YESTERDAY'S PRIMARY elections across the country were another occasion for one of the media's favorite pastimes: Spend hours of airtime and acres of newsprint drawing attention to every person or event remotely connected to the right-wing Tea Partiers--and then devote hours more to speculating about how the "remarkable prominence" of the Tea Party "movement" shows that we live in a "Tea Party nation."
The spotlight election on Tuesday for Republicans was the primary to select the GOP nominee for a U.S. Senate seat in Kentucky. Rand Paul, the son of Texas libertarian Republican Ron Paul, ran against a candidate handpicked by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and supported by figures from the GOP establishment like Dick Cheney. Paul's Tea Party-fueled campaign won by a comfortable margin.
Paul had his sound bite ready for media commentators waiting to pontificate about how the Tea Partiers were shaking up the national political scene. "We've come to take our government back," Paul said. "This Tea Party movement is a message to Washington that we're unhappy and that we want things done differently."
Another obvious explanation for Paul's decisive win is the fact that incumbents and establishment-backed candidates are having a tough time everywhere in Election 2010.
That was clear from the marquee race on the Democratic side, where Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Spector--the 80-year-old (more than a third of those 80 years spent in the Senate) Republican-turned-Democrat, with national Democratic Party leaders like Bill Clinton shilling for votes for him--got beaten by challenger Joe Sestak, who defied the party machinery.
Even when they acknowledged the anti-incumbent trend, though, the media still let Paul and his supporters get away with claiming to be right-wing rebels, challenging the powers that be in Washington in the name of ordinary Americans.
During the campaign, Paul told a crowd of supporters: "[S]ome people say, 'When you win the primary, you'll have to run away from the Tea Party.' I think the Tea Party represents a very mainstream message."
"Mainstream" isn't the word we'd use. Taking much of his platform from the Tea Party's "Contract from America," Paul favors raising the age for retirees to receive Social Security and getting rid of the U.S. Department of Education so state governments can decide how to spend education funds.
But there's no doubt that the Tea Party crackpots are making their presence felt within the Republican Party.
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