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Ridiculing the Tea Party Protests

Steve Benen and Jesse Taylor both note that some people participating in the “Tea Party” protests are less than highly articulate spokesmen for the cause, with the former referring to “low-information voters” interviewed by CNN and the latter, well, apparently having gotten over being tired of obscenities.

Scott Payne is right that it’s unfair to criticize ordinary citizens frustrated with the system and having the gumption to do something about it for not having a fully formed alternative agenda.  (It is, however, a fair criticism to make of intellectuals supporting said protests.)   Indeed, regardless of the cause, there are as many motivations for supporting it — or, as is more frequently the case, opposing it — as there are protesters.

Max Borders collects some examples of mainstream media personalities ridiculing the protesters and reminds us of Saul Alinsky’s Rule for Radicals number 5: “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. It’s hard to counterattack ridicule, and it infuriates the opposition, which then reacts to your advantage.”

The fact of the matter is that protesters are easy targets for ridicule. As Brian Moore points out, “no matter how persuasive a protest is, all it takes is one guy in the back with a performance art puppet show about some minorly related but irrelevant political topic, and the majority of Americans roll their eyes and shuffle nervously away.”  And, frankly, it’s seldom just a handful of weirdos because “the ‘average’ person does not attend protests, tea parties, or advocacy marches because the average person has a job, friends and family to attend to.”

So who does that leave to be attracted to these protest?  Right — precisely the people with those weirdo beliefs.  And there’s not even some critical mass of weirdos — the maximum allowable number is zero, because you can damn well be sure that if the is protest big enough to draw media attention, they are going to zoom in on the weirdo signs first thing.  And as professional opinion makers (pundits, talk shows, spokespeople) have become more and more prevalent, it skews things even further against the street protest.  Which is more convincing, a guy in a clean cut suit on CNN with a fancy degree laying out a position, using fancy studies and fancy statistics, or the kid on the local news screaming excitedly into the camera, waving his sign?   I’m not sure I know how you’d set things up to walk the fine line between weirdo exclusion and not seeming like a professional production.

We’ve moved beyond the civil rights marches, when people assembled wearing their Sunday finest to hear eloquent speeches and displayed quiet dignity while abuse was heaped upon them — thus demonstrating their humanity and winning converts to their cause.

But that’s why protests don’t work.

Photo by Flickr user skye820 under Creative Commons license.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. G.A.Phillips says:

    Not sure about the rest of the country but the signs in Madison WI. were mostly very intelligently done and very funny.

    It’s a good day for freedom of speech.

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  2. odograph says:

    That’s why small protests don’t work.

    (I remain sympathetic to the tea party protestors, but I pity them a bit too. To think “high taxes” are the problem at this point in time is to misunderstand our own history .. in more than one regard.)

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  3. Tlaloc says:

    *shrug*

    Goose-gander and all that. Given how much crap the right flicked at anti-war protesters (up to and including calling them traitors regularly) I can’t really work up too much sympathy when they get ridiculed during what is transparently a stunt with no intellectual rigor.

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  4. nevrdull says:

    “THEY TOOK OUR JOBS!!”[*scnr]

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  5. Tlaloc says:

    *they took our jobs!*

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  6. just me says:

    Odo-while I am not a participant, what I have read from those who are-the objection isn’t to taxes themselves, but wasteful spending. Now what is or isn’t wasteful and where the tipping point hits is up for debate, but if you think the point of the protests is to object to taxes, then you haven’t been paying attention-or at least you haven’t been paying attention to the right people.

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  7. An Interested Party says:

    Perhaps these things could be taken more seriously if the same actions had been taken with a Republican president and a majority-Republican Congress…it’s not like the things they are protesting just started this past Inauguration Day…

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  8. Bithead says:

    If protests don’t work, at least in the long term, explain to us how the Democrats have all three branches of government.

    40 years and longer of screaming at the slightest provocation is exactly why they’re in power as we speak.

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  9. James Joyner says:

    40 years and longer of screaming at the slightest provocation is exactly why they’re in power as we speak.

    They’re in power because they got more votes. They got more votes because the Republicans were in power for years and did a lousy job.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  10. Bithead says:

    You know as well as I that elections are largely about image. Are you really telling me that the image of Republicans, and thereby their election chances, were immune to the constant protests?

    Along that line, I would also suggest that he reason Republicans to so large a degree did a lousy job, was because to placate these very vocal protestors, we ended up electing not conservatives but centrists. Absent 40 years of screaming, the Republicans wouldn’t be trying to cow tow to the left, and would have been a far more conservative party than they are now.

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  11. G.A.Phillips says:

    They’re in power because they got more votes. They got more votes because the Republicans were in power for years and did a lousy job.

