First, the Republican Party had to show a healthy respect and appreciation for the Tea Party for not going off and forming an official third party in a two-party system, siphoning off voters en masse and messing up the whole election mainstream Americans have long-awaited. Then, the media had to figure out what hit them.

It took until the eve of the elections for elite media to give more than grudging respect to the force collectively known by that name ‘Tea Party’, though no one has a grip on it…which makes it an intriguing sort of renegade movement of commoners.

So I have to take my favorite ‘newspaper’ (or magazine, to non-Brits) to task for some of their recent coverage. But affectionatly, because The Economist does a great job of covering it all well, albeit with their own built-in preconceptions (one of which is the pervasive over-indulgence of praise or credit to President Obama for imagined achievements).

Last week, in anticipation of the invevitable Republican landslide, The Economist did a cover story on Angry America, a premise I disagree with, though it’s their meme and they’re sticking with it. The Leader in that issue is worth a commentary itself, but you know what they say about ‘day old newspapers’… I’ll let my notes on that one pass now that it’s a week on, except for this:

Mr Obama seems curiously unable to perceive, let alone respond to, the grievances of middle America, and has a dangerous habit of dismissing tea-partiers and others who disagree with him as deluded, evil or just bitter. The silver tongue that charmed America during the campaign has been replaced by a tin ear…

Whatever the reason, he does not seem to feel America’s pain, and looks unable either to capitalise on his administration’s achievements or to project an optimistic vision for the future.

True, except his achievements have been overstated by many foreign media and certainly, many fawning but fading American media.

So in that same issue, on the eve of the election, the wise columnist Lexinton ran this polite look at The good, the bad and the tea parties. Ever so right to make that plural.

The Washington Post spent months trying to contact every tea-party group in the nation. Having got through to 647 out of 1,400 it had identified, it found that some consisted of only a handful of members, if they existed at all.

So go back to how Lexington began this seemingly polite commentary.

IT IS not hard, if you really try, to find good things to say about America’s tea-partiers. They are not French, for a start. France’s new revolutionaries, those who have been raising Cain over Nicolas Sarkozy’s modest proposal to raise the age of retirement by two years, appear to believe that public money is printed in heaven and will rain down for ever like manna to pay for pensions, welfare, medical care and impenetrable avant-garde movies. America’s tea-partiers are the opposite: they exhale fiscal probity through every pore…

The tea-partiers do not just have less selfish motives than the pampered French. They also have better manners. Let the French block roads and set things on fire: among tea-partiers it is a point of pride that their large but orderly rallies leave barely a crumpled candy wrapper behind them.

And Lexington makes this apt point:

America’s pontificating class is not yet sure how to take the measure of this strange new movement.

True of all of them (the pontificating class). Here’s what Lexington came up with…

Not French, not fabricated and not as flaky as their detractors aver: these are the positives. Another one: in how many other countries would a powerful populist movement demand less of government, rather than endlessly and expensively more? Much of what is exceptional about America is its ideology of small government, free enterprise and self reliance. If that is what the tea-party movement is for, more power to its elbow.

And power it had last Tuesday, in the 2010 midterm elections. So I was eager to see how The Economist would handle that. Take a look at this cover story. When it arrived in my mailbox, I had to stop and appreciate the full amount of energy that went into creating just the art alone, putting the faces of Sarah Palin, John Boehner, Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor, Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee on the faces of a cowboy posse charging into Washington. Cute.

But here’s the rub. They acknowledge this:

The mid-term elections on November 2nd saw the biggest swing to the Republicans for 72 years.

However, editors seem to go into a snit about it all after that.

Yes, this was hardly an enthusiastic vote for his opponents, more a howl of rage against incumbents from citizens struggling after the worst slowdown since the 1930s. And he has a string of legislative achievements to his name.

It actually was an enthusiastic vote for his opponents, and it’s unfair to call it a “howl of rage”, which is beneath the level of respect those voters deserve. Furthermore, I’d like to hear a reasoned case of what those legislative achievements are. Mandates rammed through a Democratic Congress do not constitute legislative achievements, in some reasoned opinion.


Whether [presumptive Speaker of the House] Mr. [John] Boehner decides to work with Mr Obama or against him, voters will accord him a share of the blame if things continue to be miserable.

Hold on. Flip it. What about Mr. Obama working with Mr. Boehner and the House? And his accountability and share of the blame if by not doing so, things continue to be miserable?

Okay, a couple more things…

No red-blooded conservative will touch defence expenditure at a time when America’s troops are in combat and the country faces toner-wielding terrorists and a rising China.

What about a red-blooded American liberal?

And then there’s this (and note that it’s a parenthetical statement, cueing the reader to give it less attention):

(Of course, Mr Obama has no credible plan to deal with the deficit either. But at least by backing a stimulus now he has a cogent answer to the immediate problem of the stuttering recovery.)

The Economist has thus declared the pork-laden economic stimulus spend-a-thon to be a cogent answer to economic crisis.

So in the end, realistic analysis:

Mr Obama could extend more help to small businesses, offer tax reforms that would make commerce simpler and generally do more to show that he understands how wealth is created. The Bush tax cuts, due to expire at the end of this year, could be extended and a short-term stimulus agreed upon…

Deadlock over the Bush tax cuts will see them expire, letting taxes rise sharply by default. Without further help from the federal government, cash-strapped states will sack employees and cut benefits next year. It is in everybody’s interest that Sheriff Obama and the Republican posse work together.

To grab once again at an overused and time-worn stereotype of American grit. But they have to start somewhere in trying to figure out the new reality that has just descended on Washington. They may have the posse right, but the sheriff has yet to earn his badge.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....