“The most provocative thing you say gets attention,” says Brian Baird, a Democratic congressman from Washington State who’s retiring at the end of the year, after six terms in office. Baird had his own unfortunate experience with this phenomenon this election cycle, though he isn’t running for anything. He was addressing an auditorium of 3,500, many of them tea-party enthusiasts, when a Marine veteran named David Hedrick grabbed the microphone and bellowed, “Stay away from my kids,” declaring that Obama’s health-care bill authorized compulsory training in child-rearing for parents. The video became a viral sensation, earning over 1.3 million hits. Hedrick appeared on the Fox News circuit and became a congressional candidate in the primary in Baird’s district, where he finished second out of three GOP candidates. Three weeks ago, he was arrested for allegedly striking his wife in the back of the head twice. You can, however, still purchase a “Stay away from my kids” tote bag online.
That the left doesn’t recognize the similarities between the Obama and the tea-party movements is probably a function of just how good the Obama movement was at making its supporters feel special. But the fact is, this cycle, Republicans are taking advantage of this same desire for reempowerment, and they’re using the same tools. The tea-party movement is propelled by Facebook activity, copious tweets, and rallies celebrating the power of the audience. At the inaugural tea-party convention in February, Palin described the movement as “a ground-up call to action that is forcing both parties to change the way they’re doing business, and that’s beautiful. This is about the people.” In other words, Yes, we can.
There was always a certain messianism about the Obama campaign (which the Right was only too eager to point out), but Obama himself always managed to stay grounded. What's more interesting is, as alluded here, the Tea Party has adopted that mindset.
Sarah Palin, for instance, is almost a Bizarro version of Obama. The superficial form--physical attractiveness, youth, outsider appeal--was for him a vehicle to sell the measured, thoughtful content beneath. But with Palin, the form is the content. There's heat but no light beneath the "hot librarian" exterior; a spiting anti-intellect spitting wanton fire, and nothing else. Remember the Celebrity ad? McCain juxtaposed Obama with Paris Hilton, and then went and made Paris Hilton his running mate.
Obama won a Senate seat and learned the ropes of national legislation between his 2004 Democratic convention speech and his victory in 2008. Palin, assuming she runs, may well be the first presidential candidate to have learned absolutely nothing about governance since the last time she "ran."
I'm wondering how Obama will recalibrate his pitch for 2012. Even the most fervent of his 2008 believers isn't going to believe in a second coming. But with the opposition painting him as the Antichrist, he'll probably be glad to get back down to earth.
[Edited for unnecessary name calling]