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The Tea Party Is Dangerous: Dispelling 7 Myths That Help Us Avoid Reality About the New Right-Wing Politics

It may be fashionable to dismiss the Tea Party and its radical, right-wing pals, but we do so at our peril.

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Day after day, the themes favored by the billionaires and political operatives who mobilize the Tea Partiers are hammered with ruthless repetition not only by Glenn Beck and the rest of Fox News, but also by Rush Limbaugh and hundreds of radio talk-show hosts and right-wing syndicated newspaper columnists. And now those themes are finding their way into mainstream media as journalists feel compelled to address them in their reporting.

Over the course of the last 30 years, conservatives have held more years in power than liberals and moderate Democrats. But the men behind the right-wing fury don’t just want their power back; they want more of it than they’ve ever had before.

The right is patient, but it is not kind. Its leaders are content to take a long path to their goal of grabbing all the marbles. In the 2010 elections, they may win a few and lose a few, but in these two things they will succeed: moving both the civic discourse and the Republican Party further to the right.

Through the launch of successful primary challenges in key races for the U.S. Senate, they’ve introduced ideas far outside the mainstream of American political discourse: elimination of the Department of Education and the Federal Reserve, the outlawing of abortion under any circumstances. These ideas have never before had the breadth of coverage granted by national media to important electoral contests. Absurd as they may seem now, they may seem less so if liberal governance fails to heal the economy.

As progressives and liberals seek to make sense of the Tea Party movement, a handful of myths have emerged to explain the wishful thinking about the movement’s supposed inability to gain the kind of power that could set us back decades. Some are excuses for inaction, some are fantasies born of denial and some are simple simple misreadings of the times. Here are seven emerging themes for not taking the Tea Party movement seriously, and why they are wrong.

1. The Tea Party movement is largely a creation of the media, which devotes too much coverage to the Tea Party's small constituency of malcontents.

There's little doubt that media hype has played a significant role in both the growth and coverage of the Tea Party movement. But that does not negate the potential impact of this anti-government tribe on American politics or governance, as Mother Jones blogger Kevin Drum believes. Rather, the role played by media in amplifying the Tea Party message simply speaks to one means -- the major one, perhaps -- by which the movement has grown. And now media are beginning to internalize some of those themes in their own assessments of the Obama administration, such as the obsession with reducing the federal deficit in an economy that, if history is any guide, will require serious deficit spending to repair.

Those who count supporters of the Tea Party movement as a small cohort within the American populace often cite, as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Cynthia Tucker does, the finding from the New York Times/CBS News poll that Tea Party supporters account for 18 percent of the general population. If that's evidence of their irrelevance, than liberals may as well count themselves out of the realm of political influence: The same poll shows that liberals make up a mere 20 percent. (The survey did not offer a designation for "progressive," so it's presumed that liberals and progressives are lumped together.)

When it comes to the Tea Party movement, the media comprise the message, as much as carry it. The structural role that media play in amplifying, growing and maintaining the movement has elements that set it apart from other movements, due to the role played by Rupert Murdoch and his two flagship U.S. properties: Fox News and the Wall Street Journal.