The AIG hearings in Washington last week offered a target-rich environment for outrage, and rightbloggers took their shots at congressional Democrats and President Obama for exploiting the situation politically. Don Surber issued a call to “Quit Scapegoating AIG” for the bonuses of which Obama and the Democrats made hay. “I suspect Keith Olbermann and Jack Cafferty will go all Howard Beale on this tonight,” Surber said, but he and his fellow conservatives saw it differently: “You have a contract, you collect. The boys and girls at AIG had a contract, you pay.”
All very reasonable. But neither Surber nor his fellows are against Howard Beale outrage per se — they just want it directed elsewhere. “You know why the elites are making big deal about this?” said Surber. “To distract the public — and because they are afeared of the public as they watch all these Tea Parties erupt.”
The Tea Parties demonstrations, which got off to a slow but well-publicized start some weeks back, have continued, and a few have drawn more impressive numbers — thousands instead of hundreds or dozens. Other TPs didn’t draw so well but still enjoyed generous coverage, thanks to thousands of posts that have made the events into a newsworthy phenomenon whatever their attendance.
It’s the old internet strategy of “flooding the zone” — building a story by flogging it relentlessly and carefully spinning it for maximum effect. This also applies to events that are not self-generated: for example, rightbloggers also explained to their readers that, despite what they may have heard or seen, the President’s appearance on the Tonight Show was an unmitigated disaster.
Obama did the Leno show near the end of the week and was seen by tens of millions of viewers, who probably noticed the President’s easy rapport with Leno and warm reception from the studio audience. Non-political reporters certainly did. But rightbloggers only noticed a single moment in which Obama said his oft-criticized bowling style was “like the Special Olympics or something.”
Not heretofore known for their advocacy of the disabled, rightbloggers went ballistic.
“My take is: Hire professional gag writers,” said Surber. “If you go on a professional comedy show, use professional comedy material.” There was much talk of teleprompters, a current rightblogger trope.
“I had no interest in watching our President Oh-Bomba! on Leno tonight (as I knew he would),” said The Strata-Sphere. “So I apparently missed most of the disaster. The man is no good outside his one trick caricature of the brooding serious moderate reading from a script, it was inevitable he would bomb out.”
“Don’t get me wrong; I wouldn’t really countenance the disabled flying into an outrage over this,” said Patterico, reserving that right to himself (“Is it possible he’s not really that great a communicator after all? Shocking — except to those of us who have been saying that for a while”), his colleagues (“Just imagine if Bush had said that. Oh, the outrage!!!”) and his commenters (“He’s an awfully condescending c*cks*cker, for one so compassionate. Really, though, we all know that those Special Olympians all should have been aborted before they were brought to term. Hahahahahahahaha”).
Some seemed to intuit that others were not so voluptuously outraged as they, and shifted to what-ifs: “Can you IMAGINE what the press and the Dems would do with that, had Bush said it,” said The Anchoress. “Can you IMAGINE what the press and the Dems,” etc. Jules Crittenden complained that newspaper writers were not as outraged as he was pretending to be and sulked that “unlike Barry, there are no Special Olympics humor allowances for the right.” NewsBusters asked “Will Media Notice Obama’s Poor Taste Special Olympics Joke?” — and then quoted ABC correspondent Jake Tapper on that very subject.
Inevitably a few said that they had disabled children and how dare he etc. “Saturday, btw, is World Down Syndrome Awareness Day,” said Hugh Hewitt. “As a person who has volunteered for the Special Olympics I do find Obama’s comments completely disgusting,” said Scared Monkeys. Their devotion to the issue is touching, and we look forward to its persistence on their blogs after this story has evaporated.
At National Review, Mark Hemingway unfortunately went for added value, suggesting that Leno’s reference to a fanciful “Portuguese water head” Presidential dog was slang for sufferers of hydrocephalia, requiring Hemingway to revisit his post with a couple of explanations (“Just to be clear, again I do think that this is most likely accidental on Leno’s part”).
If you find this weird and obsessive, you should understand that rightbloggers are devoted to constructing a counter-narrative — a version of events that flatters their prejudices. This pseudo-scandal, while it may not contradict or alter the experience of ordinary people who watched the show, warms the hearts of followers who believe Obama to be a socialist demon, and gives them strength to go on.
Similarly, the Tea Parties are to them more than a show of rightwing organizing power and alarm among grassroots conservatives at the bailouts and stimulus — they are a harbringer of revolution. Referring to a TP in Ridgefield, Connecticut and its superior draw to a nearby anti-AIG event, The Next Right said, “We have 300 folks outraged at [Chris] Dodd. They got 40 upset at AIG executives. I like our odds.”
By that standard, you might say that a still larger protest against education cuts in Tallahassee showed that Americans are more concerned with school funding in Florida than with Dodd or AIG. But unlike the school protesters, the Tea Partiers have been tirelessly working the angle that the Main Stream Media is ignoring them — though the local, regional, and national press all reported the event — a time-honored way to extract still more outrage for future use.
Thus: “While the media was busy covering the Working Families Party/Acorn door to door bus run at just about 2 reporters for each protester,” said Brainflation, “average Americans like you and I were down in Ridgefield spreading the gospel of personal and corporate responsibility with all the temporary pain and hardship that entails.” “MSM Still Carrying Obama’s Water,” said Say Anything. “One emerging theme is the absence of press coverage,” said Power Line. “More Tea Parties today that media are sure to ignore,” said But As For Me.
And so on. Once you adopt this perspective, anything can be a sign of your movement’s success. Instapundit, who has devoted many of his posts of late to Tea Parties, actually linked the refusal of Chicago drivers to use expensive, privatized parking meters to his “Going John Galt” movement. “There will be more,” he promised. Well, no doubt; if you spent less on parking, you’re with them in spirit. Bankers complaining about the recent bonus controversy were also said to be Going Galt. Conceivably you can join their number just by singing the theme song. The politics of protest, now as always, has as much to do with spin as with showing up. By availing both press coverage and complaints of lack of press coverage, and including phenomena unrelated to the protests themselves, rightbloggers show that the size of their movement is literally limited only by the size of their imaginations.