Rightbloggers had a big project last week: A series of “tea parties” across the country to protest Obama and his stimulus bill, inspired by comments by CNBC’s Rick Santelli (and, it has been suggested, by some rightwing pressure groups).
The results were not a great success, at least in the objective terms rightbloggers long ago abandoned. With some notable exceptions, the tea parties were very small, as even supporters’ photos revealed. They ranged in attendance from healthy hundreds in St. Louis to four souls in Boise, Idaho. In contrast, even a wholly unrelated single pro-immigrant rally in Phoenix drew thousands of protesters this weekend without the assistance of a CNBC shouting head or the message discipline of rightwing bloggers.
The best you could say for them was that they happened. Rightbloggers were the main publicists for the 40-odd rallies, and may be encouraged to have gotten even a few thousand widely-spaced conservatives to make signs and stand outdoors for a hour or two.
But that doesn’t matter: these rallies were not meant to sway ordinary citizens, who probably barely noticed them, but to assuage the hurt feelings of true believers out there in the blogosphere who will be delighted to hear that, in this Age of Obama, even a small number of people who believe the same things as they do stood in streets and parks and yelled in loud voices, as we reported from the New York tea party, to accuse Obama of socialism, communism, and fascism.
Rightbloggers could not, of course, just rest on these modest laurels. So they availed a few different kinds of spin to make their victory seem less Phyrric.
Some made extremely generous attendance claims for their protests. “They announced the crowd as being 600,” said Kay Brooks of the Nashville TP — though neither her photos (“I didn’t have the vantage point of being able to confirm that”) nor those of other citizen journalists supported this grand assertion, and the local TV news numbered the protesters in the “dozens.” “There could’ve been as many as 500 to 1000 people there,” said A Chicago Blog of their local event, though their own extensive photo gallery gives a more modest impression.
They were assisted in their fudging by strangely muddled mainstream media reports: St. Louis Today, for example, incuriously reported that “local conservatives… estimated the showing at more than 1,000 people” at their local TP; the St. Louis Fox News outlet (!) put the number around 400.
This left rightbloggers free to make outlandish attendance claims. “They said that conservatives don’t organize! They said that a crowd wouldn’t show!” cries an organizer in a Crystal Clear Conservative video of the D.C. tea party — which, despite the presence of rightwing celebrities Joe the Plumber and Michelle Malkin, the video clearly shows to have drawn a particularly puny crowd of dozens. But Malkin says in the video, through a rather unnecessary bullhorn, that she is speaking to “hundreds of people.”
Either conservative videographers and photographers are — despite the claims of Big Hollywood that the movement is full of artistic talent — so inept that they cannot convincingly portray the massive crowds attending the tea parties, or someone is playing with numbers.
Other rightbloggers, perhaps sensing attendance was not in itself convincing, informed us that the protesters were very excited to be protesting, showing the vitality of their movement. “To say the crowd was energized would be an understatement,” said the Peoples Press Collective of the apparently modest turnout in Denver. Elephants are People Too, which despite its own photographic evidence numbered the Houston protesters at 500, was encouraged that when its speeches were made, “many from the general public… would stop for a while, listen, and begin to nod their heads and clap.” Jane Q. Republican applauded the “over 40 people” she says showed up for Asheville’s tea party because, while sparse, “the protest was very positive and encouraging.”
The meme quickly spead that attendance numbers for the tea parties was not so important as the very fact of their existence. Top rightblogger Instapundit said, “it’s much bigger news when 200 people with jobs who’ve never protested turn out, than when 20,000 of the usual suspects organized by ACORN or ANSWER march with preprinted signs.”
“Conservatives don’t live for politics, unlike the Left,” concurred Backyard Conservative. “When we do turn out we are not a rent-a-mob with pre-printed signs bused in by union bosses or Obama’s precious ACORN.” “OK — it is a beginning,” said the Catholic Libertarian. “The Left has ACORN and an array of activist groups. They call a meeting and within a day have professionally printed signs and rhyming chants. Conservative groups tend to be more like think tanks, and unfortunately, lobbying groups.”
From this point of view, it’s not the quantity but the quality of the protesters that counts. Liberal causes draw hundreds of thousands of people, but they are of the wrong sort, whereas the tea parties drew hundreds of rightwing activists — definitionally a superior class of people. Thus rightbloggers could be satisfied that any number of protesters for their cause constituted a major victory.
You may think that this is just the rabble talking — surely mainstream conservatives are less ridiculous. We direct your attention to this week’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, D.C. This was an elite event, attended by the movement’s movers and shakers and drawing such luminaries as Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, Mike Huckabee, John Boehner, et alia. As we noted here, attendees were delighted to hear from CPAC speakers — just as they may have been delighted to hear it from tea party protesters — that Obama is a socialist, wasn’t born in America and is not really President, etc. In his speech, Limbaugh told a delirious crowd that he wanted Obama’s attempts to restore America’s economy to fail so conservatives may prosper.
Those of you who actually have to make ends meet in this ruined economy may find this unconvincing — even sinister. But conservatives — including the rightbloggers who applauded Limbaugh’s speech — don’t care what you think. They’ve been morose since the election, and want to feel good about themselves again. And if it takes economic collapse to do it, that’s fine with them. You may eat cake; to help wash it down, they will provide the tea.