Tea partiers are savvy -- that's the reality
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One of the biggest cliches about American civic life has the virtue of also being true: More Americans vote for reality show contestants than cast ballots in elections that would make a difference in their lives.
This enthusiasm gap can be partly explained by the fact that millions of tweens who regularly text their choice for the next American Idol when they're not overwhelming the phone banks aren't old enough to vote.
With the exception of a few voting districts in Chicago and rural Louisiana, most Americans are discouraged from casting more than one ballot for political candidates.
Meanwhile, reality shows like "American Idol" encourage viewers to vote early and often, so it really isn't a scandal when partisans organize to back particular contestants. Tea partiers took advantage of that in rallying behind Bristol Palin's efforts on "Dancing With the Stars."
The number of Americans old enough to vote, but who chose not to in this month's elections, speaks to the sorry state of civics education in America.
They were neither sufficiently moved by self-interest to protect the Democratic majority in the Congress nor inspired enough by Republican ideas to send President Barack Obama a message.
They were content to let whatever happens to our democracy happen. Such stupefying indifference to the electoral process hasn't been lost on media-savvy politicians, including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a 2012 Republican presidential frontrunner.
Unlike Democratic strategists and their enablers in the media who also sneer at reality programming, Ms. Palin has figured out that a vast reservoir of potential votes are to be had in the nether regions of the cable TV and broadcast universes.
At the risk of overstating it, conservatives like Ms. Palin are better at figuring this out than bookish Democrats who'd rather go on Charlie Rose's show and cite Richard Hofstadter's "The Paranoid Style in American Politics" than understand what's happening in the culture today.
Having surpassed Democrats in the use of social media like Facebook and Twitter, Ms. Palin and other conservatives are busy infiltrating once-despised media spaces where the non-voting majority have gone to escape our divisive politics.
Although the ratings fell a whopping 40 percent in its second week, the initial success of TLC's "Sarah Palin's Alaska" was a stunning vindication of the tea party darling's counter-intuitive media strategy.
Forays by conservatives Tom DeLay and Tucker Carlson on earlier seasons of "Dancing With the Stars" didn't amount to much, but those hapless hoofers did prepare the world for the absurdity of Bristol Palin's inevitable debut.
The nation's most famous single mother recently cut a pro-abstinence PSA with "Jersey Shore" meathead The Situation, an act of pure pop culture genius on too many levels to count.
"Going out there and winning this would be like a big middle finger to all the people out there that hate my mom and hate me," Ms. Palin said the night her winning streak against far superior dancers finally ended.
Though neither a "star" nor a particularly good dancer, Ms. Palin managed to make it to the finals thanks to a call-in campaign by tea partiers.
But even as Bristol Palin went down for the count, there were reports that her puppeteer of a mom lobbied the show to invite failed Delaware Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell to compete next season.
Not to be outdone, President Obama has responded with his own unorthodox reality show appearance.
The Discovery Channel has begun promoting an upcoming episode of "MythBusters," the popular cable show hosted by two scientists who explore whether widely believed theories are true by testing them in the real world.
The Dec. 8 episode features Mr. Obama soberly requesting a study of the technological feasibility of Archimedes' rumored solar heat ray.
The ancient Greek mathematician is alleged to have created a super weapon that destroyed an enemy armada using only sunlight and a network of mirrors during the Siege of Syracuse in 214-212 B.C.
See, this is the difference between Republicans and Democrats. Of all the "myths" a walking myth-magnet like Mr. Obama could have asked them to explore, he picks this obscurity. Figures.
First Published November 26, 2010 12:00 am