Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Despite Media Hype, The St. Louis Tea Party Has No Clue How to Organize

Proposition A, the ballot initiative to restore and expand public transportation in the St. Louis region via a 1/2 of 1% sales tax, won a landslide victory yesterday. Many, many people in the media were predicting throughout the week that the initiative would fail. Despite the fact that the opposition to the initiative showed absolutely no signs of organization, and despite the fact that polls showed that a majority of people in St. Louis County supported the initiative, the St. Louis media apparatus created their own narrative based on their "gut feelings" of what St. Louis County is like, and then started to believe the narrative that they in fact created.

For example, yesterday, Jake Wagman wrote that critics of Prop A had offered "a spirited opposition." Here's what I replied in the comments:
Spirited opposition? Really? The Stop the Prop group tried to raise $10,000 and only raised $750. The largest rally they’ve had was 25 people. The only sense in which they’ve been “spirited” is that they’re good at getting media attention, but that’s just because of the local media’s willingness to give equal time to right wing opposition, no matter how coherent that opposition actually is.

I think the election vindicated my comment. The St. Louis Tea Party never had to produce any people or any money in opposition to Prop A in order for the local media apparatus to treat them like a large movement making good faith arguments. In fact, yesterday, Charlie Brennan and the Beacon were willing to push a hoax by John Burns and Gina Loudon where they claimed that Chesterfield Mayor John Nations was oppressing them. The only thing the tea party did well during this whole campaign was get published in media venue after media venue, and get more airtime on local radio than the people who support Proposition A, largely because KMOX hosts Brennan and Reardon were wholly opposed to the initiative.

On some level, I can understand the media going out of their way to give the anti-Prop A group a chance to express their opposition. But in large part the media completely failed to fact-check the ridiculous and often blatantly false claims made by the tea party opposition. Furthermore, it's not cool for the media to then believe their own echo chamber so much that they start announcing that Prop A will lose before the election based on nothing more than their own gut feelings. I think the excellent ground game is what ultimately won the election for Proposition A, but if we didn't have a really strong pro Prop A presence on social media like Twitter and Facebook, my guess is that the "it's going to lose" media narrative would have spun out of control and probably determined the election by causing transit advocates to give up hope.

So much for the media, but how badly did the Tea Party lose this campaign? Pretty amazingly badly. They put their full weight against it. The official St. Louis Tea Party site railed against it. Dana Loesch came out against it on her blog and on her radio show. Gateway Pundit, one of the most read political blogs in the country, wrote against it and regularly gave a platform to John Burns. Furthermore, as I tweeted yesterday, and as Clark at Show Me Progress wrote about in more detail, the St. Louis Tea Party loudly announced on multiple occasions that their opposition to Prop A was going to be a demonstration of their organizing ability. And they were right. Proposition demonstrated clearly that the St. Louis Tea Party doesn't have a clue how to organize.

First of all, consider this: Proposition A won with 63 % of the vote and 37% opposed. Can anyone honestly imagine a bill for a new tax getting less than 37% in St. Louis County in the current economic climate? I certainly can't. And this strongly suggests that the Tea Party, despite all of their bluster and media attention, did not affect the vote in any significant way. Unless, of course, the absurdity of their opposition actually increased the the winning percentage.

Only yesterday, the Tea Party was claiming that they were going to win. Now, they're whining about how they were outspent. Unfortunately for them, they undermined their own whining a few days ago when they said, "nearly every transit tax in the region has been defeated despite similar funding imbalances." According to their own view then, this means that they must have been an especially bad opposition. Furthermore, the tea party attempted to raise $10,000, but their position was so extreme they could only raise $750, probably from all of the usual suspects! So the fact that they didn't have any money wasn't the cause of them losing; it was a symptom of the real reason they lost: they took a position that was so extreme that no one (other than the media) could take them seriously.