    James, they’re in power because they lie, CHEAT, steal, and have an indoctrinated voting pool, and because, some so called Republicans are just as stupid and gullible as all Democrats. and because of what you said and what Bit said.

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  12. odograph says:

    Odo-while I am not a participant, what I have read from those who are-the objection isn’t to taxes themselves, but wasteful spending. Now what is or isn’t wasteful and where the tipping point hits is up for debate, but if you think the point of the protests is to object to taxes, then you haven’t been paying attention-or at least you haven’t been paying attention to the right people.

    I’ve seen “born free but taxed to death” as a popular sign board.

    But taxdayteaparty.com makes a different sort of error in their “about”:

    The Tea Party protests, in their current form, began in early 2009 when Rick Santelli, the On Air Editor for CNBC, set out on a rant to expose the bankrupt liberal agenda of the White House Administration and Congress. Specifically, the flawed “Stimulus Bill” and pork filled budget.

    Do they actually want no “stimulus”? Do they understand where we are?

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  13. Teabaggin’ says:

    [...] Joyner notes, protests are generally pretty ineffective, and these seem likely to be, if anything, unusually counterproductive. At any rate, signs demanding Obama’s birth certificate or endeavoring to remind him that [...]

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  14. Tlaloc says:

    They’re in power because they got more votes. They got more votes because the Republicans were in power for years and did a lousy job.

    How sad is it that you actually have to explain this to people.

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  15. Tlaloc says:

    You know as well as I that elections are largely about image. Are you really telling me that the image of Republicans, and thereby their election chances, were immune to the constant protests?

    The protests were a symptom of the disease not the disease itself. Republican incompetence and corruption was the source of the ailment and the fact that said attributes became firmly equated with the republican brand is what killed off the party’s electoral chances. And the party has a lot of work to do to recover their brand identity.

    Along that line, I would also suggest that he reason Republicans to so large a degree did a lousy job, was because to placate these very vocal protestors, we ended up electing not conservatives but centrists. Absent 40 years of screaming, the Republicans wouldn’t be trying to cow tow to the left, and would have been a far more conservative party than they are now.

    Yeah, republicans spend ever so much time caring about lefty protesters.

    Please.

    Conservatives have had a hard time because of changing demographics and social priorities. Once, a good bit of gay or minority bashing was a successful election strategy but not so much anymore. In the 80s the “tax cut uber alles” routine played well, and won. But it’s been nearly 30 years, and that is still the sum total of the GOP’s economic platform. The decline of mainstream christianity, as well as the growing minority percentage of the populous, the growing acceptance of gays has left, oh and the lack of a serious world threat to replace the soviets has left the conservatives adrift.

    They just haven’t been able to adapt to the times, which isn’t surprising since their philosophy is about trying to force the times to stand still (“standing athwart history” and all that).

    So that’s why the republicans in general and conservatives in specific are hurting.

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  16. Bithead says:

    That wasn’t Republican incompetence. That was Republicans tilting left.

    Yeah, republicans spend ever so much time caring about lefty protesters.

    I can only assume you’re missing the point by intent. The republican leadership was in fact listening tot he left. Which, in turn is how for example we ended up with McCain being nominated. And Both Bushes, for that matter. We ended up with, at best, cetrists running the show.

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  17. [...] absent the left ’s desperately trying to downplay yesterday’s events, there will be those who will suggest there is no real effectiveness in the protesting we see. Even those on the right. But that’s simply not true. For 40 plus years, Democrats [...]

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  18. An Interested Party says:

    James, they’re in power because they lie, CHEAT, steal, and have an indoctrinated voting pool, and because, some so called Republicans are just as stupid and gullible as all Democrats. and because of what you said and what Bit said.

    I can only assume you’re missing the point by intent. The republican leadership was in fact listening tot he left. Which, in turn is how for example we ended up with McCain being nominated. And Both Bushes, for that matter. We ended up with, at best, cetrists running the show.

    If these kind of sentiments (hideously bitter and divorced from reality) are the standard among conservatives, it is no wonder that they hold little to no political power…

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  19. [...] Joyner notes, protests are generally pretty ineffective, and these seem likely to be, if anything, unusually counterproductive. At any rate, signs demanding Obama’s birth certificate or endeavoring to remind him that this is [...]

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  20. Bithead says:

    Amusing, given the context of what we’ve dealt with from the left for the aforementioned forty years and longer. Or had you forgetten you were already operating in that context?

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  21. An Interested Party says:

    Ahh, but according to your logic, it works for the left, but, obviously, it doesn’t work so well for the right…such a pity…

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