WaPo Front Page Suggests Conservatives Have Fangs, While Reagan's Shooter Strums Love Songs

April 26th, 2010 11:07 AM

It would sound odd to say the Washington Post is harsher on Tea Party activists than they are on the man who shot Ronald Reagan. But that's what happened on Monday's front page. Shailagh Murray's article on former Congressman Charlie Bass moving to the right, endorsing the Tea Parties, and saying "their agenda is exactly the same as mine," painted conservatives this way:

But for a career politician who served on Capitol Hill for a dozen years, addressing serious policy questions with people who profess to hold zero faith in the federal government can get awkward. Bass's challenge is to recraft his image in a way that will defang his conservative Republican opponents yet stay true enough to his centrist self to win back the crucial independent voters who defected to his Democratic opponent in 2006.

Conservative Republicans have "fangs"? You can't constructively "address serious policy questions" in their presence? Right next to that story, Annys Shin writes about Reagan-shooter John Hinckley and his "steps toward freedom" away from his charmed life at St. Elizabeth's Hospital: "He fills his free time strumming on his guitar, crafting pop songs about ideal love, or going on supervised jaunts to the beach or the bowling alley."

Shin's story focused on how Hinckley can't find a job (and may not want one) because of his notoriety as a "would-be assassin." Several ministers talk hopefully of welcoming him into polite society in Williamsburg, Virginia, where his mother lives.

With the Murray story, the Post underlined the "fang" emphasis with the headline "More bite to Republicans in divided N.H." inside the paper. Murray was clearly appalled at the harshly anti-Obama sound of Bass: "He accused President Obama of 'coddling terrorists'  and advancing 'extremist' policies like the Wall Street overhaul bill". But late in the piece, Murray also telegraphed that she used the "defang" language because Bass isn't really convincing some conservatives that he'll be a Tea Party favorite if he rejoined the House: 

He has attended local tea party events but has remained a board member of the Republican Main Street Partnership, a centrist group that advocates "thoughtful leadership" and a "pragmatic approach" to solving the nation's problems. 

Some veteran observers are doing a double take. "Our Charlie Bass, a tea partier? You gotta be kidding," wrote the Concord Monitor editorial board after the fiery announcement speech. "It can't be easy for Bass to move to the right of his primary opponents...both have talked a more conservative game. But that appears to be his plan. If he succeeds, it will take such a long way back to the middle that he'd better pack a lunch."