Clark cleverly referred to the Tea Party opposition as the Underpants Gnome plan. For those who aren't familiar, the underpants gnomes' plan to make money in a South Park episode was the following: "1. Steal underpants. 2. ?? 3. Profit!" The Tea Party plan was just about as inane. They seemed to literally believe that just blogging, tweeting, and milking their right wing radio connections was sufficient to convince the public to vote for a crazy position. They spent last Saturday driving around St. Charles County (which didn't vote on Prop A) in trucks with anti Prop A messages scribbled on them. Twice. Their election day plan was to stand on street corners with signs. They literally are completely clueless about how to win elections. And just to clarify, unlike Dana "literally stomping on the constitution," Loesch, I do in fact understand the meaning of "literally."

One last thought: Clark also reference that this is the group former Matt Blunt Chief of Staff Ed Martin is counting on to win in November. In fact, Ed Martin signed up for the Drive Around St. Charles with Anti-Prop A Signs facebook event along with only 19 other people:

As far as I know, Ed Martin did not actually make it out to the event. But can anyone doubt that Martin, the ultimate political opportunist, would have been trumpeting up and down how everyone hates taxes if Proposition A had failed? Martin is trying to run as a St. Louis Tea Party candidate. But Proposition A has shown just how far away from normal people's views of good government the Tea Party really is.


  1. Adam, as always, thanks for an accurate description of what actually (literally?) is going on! I just had an email exchange with Ms. Loesch in which she worked at perfecting the circular argument, and I almost listened to her today to see how she responded to the election. Sadly, I was busy. Probably like StLToday did - at the bottom of the list of links on the side of the page.

  2. I was surprised how the TP'ers and others graciously accepted the victory on Prop A.

    Oh, wait...I haven't read anything by Loesch, Holt, Hennessy or any of them. Even Sharp Elbows seems to have dulled a bit. I was expecting a "WE WON" from Loesch just like after the 46% Doug Hoffman got in defeat in the NY-23 election last year.

    Gee, with Prop A getting 37%, I expected "WE ROCKED (almost)". I suppose it's hard to speak when you're busy licking the wounds.

  3. The local Tea Party crowd has generally always been "all sizzle, no steak" with Hennessy at the helm; and now even the "sizzle" is losing its luster.

    I think it's proper and right to tag this most recent effort as FAIL...

  4. RJ and I have been spitting and cursing at the media's coverage of John Burns for the last month now. Thanks for writing it up so well!

  5. I'm not going to address the Tea Party portion of this post, but I agree wholeheartedly that there should be some concern about how the media handled the issues. I certainly believe that for the sake of balance, the media can't just report John Nations and Bob Baer's talking points. But I also am concerned that the media presented opponents like John Burns and Tom whats-his-name as equally credible rebuttals. You know, when the President gives the State of the Union, the opposition party selects someone who is credible, well-versed, and knowledgeable on the issues to give a rebuttal. They don't stick a microphone in front of some guy who just really doesn't like the President or his policies and call that the rebuttal.

    The fact-checking thing is an issue too. I personally responded to Ms. Loesch's statement on Twitter: "No on Prop A. We need some better management, ppl wiser with money in Metro before they get a $750 per fam annual tax increase." A $750 per family annual tax increase would mean that a family would have to spend $150,000 a year on taxable goods to spend $750 on a half cent sales tax. (Do the math: $150k x .005 = $750.) That's not just wrong, it's so obviously wrong as to be laughable that a respected media figure would publish that without realizing how it couldn't possibly be true. But Ms. Loesch never responded, bothered to correct herself, or even explain her reasoning. Just today, I responded to some comments at the Belleville News Democrat's site that imply Metro is a private company being bailed out by the government, and that Metro is never audited. These kinds of mistakes (not to say lies) get repeated over and over, not just in website comments but as quotes by critics in media stories, where they are never contradicted. And then more and more people take them as gospel. To me, that's been the biggest obstacle to overcome regarding Metro.

    And the only solution so far has been to talk to as many people as possible and answer the same questions over and over again with just the facts to counteract these ideas. But our reach is nowhere near that of the media's.