When Hillary Clinton spoke of a "vast right wing conspiracy" in 1998 as she lashed out at the attacks against then president Bill Clinton, many (especially on the right) thought her paranoid, and the right still mocks her to this day regarding her choice of phrase. But in the decade or so since Clinton made that statement, various researchers have revealed the size and scope of the network of conservative groups and individuals who indeed so operate in concert to advance the conservative agenda.
On the communications size, the network of radio, TV, and blogs create a right-wing noise machine, which, in the past, has proven astonishingly successful at creating scandal out of the benign or making fiction seem like fact (i.e., Obama is a Muslim, or he's unpatriotic because he didn't wear a flagpin).
The April 15th "tea protests" revealed more about this right-wing noise machine than they did about some purported coast-to-coast anti-liberal revolution.
As Media Matters has extensively documented, Fox "News," the most popular cable news network in America, aggressively pushed these tea parties on air and on line for weeks on end. It billed them as "FNC Tax Day Tea Parties." It ran 107 ads for the event in just 10 days. Neil Cavuto and Glenn Beck made the events cornerstones of their shows. In short, the "most-watched news network," with some 2.2 million viewers at night, was a 24/7 infomercial for these events.
The mammoth effort to promote the protests also took place online. At its newly-revealed "community" website, FOX Nation, Fox News held "virtual" tax day tea protests, linked readers to organizing sites, and otherwise appeared as if its sole purpose was to generate support for the events.
Bedrock conservatives organizations also jumped on board. AFA, anti-tax groups galore, purported "grass roots" groups launched websites helping people coordinate the protests. The entire right-wing blogosphere threw its efforts behind the project. Malkin and other "leading" wingnuts called their readers to arms, organizing them, and giving them no excuses not to participate.
Meanwhile, the RNC joined in and reached out to its massive online list urging participation in the tea parties. Republican politicians from coast to coast jumped on the wagon, reaching out to their constituents as well and urging them to support the protests.
In other words, we saw every limb of the GOP body flexed, every aspect of conservative infrastructure -- from TV to print to old school organizing -- galvanized and working overtime towards a singular purpose: organizing protests that would embarrass the President and Democrats and which would purportedly "show" that Americans "across the country" rejected the progressive policies put in place over the last several months (and indeed, that they disapproved of the mere presence of progressive politicians).
All of that effort, all of that fervor, and yes, all of that conspiracy to engage in the most orchestrated and massive celebration of conservative principles...and we got this?
Clusters of tea parties comprised of, as Colbert would say, the "backwash" of the nation? For all of Newt Gingrich's pre-party boasting, for all of Fox's claims of a massive populist uprising, the entire conservative apparatus could only give us video clips of flocks of 23 percenters who probably think Bush was a good president and who likely think Rush Limbaugh would be a great one?
Whether total attendance across the nation was 100,000, 200,000 or, as tax day proponents falsely claim, 500,000, the fact remains that the all of the sound and fury and cacophony orchestrated since the Santelli "tax day rant" climaxed not in a populist uprising against an "oppressive" government, but in a smorgasbord of First Amendment expression that, as Markos explained last week, unfocused, minimal, and ineffective.
The great right-wing noise machine was the Pied Piper of discombobulated and fringe interests. Responding to the right-wing clarion call for action were the bitter remants of the Ron Paul movement, libertarians fuming at both parties, and "Dittoheads" running about like Mad Hatters blabbering about our "socialist" and "fascist" government.
Republican politicians eager to boost what they thought were their conservative credentials showed up and aligned themselves with these protesters, like fisherman gleefully posing next to the dead carcass of the catch of the day.
This is what the right-wing noise machine wrought. Not organized opposition, but scattered and grumbling chaos.
The failure of the tea protests -- not necessarily just in terms of numbers but also with respect to the lack of effectiveness -- demonstrates that the right-wing noise machine is successful in influencing or organizing public opinion only when its propaganda is amplified by traditional and more mainstream media sources.
This time around--unlike with the MoveOn or flagpin or other controversies--CNN and MSNBC took a hands off approach to the manufactured story of a mass tax day populist uprising. Recognizing that this brand of crazy was too strong to dignify with support, none of the other big networks or other news sources promoted the events or dedicated any relevant time to covering the lead up to the protests. Indeed, in a startling and welcomed about-face, many networks actually reported on the fact that these were not "non-partisan" events, but events largely backed and organized by the conservative infrastructure.
Starved of attention and support, FOX "News," Drudge and the rest of the members of the right-wing messaging apparatus were left to their own devices. With no amplifier, the protests of the right-wing noise machine were not a roar to the masses but a soliloquy to the conservative self.
And this is perhaps the greatest revelation to be made through the protests. The right-wing noise machine, like any messaging endeavor, needs the fuel of amplification and affirmation to be successful. When its message is mocked rather than repeated, when it is ignored by the press rather than ingested and regurgitated for the masses, not even the juggernaut FOX News, with its 2.2 million viewers, and not even Drudge, with his following, and not even every cog in the conservative machine in between can move a message--even a muddled one--forward into the public consciousness.
The failure of the tax day tea protests revealed that the messaging and organizing infrastructure on the right is severely wounded. And when the vaunted right-wing noise machine eventually does goes down, it will do so not with a bang, but a whimper and a whine, mumbling to its irrelevant self about how the rest of the world is conspiring against it by failing to recognize the brilliance of conservative ideology.
Sure, we mock. But it's a time to mourn. The grand Republican machine that roared in the 1980s and 1990s is sputtering into the 21st century, shuddering and clanking along as it runs on the fumes of failed ideology.
Farewell, our once worthy opponent. Farewell.
And good riddance.