By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 2, 2010; 9:35 AM
The tea party has no shortage of critics, especially among left-leaning folks who regard it with a mixture of anxiety and suspicion.
But deciphering what this movement stands for can be like nailing Jell-O to the wall. It's not a real party, it has no platform, it's not clear who the members are, and it seems to encompass a range of views on the right.
Journalists too often characterize the tea people by the craziest fringe that shows up at rallies with offensive signs. Polling suggests they are largely small-government, anti-Obama activists -- assuming pollsters can get a good sample among folks who don't have to register for an official party -- but they seem more united by generalized anger than specific solutions.
Republicans love the grass-roots enthusiasm that the tea party generates -- even though the followers theoretically blame both parties for the mess in Washington -- but some are wary of being tarred with a brand that may turn off independents.
And then there's Lindsey Graham.
The South Carolina senator has already ticked off the right by being willing to negotiate deals with Democrats. He doesn't see bipartisanship as a dirty word.
Now he's turned his tart tongue on the tea types.
What's more, the New York Times Magazine brands him "This Year's Maverick"--which, given the source, is unlikely to boost his standing in some GOP circles.
Since it began posting articles online in midweek, the Times Magazine has boosted its impact to newsmagazine levels -- and I expect this new piece by Robert Draper will be no exception:
" 'Everything I'm doing now in terms of talking about climate, talking about immigration, talking about Gitmo is completely opposite of where the Tea Party movement's at,' Graham said. . . . On four occasions, Graham met with Tea Party groups. The first, in his Senate office, was 'very, very contentious,' he recalled. During a later meeting, in Charleston, Graham said he challenged them: ' 'What do you want to do? You take back your country -- and do what with it?'. . . . Everybody went from being kind of hostile to just dead silent.'
"In a previous conversation, Graham told me: 'The problem with the Tea Party, I think it's just unsustainable because they can never come up with a coherent vision for governing the country. It will die out.' Now he said, in a tone of casual lament: 'We don't have a lot of Reagan-type leaders in our party. Remember Ronald Reagan Democrats? I want a Republican that can attract Democrats.' Chortling, he added, 'Ronald Reagan would have a hard time getting elected as a Republican today.' "
Yow. He's saying the tea party has no answers, and that his party has moved so far to the right that Reagan would be seen as a squishy moderate.
Graham didn't duck when asked why the Original Maverick, John McCain, wasn't with him on his compromise efforts: "John's got a primary. He's got to focus on getting re-elected. I don't want my friend to get beat."
The lead for Politics Daily is Graham saying: "I ain't gay." Which I guess was a rumor out there.
Meanwhile, "three of 10 Americans describe themselves in the USA TODAY/Gallup Poll as Tea Party supporters. . . . They are overwhelmingly white and Anglo, although a scattering of Hispanics, Asian Americans and African Americans combine to make up almost one-fourth of their ranks. . . .
"Nine in 10 are unhappy with the country's direction and see the federal debt as an ominous threat to its future. Almost as many say neither President Obama nor most members of Congress deserve re-election. . . . Nearly half say blacks lag in jobs, income and housing 'because most African Americans just don't have the motivation or willpower to pull themselves up out of poverty.' One-third of non-supporters agree."
Liberals are buzzing about the Times piece. "As a matter of policy," says Washington Monthly's Steve Benen, "I don't agree with Graham about much of anything, but all of these observations are entirely sound. The reason I put 'movement' in quotes every time I write about the Tea Partiers is that it's a contingent with no clear agenda, no leadership, no internal structure, and no meaningful connection to reality. Its passionate members, while probably well meaning, appear to have no idea what they're talking about. Genuine political movements -- civil rights, women's suffrage, labor unions -- have, as Graham put it, a 'coherent vision.' The Tea Party has Hitler signs and a cable news network, but that's not much of a substitute."
Come on -- the Hitler signs don't represent 99 percent of those who identify with the tea party.
Speaking of which, check out the faux Republican outrage in New York's Daily News:
"Vice President Biden is out with an alarmed e-mail cash appeal warning that the GOP will mount a 'blitzkrieg' against Democrats in the fall.
