The Meaning of 9/12

Matt Welch offers a report on yesterday’s tea party that I’d say bends over to avoid discussing the ugly sentiments and crackpottery that the event was suffused with. What I really wonder about, though, is Welch’s assertion that “the meta-fact about a huge anti-Obamanomics protest eight months into his term is certainly significant.” What, I wonder, is significant about it?

There are about 300 million people in the United States of America of whom about 130 million voted last November. Of them, 60 million voted for John McCain, handing Barack Obama a solid though not overwhelming victory. Some of those people actually liked Obama, but just liked McCain more (both men had approval ratings over 50 percent on election day). But the median McCain voter really disliked Obama from the beginning. And some people disliked Obama even more than that median McCain voter. Indeed, about 60,000 people should have hated Obama three standard deviations more than the typical McCain voter. And apparently 30,000 people is a “generous” estimate of the tea party turnout.

To get 30,000 people to turn out to protest Obamanomics is a pretty impressive logistical/organizing achievement. But what does it really tell us? Nobody ran headlines the day after election day saying “MILLIONS OF AMERICANS REALLY DISLIKE BARACK OBAMA” but it was true then and it’s still true today. But what’s the significance of this fact? I recall some non-tiny anti-war rallies all across the country in the fall of 2001. But it’s a big country, and every statistically valid survey indicates that at that time both George W. Bush and the invasion of Afghanistan were hugely popular. If you want to know how people feel about Barack Obama, you can find out that a slight majority approve of the job he’s doing. But on the specific issue of the economy, he’s in slight negative territory.