Entry from January 31, 2011

Here’s what Frank Rich had to say in yesterday’s New York Times about Michelle Bachmann’s televised reply to the President’s State of the Union address” last Tuesday. “For all the Republican male establishment’s harrumphing, it couldn’t derail her plan to hijack the party’s designated State of the Union response with one of her own.” In fact, her “plan” had been to address her Tea Party supporters about the speech by streaming video over the Internet only after the official GOP response by Representative Paul Ryan. Nor did she say anything substantially different from what Ryan had already said. Her Internet video was picked up by “CNN, of all places,” writes Mr Rich, as if he thought that the decision of an allegedly “mainstream” news outlet like CNN to broadcast her speech were unfathomable.

Of course he is being as disingenuous here as he is in the same column when he invokes Ronald Reagan as the model for Barack Obama and Jimmy Carter as that for the new Republican House. CNN chose to focus attention on Representative Bachmann for the same reason that Frank Rich does, which is the same reason that Gail Collins did the day before when she hopefully asked, “Is Michele Bachmann the new Sarah Palin?” — meaning, I guess, is she the new designated pi ata for media smart-alecs like herself and Maureen Dowd and Mr Rich to whack at will. It was the same reason that Kate Zernike in the Times’s news pages the day before had spotlighted the efforts of Tea Party supporters in Indiana and Maine to find primary challengers for the relatively liberal Republican Senators Lugar and Snowe and that Jonathan Allen in Politico the day before that had written that “Bachmann’s Republican critics may be sick of her grandstanding, but they’re more terrified of her tea party following.” All of these media progressives, that is, desperately want to believe that Republicans are bitterly divided by the insurgent Tea Partiers.

About Representative Bachmann’s address, Mr Rich himself echoed Jonathan Allen’s line. “The G.O.P. grandees’ consternation was palpable,” he wrote. Really? The evidence of this “consternation” appears to amount to nothing more than this: “John Boehner, seconding the disdain of Eric Cantor, was telling reporters that he hadn’t watched Bachmann because of ‘other obligations.’” That sounds more like boredom — or, er, other obligations — than consternation to me, but to Mr Rich it bespoke raw terror. “What,” he asks portentously, “were they all afraid of?”

The answer cuts to the crux of the right’s plight less than three months after its supposed restoration. Having sold itself in 2010 as the uncompromising champion of Tea Party-fueled fiscal austerity, the enhanced G.O.P. caucus arrived in Washington in 2011 to discover that most Americans prefer compromise to confrontation and favor balanced budgets in name only.

There follows a lot of worthless polling data that he most implausibly takes to indicate an awareness on the part of the “grandees” that people don’t really want to cut the deficit, whatever they may say, and that, therefore, attacking the budget the way the bull-in-a-tea-shop GOP insurgents supposedly want to do will spell electoral disaster for them.

Needless to say all this alleged fear and anger and division within the GOP ranks exists only in the wishful thoughts of Mr Rich and others of the liberal media. A new poll out from Gallup  today shows that 88 per cent of Republicans think it either “very important” or “somewhat important” for “the Republican leaders in Congress to take into account the objectives and positions of the Tea Party movement when it comes to dealing with the problems facing the nation.” The figures for Independents and Democrats are 72 and 53 per cent respectively. That, together with the shrillness of protests against the Tea Partiers on the part of Mr Rich and his kind ought to suggest who is really terrified of them.

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