Thursday, April 15, 2010

What if Prop A Had Failed?

No, I'm not talking about the fact that Metro would have been forced to cut services or that people across the region would not be able to get to work. Rather, I'm asking about what the political narrative would have been if Proposition A had failed, even by only a few hundred votes. I think we all know what the narrative would have been. It would have been a complete, unadulterated, nonstop freak-out by the local media about what a "political force" the St. Louis Tea Party is, and how Democrats better watch out or they're going to be slaughtered in November. The groundwork for this narrative was already laid in Jo Mannies article explaining that the Tea Party saw Prop A as a test of their organizing ability, and there's not much doubt in my mind that the media would have been sure to have given the tea party credit for the win whether or not they demonstrated any ability to actually organize (BTW, they didn't).

So if the tea party would have gotten credit for a Prop A defeat, isn't it natural to think that they should also be criticized when Prop A was successful despite their opposition? Maybe you could argue that Prop A had institutional advantages, and so would have been favored to win. Fine. But Prop A didn't just win: it won in a massive landslide. 63 % of St. Louis County Voters voted in favor of a sales tax increase, and only 37% voted against. There is no realistic scenario in which the tea party could have done a worse job in influencing the vote. Nevertheless, our local media still refuses to state the obvious.

Consider Jo Mannies' recent piece, which joins Jake Wagman in largely providing cover for the loss. I had emailed Jo mentioning that the tea party was only able to raise $750 in their campaign to raise $10,000, which is indicative of zero ability to organize in a way that can influence local elections. I have no idea if she read my message, but I know the way in which she reported the money was spun in a way as positive as possible for the Tea Party. As she has done in several articles, she allows Gina Loudon to define the narrative:
Another month and $10,000, said Loudon, the St. Louis Tea Party might have had a good chance of defeating Proposition A. "But not with only $900 against their $1.5 million," she added.
No mention from Mannies of the point that the reason the tea party only had $900 is because they were unable to raise more than $900, despite having access to local blogs, local radio, and national blogs, which they repeatedly used to ask for money. No one gives congressional candidates any breaks for not being able to raise money, so why should the tea party be allowed off the hook when it was precisely because of their own failures that they didn't have money?

This, unfortunately, is not the only place in which Mannies gives Gina Loudon free reign to define the narrative. Consider this passage:
Gina Loudon (right), one of the local Tea Party's leaders, believes that critics are focusing on that defeat for a reason. "We are so well aware that people are trying to divide us," she said. "They wouldn't be pointing a finger at us if they didn't fear us."
Nice. Framing the debate in a way that dismisses all criticism as 'fear." This would be fine if it was their opinion balanced against a critic, but there were no quotes from critics: just a long article that gave Loudon, Carl Bearden, and Bill Hennessy a platform to spin the events however they want.

As I've said in related contexts, I think the inherent unwillingness of the local media to move away from their pre-established narratives not only does a disservice to readers but also creates an atmosphere of zero accountability for the tea party. They can say "this next election is a test of our ability" on absolutely everything because they know that the local media will report favorably if they win, and give them a pass if they lose. Is it because the local media are all secretly tea party sympathizers? I don't think so: I think the reasons are much more complicated than that and have a lot to do with personal relationships. But whatever the reasons are, the local media is failing to fairly report on local events. If the tea party is taking credit for an election, they should be held to their word. If Prop A had failed, they would have been given credit. But Prop A won in a landslide, and their role in that should also be acknowledged.

BTW, I'm raising money for a good cause to showcase the local media's hype of the completely unimpressive efforts from the tea party Prop A opposition. Please click here to pitch in, or here to read more.

1 comment:

  1. I was wondering pretty much the same thing if Prop A had failed. Just the political implications alone is the scariest part. Who knows what kind of outrageous claims they(tea party and the news) would start making if it had failed. They would probably paint the narrative of how St. Louis is really a "Tea Party" town, which is absolute bull