I mentioned yesterday the ongoing liberal protests in North Carolina dubbed “Moral Mondays.” Protesters are self-consciously modeling their efforts on Wisconsin’s, which as I noted, doesn’t necessarily bode well for them. But it does give us a chance to witness, once again, the breathtaking double standard in media coverage for protests populated by liberals vs. protests populated by conservatives.
You’ll remember back in 2009, conservatives packed health care town halls to object to Obamacare. There was pointed questioning, occasional yelling, and rare cases (nonetheless very well publicized) of physical altercations of some sort. Back in 2009, in my post-mortem on the August town halls, which had inspired national media to openly fret about the impending doom of the Republic, I calculated that there were about 11 incidents of documented violence at more than 500 health care town halls, and that the majority of them were perpetrated by liberals on conservatives. This, of course, was not the narrative that emerged from that month or what most people remember from it because the media was busy freaking out about how all these peaceful demonstrators and pointed question-askers were bringing the nation to the brink of collapse.
Since then, we’ve seen the destruction of public parks, total disregard for permitting rules, frequent violent eruptions, and occasional sexual assaults or mysterious deaths of Occupy Wall Street glossed over by media in their fervor to continue a national dialogue about inequality and stuff. Had a Tea Party ever resulted in mass arrests, defecating on cop cars, or sexual assaults of attendees, the public policy concerns of the protest’s participants would have been quickly dismissed and the group demonized. For Tea Partiers, those things happened despite holding actual peaceful protests in which public lands were left often better than they were found.
Now, we have “Moral Mondays.” Check out the L.A. Times’ coverage and imagine this kind of press release ever appearing on a Tea Party gathering in national news. Now, imagine that Tea Party protest had included hundreds of arrests. Laugh with me, people.
Raleigh, N.C. — The Rev. Deborah Cayer arrived at the state Legislature building here Monday night wearing a protest button and toting an umbrella. She had tucked her driver’s license into her skirt waistband.
That was all she carried. She had come prepared to spend the night in jail.
Along with 83 other opponents of the Republican-led legislature, Cayer and several fellow clergy members were arrested at a rainy “Moral Monday” protest. Their civil disobedience — they ignored police orders to disperse — was the latest in a growing series of protests over the conservative agenda of North Carolina’s Republican-run state government.
“I wanted to be a part of this, and to be heard,” Cayer, a Unitarian Universalist minister from Durham, said moments before a police officer gently wrapped plastic flex cuffs on her wrists and led her off to jail. Her button read, “Forward together — not one step back” — a theme of the more than 380 protesters arrested in the six weekly protests held so far.
North Carolina has long portrayed itself as a progressive former Confederate state — a moderate Southern beacon in civil rights and social justice. That image has been challenged since November, when Republicans won the governor’s race and took control of both the Legislature and governor’s mansion for the first time since Reconstruction.
For the state’s Democrats, Barack Obama’s narrow victory in North Carolina in the 2008 presidential election — the first by a Democrat since Jimmy Carter in 1976 — seems a long, long time ago.
Since November, Republicans have proposed or passed measures to cut unemployment insurance; impose a voter ID law; divert public money to private and religious schools through vouchers; and trim public education budgets. The state has joined at least 12 other states in rejecting billions of dollars in federal Medicaid expansion funding under the Affordable Care Act.
“Impose,” “divert,” and “reject,” being the impartial verbiage favored by the very groups that sponsor these protests, but no matter. The thing goes on and on and on. The protesters are inspiring, facing odds and dutifully being arrested for what they believe in, man. There is no investigation of who is behind them, no impugning the protesters’ motives, and no hand-wringing about the assault they’re launching on a peaceful capital, as there would be with the much more peaceful and orderly Tea Partiers.
The protests have settled into a well-rehearsed drama: On Monday, as before, protesters sang, prayed and refused to disperse. Police officers lined up, coils of white plastic cuffs in hand. Jeff Weaver, chief of the General Assembly police, warned protesters they had five minutes to end their “unlawful assembly.”
Five minutes later, with news photographers and police officers recording the event, protesters offered their wrists for cuffing. The officers politely escorted them to an elevator for a short walk to a prison bus that would take them to jail. One officer carried the handbag of woman he had arrested. Outside, other protesters cheered as each handcuffed arrestee boarded the bus.
Recent protests have focused on Republican-sponsored tax reforms that Democrats say would benefit corporations and wealthy individuals while imposing sales taxes with a proportionally greater impact on poor and middle-class consumers. Republicans say the proposals eliminate tax disparities and encourage investment in the state.
“This is a plan of action that respects all our citizens,” state Rep. John Szoka, a Republican, said this week.
The Legislature has also alarmed environmentalists with bills that favor developers over environmental regulations. One proposal would repeal restrictions on upstream sources whose pollution flows into Jordan Lake, a major municipal water supply in central North Carolina.
Conservatives learned in 2009 and 2010 that their right to assemble and protest faced limits the Left’s does not. Those limits were mostly public relations obstacles, imposed by a press that treated them quite differently than other protesters and very unfairly. The Tea Party adapted, making efforts to police itself for LaRouchie outliers and rude signs that could be used to impugn the whole movement. Gatherings left the grounds of every park they graced immaculate, and participants made a point of thanking police presence for their contributions. Despite their best efforts, and more meek and mild behavior than any major protest movement in several decades, they were demonized. The gap between the standards is so great as to still boggle my mind no matter how many times I see it.
It’s so great as to conclude it is an intentional attempt to discourage one side from exercising its rights, and not just a symptom of reporters being more sympathetic to liberal politics. The coverage of the Tea Party, especially racism charges, is meant to discourage home-schooling moms and flat-tax dads from getting involved and to put off possible newcomers. The press largely finds it distasteful when conservatives voice their beliefs in public and would like them to keep it as quiet as possible if they feel the need to talk at all.
The persecution of Tea Party groups at the hands of the IRS institutionalized this message. One method was unfair and unethical; its ensconcing in the halls of government power was unconstitutional. But make no mistake about it. Neither is merely a mistake.