NYT's Sam Tanenhaus Schools CBS's Lesley Stahl on Tea Party Women

October 19th, 2010 9:59 AM

CBS reporter Lesley Stahl was very confused on Monday's "Morning Joe". She just couldn't figure out why there are so many women involved with the Tea Party.

Stahl received a basic civics lesson from two unlikely personalities: columnist Mike Barnicle, and Sam Tanenhaus, editor of the New York Times Book Review and author of "The Death of Conservatism".

Tanenhaus noted that economic issues are of particular importance to women, and therefore that women are going to be more active when their economic livelihood is threatened. Barnicle suggested that since women generally handle household finances, the illogic of deficit spending is especially clear to them (video and transcript below the fold - h/t Caroline May).

STAHL: I wanted to ask all the gurus here, why so many of the Tea Partiers are women. I find that just intriguing and don't quite understand why that has happened?

BARNICLE: I have no idea.

BRZEZINSKI: Sarah Palin? I don't know.

STAHL: I don't know either. But it's a phenomenon, and it's a real, and there are enough that it's a critical mass.

TANENHAUS: Can I propose my suggestion, see what you think of it Leslie [inaudible]? You've been talking about the economy. Who runs the household economy in America? I mean, the classic Greek word for economics means "home economy". Who's paying the bills? Who's worried about the kids and college loans? They are the ones that run the country.

BARNICLE: It could be that women, as we all know, are smarter than men.

TANENHAUS: It's not saying much, but it's true.

BARNICLE: And they have better instincts than men, and they know off what you just said, that the government or their household - you have a checkbook. You can't start writing things for checks that you can't pay for. The checks bounce. We've been bouncing checks as a government for 20 years.

STAHL: But the Tea Partiers are not necessarily saying we have to pay our bills, they're saying no taxes, and that doesn't mean we are going to pay your bills. I'm not sure that's the message. And it is the first answer.

TANENHAUS: Can I throw out a second one?

STAHL: Yeah.

TANENHAUS: The politics of those that have not been engaged in the process before. Very early on in the Tea Party, it was women coming forward saying 'I've never paid attention, now I can organize, now I can get involved.' The greatest contribution conservatism has made to American politics in the last 40 years is that the protest is channelled through organized politics. Conservatives don't take to the streets, they don't burn cities down, they don't riot. They get involved in parties, campaigns, they'll do the work of licking envelopes, right, putting stamps on them. That's women's work, too - you actually do the work, not just talk about it like people like me.

STAHL: It's ultimate anti-establishment.

BRZEZINSKI: Yeah, something about finding a voice, too, happening there. Sam Tanenhaus, thank you very much. And Lesley Stahl, thank you as well.

Leave aside Tanenhaus's comment that licking stamps is "women's work" - imagine the howling if Sean Hannity had said it. For an author not particularly friendly to conservatism generally, Tanenhaus gave a pretty apt description of women's interest in the Tea Party. The movement is an empowering force for a group who have traditionally remained homemakers, outside the realm of political activism.

Rebecca Wales of the conservative women's group Smart Girl Politics agrees. She told the Daily Caller:

Women are primarily responsible for the finances in their household, own small businesses, take care of their children and their aging parents… And when those things are threatened, women fight back. This movement empowered them. They found the means to become politically active, found a voice, where they never had before.

Tanenhaus is a liberal, male, New York Times editor. It doesn't get much further from a "mama grizzly" than that. And yet Stahl is apparently so removed from the mainstream of American political thought that she had to take instruction on the issue from the likes of Tanenhaus.