Politics & Media
Apr 16, 2010, 09:57AM

Peter Beinart Bends the Findings of a New York Times Poll

A restless elite takes some shots at the Tea Partiers.

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.

  • Although I agree with you on Beinart, facts and Teabaggers do not mix. Lest you forget Russ, Taxed Enough Already is what "Tea" stands for, yet over half think that what they paid this year is fair. So what are they protesting if their tax level is fair. As you say in the article, they think Obama hasn't learned from Bush's spending mistakes. Yet, the majority of tea folk have no problem with military spending. They favor social security and Medicare but are against HCR. They are for the constitution on some issues, but oppose the census and other constitutional requirements. Basically the Tea Bag Protesters are a collection of angry people who are easily manipulated by pundits and the press. Sure, on the fringes of this group there are intelligent people and good points but in reality, those are the outliers not the norm.

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  • What I can't get over is how over 50% of respondents think the government pays too much attention to black people, and 25% think Obama favors blacks over whites. And yet the Right continue continues to believe as if it doesn't have a race problem.

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  • That's a good summation. There has been a good talk in the political blogospher of late regarding the Right's epistemic closure problem. The echo chamber has gown so entrenched that there is simply no room for credible debate over issues.

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  • Thanks for reading, Texan. You're in the heart of Tea Party country, so perhaps you have a different perspective. But I must remind you that this short piece was solely about a liberal DC stalwart who distorted a New York Times poll for his own purposes. It was inaccurate and dishonest. Second, the Tea Party movement is still relatively small; there are millions upon millions of Americans who agree with some of their stances, as the Democrats may find out in November, but as an active "party," they're in fringe territory. The Tea Parities are the outliers; ironically, it's the media (and not just Fox News and radio talk show clowns) that has given these people the attention they crave.

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  • You're right Russ. I agree 100% with your thoughts on Beinart Just couldn't refrain from the opportunity to vent about the TP and all the BS coverage they get from all sides.

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  • Russ, nice piece. Here's my theory on Beinart, a lot of the mainstream media and a sizeable part of the public - Democrats moreso than Republicans but both are involved:Tea Partiers are being attacked and ridiculed for their personal style and characteristics.This is because the mockers, undrneath, realize that the core credo of the Tea Partiers rings true.Simply put they believe the people are being taxed way too much for what they are being delivered.T.Ps. don't have a problem with taxing per se; rather they are concerned with the slough. inefficiency, and cluelessness of how government is being operated. Politicians pay lipservice to addressing this but mainly duck it. Most of the public hasn't yet fully internalized this root problem but a vocal minority is focusing on it passionately...they call theselves Tea Partiers and their time is coming.

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