Tea for Tú

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As I contemplate the results of the November 6 election, I find I am absolutely astonished: My ballot turned out to be virtually identical to the overall results of California. Good gracious, even Proposition 30, the temporary tax increase designed to stave off absolute financial disaster for public education, passed. I mean, Californians voting for a tax increase? How did that happen? Well, you couldn't have guessed it from reading the oft-maligned "liberal media"—nor from reading the responses to many online news stories involving Californian or national politics. For in spite of the common right-wing canard that the media have a "liberal bias" (as if the Fox News network wasn't a member of the mass media), and ever since Sarah Palin and the Tea Party burst onto the national stage, the media have provided such heavy coverage of conservative movements that it has been difficult to detect any non-conservative pulse in the American electorate. Even the Los Angeles Times, traditionally a moderately liberal news organization, has served as a conservative crystal ball recently, reporting that support for Proposition 30 had fallen drastically below 50% on the eve of the election (it passed by a 54% to 46% margin—which the Times reluctantly described as "appear[ing] to squeak by with a victory"). And the comments from readers to the Times on the issue prior to the election itself seem to all have demanded that every teacher and professor in the state be fired in lieu of any tax increase. No, the outcome of this election was not at all apparent in either the traditional or digital media. Which takes me to my point. While I would not go so far as to describe myself as hopeful, it is nice to see that the power of the mass media (a power that I regard as indisputable) is not yet absolute. Even with the anti-Prop 30 forces outspending their opponents by twenty million dollars or so (with a lot of that coming from mysterious out-of-state forces), Prop 30 passed; and Prop 32 (which would have ended the ability of labor unions to make election campaign contributions, and which the same mysterious out-of-state forces spent a fortune to support), failed. In short, a whole lot of television time went to naught. One takeaway that I am fairly confident of is that when it comes to the comments sections on online newspaper and other Internet news sources, conservative responders appear to outnumber liberal or moderate ones. Perhaps the liberals are on Twitter (a real possibility), or Facebook, but if you went by the election news story responses on Yahoo! during the primaries, you would have sworn that Ron Paul was a shoe-in for the Republican nomination. So, we have to be careful when trying to use the mass media as a bowl of tea leaves to predict American electoral behavior. The last four years have presented a disproportionate coverage of Tea Party activity, which has granted that movement a lot of real power (the media can create their own realities sometimes), but this election's results reveal that it isn't all Tea in America. There's a lot more going on that just isn't as sensational, and thus doesn't invite those click-the-links that make money for digital media. Is there a new, moderate, "silent majority" out there? Let us hope so.
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About the Author
Jack Solomon is Professor Emeritus of English at California State University, Northridge, where he taught literature, critical theory and history, and popular cultural semiotics, and directed the Office of Academic Assessment and Program Review. He is often interviewed by the California media for analysis of current events and trends. He is co-author, with the late Sonia Maasik, of Signs of Life in the U.S.A.: Readings on Popular Culture for Writers, and California Dreams and Realities: Readings for Critical Thinkers and Writers, and is also the author of The Signs of Our Time, an introductory text to popular cultural semiotics, and Discourse and Reference in the Nuclear Age, a critique of poststructural semiotics that proposes an alternative semiotic paradigm.