Monday, September 14, 2009

It's Time To Stop Obsessing About The Tea Party Numbers...

I wasn’t going to write this article, but I am getting increasingly annoyed at how some talking heads on the right are misusing this Tea Party Protest in Washington.

What happened in Washington, D.C. on Saturday was amazing. A huge number of patriotic and dedicated Americans turned out to have their voices heard. They were average people, not activists. They were people who love America deeply and don’t like what Team Obama is doing to this country. For most, this was the first time they’d ever done anything like this. And they sent a powerful message.

Without any doubt, they won an incredible victory. Indeed, in my lifetime, I’ve seen dozens of these protests, and I have never seen the immediate response that this protest got.

On Friday, the Democrats were demanding a public option as part of health care reform. Public option or no deal, they told us. By Sunday morning, after the rally, they were in full retreat on the talk shows. Even Robert Gibbs said that Obama only wanted “competition” and he downplayed the need for a public option -- calling it only “one way” to go. A half dozen key Democrats agreed. Olympia Snowe said "no way" to the public option. Susan Collins rejected the “triggered option.”

This is a victory, and it belongs to the wonderful and patriotic Americans who showed up in D.C.

So what’s troubling me?

First and foremost, I am really annoyed at the numbers game that many of the talking heads are playing with this rally. The numbers don’t matter! Let me say that again, the numbers don’t matter! What matters are two things (1) that there were way more people than expected and (2) (more importantly) these weren’t professional protesters, these were average people.

Why does that matter? Because Congress knows what happens on the Mall. They send their aides to go mingle. They know when they are dealing with a flood of worked up Americans or with indifferent, paid protesters. And they know these were real Americans, very upset and very determined, but also very average. These were the kinds of people who may or may not always vote in elections, but who will vote now. They know it, and they know they need to listen to these people. The proof of that came Sunday morning.

But by obsessing about the numbers, the talking heads are simply giving people a reason to see the rally as a failure. If I insist that the rally was a success because two million people showed up, and you think only 100,000 showed up, then it becomes very easy for you to dismiss the rally as a failure because it couldn’t even overcome the hurdles I set for calling it a success.

And arguing over whether or not it was two million or less, just distracts from what these people achieved. We should not be whining about the numbers. Instead, we should be out there trumpeting the success, and talking about how the Democrats have already given in on the public option, and demanding more -- cut spending, reduce the debt, lower regulation, stop interfering with the economy! We should not be turning victory into defeat by, after the fact, setting up impossible hurdles for success.

And I can assure you that the numbers being bandied about simply cannot be supported. Lets take the two million number that most of the talking heads now treat as Holy Writ (down, I might add, from initial estimates by “anonymous sources” of 4.5 million). Consider these facts:

First, when the National Park Service used to estimate crowd sizes, the activists always complained that they were underestimating by a factor of two. For example, the Park Service estimated the Million Man March at 400,000 (activists insisted it was 850,000). The same was true with every single rally that took place during the many, many years I lived in the D.C. area.

Once the Park Service stopped estimating crowds, all of the estimates -- across the board, left, right and center -- went up by a factor of 10. Suddenly, a crowd the Park Service would have called 100,000 people became one million. Overestimating by a factor of ten is a longtime human tradition.

Secondly, do the math. Look at the chart Bev provided us. This chart is consistent with other numbers I’ve see for the square footage of the mall. According to this chart, only 1.1 million people can be at the Mall in ideal circumstances. So forget the 2 million and the 4.5 million figures right away. Sure, there is more room if the crowd flows over into the side streets, but nowhere near another 100% the size of the Mall.

Further, look at the legend on the chart. The 1.1 million figure assumes 2.5 square feet per person. Think about that. Go get a ruler and see if you aren’t more than thirty inches wide and twelve inches deep. Moreover, consider that to get the 2.5 square feet footage also means that people need to be packed in together, literally touching each other side by side, front to back. That doesn’t happen except at the very front of rock concerts.

If you expand the amount of area needed to just two feet by three feet, which is still only a couple inches apart on each side, the 1.1 million capacity suddenly falls to 450,000 people.

Now read the Elves again, about finding some place to sit down, and look at the pictures and see the spaces between people. These people are not stacked like cord wood. They are allowing several feet between themselves and the people around them. All of that space drops the number significantly. Moreover, as anyone who has ever been in a crowd can tell you, the further back you go into the crowd, the greater the open space.

