioning this as a debate that would present the "force" of the Tea Party was a brazenly audacious and, by any reasonable standards, a failed undertaking, I’ll grant a pardon; since we all make mistakes. If it’s neither of those things, I think I’m starting to understand why political discourse is such a dishonest circus, and why people like Rick Perry and Mitt Romney, who have never been able to figure out where they stand on substantive issues effecting liberty, and who’s records, when matched up against their current rhetoric, seem like something straight out of a George Orwell novel, are not only “frontrunners” for the republication nomination, but received the most face time during a “Tea Party” debate.
Since it’s foolish to assume motives; I’m not inclined to either give pardon or to believe, just yet, that 2+2 might sometimes equal 5. I am, however, a huge proponent of musing, just for it’s own sake.
What if it’s true that Ron Paul and his views are the foundation of the entire grass-roots movement that coined the phrase “Tea Party” to begin with? Some of us remember the first time “Tea Party” was ever used in politics. We remember that it was the spontaneous, grass-roots supporters of Ron Paul’s last candidacy who, in the spirit and remembrance of the Boston Tea party, had a tea party of their own, and raised an astonishing 6 million dollars in 24 hours for Dr. Paul.
Those of us who have been paying attention remember when the “Tea Party” was a party, like one might have in recognition of a birthday, to celebrate the message of liberty as carried and presented by Ron Paul. In short, we remember when it was something real; something recognizable. C.S. Lewis, in his brilliant mediation on the importance of precise language, put it thus:
“The word gentleman originally meant something recognizable; one who had a coat of arms and some landed property. When you called someone "a gentleman" you were not paying him a compliment, but merely stating a fact. If you said he was not "a gentleman" you were not insulting him, but giving information. There was no contradiction in saying that John was a liar and a gentleman; any more than there now is in saying that James is a fool and an M.A. But then there came people who said - so rightly, charitably, spiritually, sensitively, so anything but usefully - "Ah but surely the important thing about a gentleman is not the coat of arms and the land, but the behavior? Surely he is the true gentleman who behaves as a gentleman should? Surely in that sense Edward is far more truly a gentleman than John?" They meant well. To be honorable and courteous and brave is of course a far better thing than to have a coat of arms. But it is not the same thing. Worse still, it is not a thing everyone will agree about. To call a man "a gentleman" in this new, refined sense, becomes, in fact, not a way of giving information about him, but a way of praising him: to deny that he is "a gentleman" becomes simply a way of insulting him. When a word ceases to be a term of description and becomes merely a term of praise, it no longer tells you facts about the object: it only tells you about the speaker's attitude to that object.”
Along those lines- what if it’s true that, unless the term “Tea Party” is seriously divorced and from this original meaning, having Ron Paul as anything less than the absolute focal point of the entire debate would reflect a glaring paradox? I would liken it to a group of superheroes all on stage with Superman; all trying to convince an audience of self-proclaimed Superman supporters that they are, in fact, a better representation of Superman than Superman himself.
Most importantly, what if it’s true that what we see here is not a reflection of paradox, but a reflection of muddled terms and muddled minds? What if it’s true that the whole term “Tea Party” has ceased to mean something recognizable and has ceased to communicate anything about anyone? If that’s the case, I have serious doubts that the Ron Paul supporters are responsible for stretching the term to the point of utter uselessness; and I’d certainly like to understand how it happened. Maybe instead of hosting another “Tea Party” sponsored debate, CNN could do political discourse a legitimate service by helping us all understand what exactly the “Tea Party” is, and what exactly CNN is trying to accomplish on their behalf.