The tea party is on the run. New polls say less than 25 percent of Americans now view the movement favorably. That is a stunning turnaround, because in the fall of 2010, the tea party achieved huge victories in congressional races all across the country.
So what happened?
Unlike the far-left Occupy Wall Street movement, the tea party does not embrace violent tactics or infringe on the rights of the folks. Also, it is not a centralized force; its leadership goes state by state. There is no national spokesperson or party headquarters. The tea party is simply a loose description of local activism driven by Americans who want smaller government and more self-reliance.
That sounds like what the Founding Fathers had in mind, does it not?
But now the tea party finds itself with an image problem, and there are two primary reasons for this. First, the media. Generally, the national press embraces a progressive vision that is at odds with tea party beliefs. In addition, many journalists and celebrities don’t know any tea party members, who tend to be regular folks who don’t hang out in swank places. I think it’s fair to say the media look down on Americans who embrace religion, gun rights and conservative values. So media outlets demonize the tea party all day long, calling it racist, stupid and, worse, unsophisticated!
The second reason for the decline of the tea folks is the right-wing media, which generally loves the party. Many in this crew are rhetorical bomb throwers who use personal attacks to slander and libel those with whom they disagree. Calling President Obama a communist, a Muslim and a fraud (birth certificate) is cheap. And independent-minded Americans know it.
While the majority of tea party citizens do not use defamation, some of those who claim to represent them do. It’s the same thing on the left. Some progressive commentators are so hateful that they damage their own cause. Hate is hate no matter what ideology you embrace.
The fascinating thing here is that I believe most Americans support the tea party philosophy of freedom and local control. But that message has been lost in the heat of political battle.
The only way the tea party can resurrect itself is to coalesce around a strong leader. There has to be a central message delivered by someone with charisma, a person who is reasonable and persuasive. The movement has been damaged both inside and out. Only a very intense public relations campaign could turn the tide.
I don’t think that will happen. It would take millions of dollars in TV ads and organizational infrastructure for the tea party to negate the national media’s contempt. And that kind of big-money operation goes directly against that which the tea party people aim to be: a citizen movement that operates independent of party structure.
Americans do like to party. And someday we the people will wise up and regain power over our lives. Hopefully, at least some of us will remember who started that movement.
Bill O’Reilly is host of the Fox News show “The O’Reilly Factor.”