So how many really showed up? I don’t know and I don’t care. And you shouldn’t either. . . it’s not the number that made this a success. It’s the fact that they came and who they were. And this is the point the talking heads are missing.

What’s more, many of these same people are using this event as a means to boost their own ratings by beating the drums of paranoia. They scream that ABC and MSNBC and the foreign press “confirmed” the two million number, and now suddenly are backing off “to only a few thousand.” The conclusion? Knowing suggestions that Team Obama called the press and got the number “suppressed.”


First of all, no one “confirmed” the two million number. If you don’t believe me, go find a link. Even Drudge hasn’t put a number on the rally because no media source gave an estimate. What they’ve all said instead was “estimates ranged from a few thousand to two million.” That’s not a confirmation of anything.

And where does this two million estimate come from? It’s from a quote by a Democratic aide, who spoke on Friday night, and said, “we don’t know how many are coming, it could be a few thousand up to two million.” That’s not confirmation either.

Nor are the media now saying “only a few thousand.” Almost universally, the media are reporting “tens of thousands,” which is the sort of thing media types say when they don’t know and they don’t want to be accused of over-stating or understating a large number. There’s no conspiracy to suppress “the evidence” here. There is bias -- they should have been covering this rally much more thoroughly, but there’s no conspiracy to hide the truth.

So what’s my point? My point is that a lot of people need to stop diminishing the victory won by these great Americans who showed up on the Mall. Stop playing this stupid numbers game. And stop spinning a misread quote into a vast conspiracy to suppress the truth. These protesters have won a great victory. Help them make it a bigger victory, don’t try to turn it into a failure.


MegaTroll said...

I agree entirely. Well said. Thank you. I'm really far right on all issues, but I don't think what I'm seeing on many blogs helps. So many people are suffering from Obama Derangement Syndrome. No matter what happens, they twist it into some sort of unbelievable conspiracy and then they back it up with supposed facts that are obviously wrong.

How does it help our side to have people yelling fake facts and whacked out conspiracies? It doesn't.

The Tea Party was a great victory for America. We should celebrate it.

LawHawkSF said...

Andrew: I couldn't agree more. We're never going to get the respect conservatives and tax protestors deserve, and it isn't worth expending energy on. The New York Times today grudgingly went with the "tens of thousands" count, to avoid having to come up with any realistic numbers, but the crowd was, indeed, tens of thousands. All we're getting hung up on is "how many tens." Then they covered a couple of Obama rallies, which included tens, period.

The article concentrated on "some obscene signs," as if the left that they cover so joyfully never did anything as un-genteel as that. The Times purposely buried the headline below the fold, with only one picture referring to the article on the inside pages. Today, anyone with a brain who reads the New York Times knows to skip past the two big Obama rally articles and go straight to the inside pages, where something resembling the truth might actually appear.

Bottom line: We know the crowd was huge. The public knows the crowd was huge. Nobody believes anything the Times or most of what the MSM says anyway. Why lose sleep over it, and get diverted from the fact that we now have a huge and growing movement that will ultimately shake Obama's administration to its core? All their undercounting and miscounting ultimately means nothing.

The crowd was REALLY, REALLY BIG! Good enough.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, I couldn't agree more about the MSM. The only people who rely on the MSM at this point are on the left, and they aren't going to wake up even if the MSM tells them to.

To me, there are two real issues here. First, how do we get respect when our side runs around (as Mega says) making up facts and spitting out bizarre conspiracies? It's not just the numbers -- those are facts, but to spin it into an "Obama is suppressing the truth" argument is crazy. And how does that help us convince the 60% who share our views that we can be trusted to govern?

Secondly, I think this really is snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. These people pulled off an incredible achievement, take advantage of the victory to do some good. Don't go off on a stupid tangent about some newspaper not using a big enough number. Nobody respects a whiner.

Not to mention, it's really, really stupid to make the case that this really was a success because it hit some attendance number that no one believes. How does that make any sense?

AndrewPrice said...

Mega, there is nothing more discrediting that relying on provably false facts. And many people right now are so upset that they've thrown aside their judgment and they are treating rumor and suspicion as fact, just as the left did under Bush.

If you weren't convinced by the left's garbage about Bush, why would you think anyone will be anymore convinced when we do the same thing?

Anonymous said...

I thought about this now and I think your right. This is a huge victory for the American people and it only lowers the victory by getting into an argument about how many people showed up.

AndrewPrice said...