"Comparing GOP tactics to the fast-striking forces of Nazi Germany, Biden warns in a message sent by the DCCC today: 'As things heat up, you can expect House Democrats will be hit with a GOP blitzkrieg of vicious Swift-Boat-style attack ads, Karl Rove-inspired knockout tactics, thinly veiled attempts at character assassination and tea party disruptions.' . . .
"Kevin Smith, spokesman for Minority Leader John Boehner, e-mailed a comment that seems sure to get under Democrats' skins: 'When will Democrats learn that invoking the Nazis' crimes against humanity in a political debate is simply inappropriate?' "
Drudge went with a big Nazi headline. The News shouldn't have fallen for this. Biden's word had as much to do with the Nazis as football teams do when they talk about blitzing the opponent.Immigration impasse
The LAT on the Obama speech at American University:
"In his first major speech on the issue since taking office, President Obama said Thursday that the U.S. immigration system 'offends our most basic American values' and blamed Republican opposition for thwarting crucially needed change."
Obama also said "the majority of Democrats are ready to move forward," but "the fact is, without bipartisan support, as we had just a few years ago, we cannot solve this problem. Reform that brings accountability to our immigration system cannot pass without Republican votes. That is the political and mathematical reality."
But let's be honest: Obama hasn't made a real push for this legislation in a year and a half, and there's no plan to press the Hill to pass it before November. So this was more about talk than action.Bill vs. Barack
I don't know if this is as big a dis as some in the media are portraying, but Mark McKinnon has some interesting observations:
"Barack Obama may have bested Hillary Clinton for the presidency, and he may have kept her from causing him political trouble by appointing her secretary of State. But nothing in the contract said her husband Bill was going to stay down on the farm. And he's not.
"Tuesday, former President Bill Clinton endorsed state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff in Colorado's Democratic primary for the Senate seat currently held by Sen. Michael Bennet, who has President Obama's support.
"Bill Clinton, the 'Comeback Kid,' is back again--and stirring things up as only he can. Straying from the playbook is bad enough, but it has to be a source of some frustration and teeth-gnashing for Obama's inner circle that Bill Clinton has become a more popular campaign surrogate and endorser than their boss."
Sure -- he can wave the party flag without any of the administration's baggage in a recession.An espionage encounter
I have no reason to doubt this piece in the Daily Beast, but should mention that Scott Beauchamp was the Army soldier whose account of petty wartime cruelty in Iraq was disavowed by the New Republic, which said it could not stand by his story.
Still, he tells an interesting yarn here:
"I was interviewed by a Russian bombshell spy.
"This past March, after having spent a month on the couch decompressing from my tempestuous four and a half years in the Army, I decided it was time to find some type of gainful employment. It could have been anything. I just needed a way to pay for groceries until school started. . . .
"Despite Miss Chapman's Slavic good looks, she seemed just as awkward and self-conscious as any other 20-something. There was nothing out of the ordinary. She didn't ask me for the maximum effective range of a 25 millimeter Bushmaster Cannon. She didn't ask me if I felt comfortable working in a non-legal, Russian-friendly environment. There were no bags of cash exchanged. She didn't once use a radio transmitter, and I never asked her if she was a Bond girl. All in all, it was rather boring. She mostly talked about Pay Per Click software and online advertising, and then told me that she would get back to me in a few weeks. Before she did, I was hired somewhere else. . . .
"I immediately called my wife, whose first response was, 'You didn't tell me that she was hot!' "
I wonder what the tone of that response was!
"And too bad for Anna Chapman that she is, because now she gets to be the poster girl for this whole sordid story: invisible ink, money laundering, code names, fake passports, and being watched by the FBI for 10 years without even realizing it."Kagan chronicles
The media may have yawned at this week's Supreme Court confirmation hearings, but not everyone agrees they were useless. The New Republic's Jeffrey Rosen, for instance:
"Far from turning into a 'vapid and hollow charade,' to use Elena Kagan's now-famous condemnation of other Supreme Court confirmation hearings, her own have been impressively substantive. But the most surprising development in the Kagan hearings this week has been the performance of the Senators: Both Democrats and Republicans have articulated clear visions of the law -- Democrats say judges should uphold progressive legislation like campaign finance and health care; Republicans say they should strike those regulations down -- and have pressed Kagan in sophisticated ways.
