For the Tea Party, gaining broader legitimacy has been an ever-present challenge. When the movement took off in 2010, some of its leaders blamed the media for presenting images of paranoid, racist cranks. We’re not all birthers, the protest went. Our main issues are economic. A couple of people shouting the n-word, or hurling anti-gay slurs, shouldn’t taint us all.
So perhaps the Tea Party Express should have rethought its decision to pack Monday’s debate with a large, impassioned, and unusually loud audience. They cheered wildly at various morsels of red meat thrown by Michele Bachmann. They booed Rick Perry for letting the children of illegal immigrants pay in-state college tuition in Texas. And then came the jaw-dropping moment when Wolf Blitzer asked Ron Paul whether the country should let an uninsured person die. From the crowd, a couple of people hollered: “Yeah!’’
To be fair, there was a longer, louder cheer for Paul’s response: that in the past, churches would take care of people’s medical bills. Still, the notion that Tea Party members would cheer somebody’s death reverberated about the Internet, forcing Perry to distance himself from the crowd.
Democrats are thrilled, but all the bloodthirsty shouting did little for political discourse. As WBZ’s Jon Keller tweeted last night, “The case for debates without a live audience rests.’’