Anon, That's my point. This is a huge victory and we should use it. To get into a fight about what the attendance was and who reported it right or not, only diminishes that victory.

Instead of talking about what this means, we end up talking about how many people really showed up.

patti said...

huge huge victory. that the msm is quiet and that barry is spinning tells the story.


AndrewPrice said...

Patti, it does. The fact that they failed to cover this adequately and that Obama has been dismissive to so many citizens is what is relevant -- not what the count was.

And spinning these conspiracies about the suppression of the "truth" don't add anything.

If you have a good argument -- use it! Don't try to create a whole new argument out of whole cloth.

Skinners 2 Cents said...

Interesting article, I hadn't even given it much thought. I saw the picture from behind the crowd with the capitol in the distance and said "DAMN that's a lot of people."

What got my attention most was all the great signage. I was in stitches reading what some people had put on their signs. I'm going to have to say that freedom loving individuals come up with some great slogans.

The Tea Party protesters have shown themselves to be very capable of swaying Congressional and presidential opinions. Was the crowd half full or half empty...who cares fill it back up and let's start marching again.

AndrewPrice said...

Skinner, that is my point exactly. What these people did was great (I loved the signs too).

And they have already been successful!

Let's give this rally the credit it deserves, not worry about what the numbers were -- that's just a distraction.

98ZJUSMC said...

Regardless of the numbers, the left got a BIG shake-up over this and they are VERY concerned. I donned some protective outgarments and waded through some of their boards. There is a lot of acknowledgement that this was a big win for us.

CrisD said...

Great article~~~ but Mega Troll! You make me feel so dirty to have "Obama Derangement Syndrome!" I was enjoying it so much (and just have one after 5:00 and it doesn't interfere with work or school!!! ;^) )

My concerns are that there IS a grass roots conservative movement hope is that this is the beginning of the movemont.

PS So many signs, so little time!!! Haha, there I go again!

AndrewPrice said...

98ZJUSMC, You are a much braver man than I am -- no way I want to spend time on their boards. Still, I'm glad to hear that at least some reality is creeping into their world!

No matter how you look at it, this rally was huge!

AndrewPrice said...

CrisD, I hope this is the beginning of a conservative movement. I hope that this signals that conservative America has woken up and will now take control of the parties. I'd like to see them set the Republicans right, and toss the socialists out of the Democratic party.

Writer X said...

Agreed. Now let's hope the momentum will continue. I've never seen anything like this. I believe the passion that people demonstrated will stay with us for a long time--at least until there is real change. And there needs to be change in the Republican Party, too, but that is another story.

AndrewPrice said...

Writer X, That is another story, about the Republicans. I'd frankly like to see change in the Democratic Party as well. I'd like to see them go back to being the party of JFK rather than the party of personal grievances.

I've never seen anything like this either. And I think that's what people should be talking about. This was a massive outpouring of Americans all demanding smaller, more accountable government. We need to trumpet that message now to everyone who will listen.

BevfromNYC said...

These tea parties and the reaction at the town hall meetings actually prove how naive and unsavvy Obama really is. There are two sides to "transparency" and we are seeing it in action. Conservatives get the information too and don't like what they see and have the means to speak up. Like our our Founding Fathers, we tend to be educated, property and business owners, and tax payers. We also are older and have more experience watching government and tend to be less idealistic. And, if I do say so myself, we tend to have better senses of humor. As long as we feel our pockets and our country are in peril, we won't back down.

StanH said...

Love what you said Andrew. It serves no purpose to debate the un- provable. The only thing that matters there were a lot of people in Washington. Don’t forget the other Tea Parties going on throughout the country, Dallas, Atlanta, etc. I would reckon as one of the signs said at the protest, to paraphrase, “for every one that showed up there are fifty that wanted to come.” This movement is massive and uniquely American, and is not going away. If you are in the political “business” …this is definitely not a group to ignore.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Stan! In my experience, this is the kind of group politicians can't ignore -- these are regular people who have turned out. This is who decides who sits in those seats in government.

And you're right, let's not forget this happened in a dozen other cities -- and I understand they had good turn out as well. And the marchers had the sympathies of million of their fellow Americans.

This is a super victory and hopefully, a huge wake up call for our political classes.

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, I think you're right. I think that Obama is terribly naive and wholly unprepared for what is happening. I think this rally was a great sign for 2010 and beyond!

ArmChairGeneral said...

well stated!

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks ACG! There's no need to run down our own defeats!

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