"My nominee for the best question comes from Senator Al Franken, who, although not a lawyer, has emerged as the leading progressive constitutionalist in the Senate. In his championing of net neutrality and opposition to the Comcast/NBC merger, Franken recognizes that private corporations, like Comcast, now have more power over who can speak than any government, and that the most important threats to free speech in the twenty-first century will come not from government but from the concentration of corporate power. 'When the same company owns the programming and runs the pipes that bring us the programming, I think we have a problem,' Franken said to Kagan."A rather vigorous debate
The backstory: Dave Weigel resigned as a Washington Post blogger after someone leaked his private e-mails, trashing conservatives, from the left-leaning Journolist. Then Andrew Breitbart, the conservative activist who runs BigGovernment.com, decided it would be cute to pay off someone for what the other 400 members of that group had to say. Which infuriated conservative-turned-Obama-supporter Andrew Sullivan:
"When Andrew Breitbart offers $100,000 for a private email list-serv archive, essentially all bets are off. Every blogger or writer who has ever offered an opinion is now on warning: your opponents will not just argue against you, they will do all they can to ransack your private life, cull your email in-tray, and use whatever material they have to unleash the moronic hounds of today's right-wing base. . . .
"This is not about transparency, or hypocrisy. It's about power. And when you are Andrew Breitbart, power is all that matters. There is not a whit of thoughtfulness about this, not an iota of pretense that it might actually advance the conversation about how to deal with, say, a world still perilously close to a second Great Depression, a government that is bankrupt, two wars that have been or are being lost, an energy crisis that is also threatening our planet's ecosystem, and a media increasingly incapable of holding the powerful accountable. . . .
"This is what the right now is: no solutions, just anger, paranoia, insecurity and partisan hatred."
"In fact, when one of the progressives on this list outed Dave Weigel, the actual rules were broken. That leaker who destroyed Weigel's career had agreed to the off-the-record nature of the 400-strong list; the minute the leaker went public with the material the story was no longer about Weigel but about the Journolist itself.
"I was not invited to participate in that list for obvious reasons. I am not bound by those rules. Unless you are going to tell me that in the future, journalists are forever bound not to report information that others have agreed would remain private, you are holding me to a standard that no one else in the media would ever agree to. . . .
"Most information of value is held by people that don't want it to be public. Not that anyone asked, but I would never divulge information discovered that was not pertinent to my stated mission, which is to point out the collusion between the political left and a journalist class that improbably claims there is no such thing as media bias and who dismiss those who accuse the media of having a left wing agenda as paranoid conspiracy theorists. . . . The election of Barack Obama was facilitated by a corrupt Fourth Estate."Newsweek's future
"Media executive Fred Drasner and investment firm Avenue Capital Group submitted separate offers to purchase Newsweek magazine ahead of Thursday's deadline for final offers, unnamed sources told Bloomberg News.
"Drasner, a former executive at U.S. News & World Report and The New York Daily News, made his bid shortly before the 5 p.m. New York time deadline on Thursday."
The WSJ reported on bidders dropping out:
"Christopher Ruddy, owner of the conservative monthly magazine Newsmax, also made an early bid but was shut out of the second round. 'Newsmax Media made a serious bid to acquire Newsweek, which we believe is an extraordinary publishing property with great potential as both a print and online product,' a Newsmax spokesman said. 'We will not be participating in the final bid process, but the company remains committed to its long term objective to diversify and expand into numerous distinct media brand offerings.' "Mel's new meltdown
Mel Gibson at it again, and this is ugly stuff:
"In one of the most explosive, racist and vile outbursts by a celebrity ever caught on tape, Mel Gibson told the mother of his love child that the way she was dressed would get her 'raped by a pack of [N-word]s,' RadarOnline.com has learned exclusively.
"It's a shocking and blockbuster development in the couple's bitter legal battle, and Mel's disgusting words are on audio tape. His racist, misogynist statement is one of the secrets lurking in his war with his former girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva. RadarOnline.com has heard the tape, which also includes Mel telling Oksana he will burn down her home."The whole schmear
Press release: "Larry King, who recently announced he is departing CNN's Larry King Live show, is moving on to assist in franchise development and international growth for The Original Brooklyn Water Bagel Co."
Hey, I'm from Brooklyn. I wonder if I can find some brand of lox to endorse.
Howard Kurtz also works for CNN and hosts its weekly media program, "Reliable Sources."