Jim DeMint…. A Squish?

David Weigel’s recent Slate piece on Jim DeMint (R, SC) is a perfect example of a gentle leftwing undertone sprinkled into a story like seasoning salt in order to gently spin a story to negatively effect conservatives, or at the very least to artificially heighten tensions in order to make it seem as if conservatives are at each other’s throats.

Weigel’s Slate piece was a report on the first ever meeting of the Senate’s Tea Party Caucus headed up by Senator Jim DeMint and Weigel was bound and determined to make the meeting into some sort of conservative slugfest where all parties were taking each other on in a cage match to top even the World Wrestling Federation’s best brawls.

Mr. Weigel started out with an account of DeMint’s encounter with Tea Party activist Lisa Miller from Alexandria, Virginia. Miller was insisting that DeMint balance the budget but opposed any constitutional amendment to require it. DeMint, on the other hand, was adamant that it would take a constitutional amendment to balance the budget because regardless that congress always has had the tools to balance the budget anytime they wish — as Miller pointed out — he maintains that congress does not have the “institutional discipline” to do so.

DeMint kept walking her back. “The reason a lot of us are supporting a constitutional amendment,” he said, “is that they’ve done things before and made laws like pay-go–you can’t pass anything without paying for it. But every time it came up they’d waive it, with 51 votes. It was like a joke. The Social Security lockbox was supposed to keep us from spending Social Security funds. We kept spending them. There’s no institutional discipline.”

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Weigel presented this as a contentious exchange, most especially by insisting that, “DeMint kept trying to convince her that he–Jim DeMint!–was not a squish.” But there is no real indication that it was ever that contentious. Sure Miller and DeMint had a small disagreement over policy direction, but no one was calling DeMint a squish. Especially Miller because even Weigel was forced to admit at the end of his piece that Miller thought the whole meeting “had gone brilliantly.”

The back half of Weigel’s report was filled with the stuff that went right at the meeting. Weigel reported that the Senate’s Tea Party Caucus won’t have an official leader and will rotate the leadership — something that sat very well with the activists — that the activists enjoyed the meeting itself, and that many of the Tea Partiers were generally happy with things in Washington so far because a lot of their ideas had already been adopted (such as the ban on earmarks, a great victory had at the tail end of 2010). The activists seemed to feel they had a good start going.

So, why didn’t Weigel lead with all the “stuff going right” points but instead led imparting an overblown feeling of contention? Because he wanted to set the table for the report to lead readers to think the whole Tea Party movement is at odds with DeMint and the Tea Party caucus.

Listen there is no doubt that Tea Party activists across the country are unhappy with government. That is the reason they came together in the first place, after all. There is also no doubt that there are some trust issues between Tea Partiers and congress. But I don’t think that anyone can say that the Tea Partiers are any more or less suspicious of congressional leaders than left-wing activists are for their issues on their side of the aisle. That is why activists are activists, left or right. They don’t feel their issues have been properly handled. That activists have an automatic suspicion of congress should go without saying.

From the report Mr. Weigel posted it seems that the activists brought their ideas to the meeting, openly discussed them, and a guarded optimism was universally evinced by meeting’s end. Not much undue contention there. In fact, it was pretty clear that DeMint, Senator Rand Paul (R, KY) and the other leaders went out of their way to impress upon the activists that they, the activists, were in the driver’s seat for the Tea Party Caucus agenda.

All of these things could happen if the grass roots kept showing up and making noise about them. Policy was being moved right, said DeMint, “because of folks like you standing up and speaking out, because of the conservative media, radio talk shows, blogs, Fox News, who can get out right information.”

So, let’s ask once more: why did Weigel lead his story with an outsized focus on tension? Because he wanted to spin a negative image before he got to the real news.

Now, I’ve met Mr. Weigel a few times, most recently in Washington during swear-in week. You might remember Mr. Weigel for having been hired by the Washington Post to be their “conservative” reporter, their blogger to report on the conservative scene. But he got all caught up in that Journolist mess where it became obvious he was no conservative and seemed to even hold a certain amount of disgust for his subject. He eventually, and in short order parted ways with the Post.

Now, Dave’s is a nice guy, truly. Soft spoken, convivial, he’s no wild-eyed, hater like your Frank Richs or a Maureen Dowds. But, it is good to remember that he still approaches his reporting from the left. And this report is a perfect example of his subtle bias along those lines as well as that which many Old Media pundits and reporters also employ.

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