By all accounts, journalist/author/television pundit/lecturer Peter Beinart leads a splendid life. Not yet 40, the former editor of The New Republic is a graduate of Yale and Oxford, lives in Washington, D.C. with his wife and two kids, has a new book, The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris that’ll be released in June, and writes liberal commentary regularly for Tina Brown’s The Daily Beast. According to his Wikipedia profile, should you feel the urge to have Beinart blab before a group, he’s represented by Leading Authorities and Keppler Speakers Bureau. The fee, apparently, is available only upon request.
Beinart is one of the media’s Washington elite, and, as such, has no time for people who disturb his national and worldview of politics. His latest jab at President Obama’s loudest detractors, “The Tea Party’s Phony Populism,” published on April 16, cherry-picks findings from a poll The New York Times published earlier this week, which leads him to this conclusion: “So the press has a problem: what to call this intriguing [condescension is Beinart’s middle name] new force in American politics? What kind of adjective suits older, grumpy, well-off Americans who believe Democrats are communists, the poor have it too easy and white people are oppressed? The term ‘Republican’ comes to mind.”
The poll, which was comprised of 1580 adults—881 of whom identified themselves as Tea Party supporters—tells a more complete story than Beinart lets on, either because he wrote The Daily Beast column in between shaving and having a nutritious breakfast or, more likely he just felt like slamming the Tea Party and glossed over the facts. For example, while “nearly” 90 percent of those 881 Tea Partiers surveyed by the Times believe Obama “is moving the country toward socialism”—as opposed to, as the Times reports, “more than half of the general public”—the word “communist” is never mentioned. Also, most of these “grumps” believe the amount of taxes they paid this year are “fair,” and most send their children to public schools. Also, a plurality, thankfully in my view, doesn’t believe Sarah Palin is qualified to be president. I’d love to see a Times poll of politicians and journalists who live in the Washington-Boston corridor and find out how many of them also have children in public schools.
But noblesse oblige, when it strikes too close to home, does have its limits.
Beinart also is mistaken when, in explaining why Tea Party members are not really populists, he claims that George Wallace’s third-party presidential campaign in 1968 ran under the banner of “the Populists.” In fact, it was called the “American Independent Party.” Well, Beinart wasn’t yet born when Wallace bedeviled both Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey and said there wasn’t “a dime’s worth of difference” between the two major parties. Beinart wades into slippier territory, however, when he unfavorably compares the Tea Partiers to thrice-failed presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan. The Nebraskan was indeed a populist—bearing in mind that that word is very elastic—and a Democratic power broker who believed in creationism and was one of Prohibition’s most famous advocates. The Prohibition movement, of course, played on Americans’ jingoism by castigating the wave of German, Irish, Polish and Italian immigrants, and isn’t considered, when acknowledged at all, as one of the Democratic Party’s finest movements. (The battle between “drys” and “wets” cut across party lines, but the Volstead Act was passed during Democrat Woodrow Wilson’s administration, with Congress controlled by his party.)
Moreover, when Beinart, with a glib keypunch, equates Tea Party supporters with the Republican Party as a whole, his intellectual dishonesty is fairly alarming (unless his column was meant as satire; but I doubt that). As the Times poll reveals, 18 percent of Americans identify with Tea Party; in 2008, Republican John McCain won 46 percent of the vote. Mind you, I have no strong feelings about the Tea Party either way—I don’t like the loudmouths who lead some of their rallies, for example, but do agree that the Obama administration hasn’t learned from President Bush’s extraordinary spending spree—but Beinart, unless he’s content to be a lapdog for Obama and the DNC, ought to be more thorough with his facts.