Campaign season’s here and the time is right, for bombast in the street. Right here on Main Street, USA, every day, they’re bloviating in the street.
Invoking Martha & the Vandellas might be fun, but the prospect of facing another 441 days of Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin or Mitt Romney invariably invoking God, American Pie, Kicking Ass and those poor, abused Founding Fathers in every speech and debate is decidedly not.
But maybe not all is lost, however, as this week Rep. Ron Paul became a rather interesting study in how to get attention by not getting attention. He’s managed not only the shame the mainstream media into explaining why he has been ignored in all the horserace talk, but he’s finally being recognized — rightly so — for being the only unvarnished candidate in a field full of shopworn clichés.
Paul’s timing in the race has a lot to do with it — he comes amid a financial crisis he predicted in the last presidential race, among peers who constantly use language about the Federal Reserve that Paul’s been using for 30 years — so why wouldn’t he be more attractive to a broader audience today than in 2008?
But more importantly, I think it’s his timing on the war issue that had people like The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart leaping to Paul’s defense this week. There is such a disconnect between what the majority of Americans feel about the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the hawkish claptrap of Perry and Rick Santorum and the like that it would be a joke for the political comedian not to make something of it. And once the liberal-leaning don of satirical late night exposed it, mainstream pundits have been saying it all over: Ron Paul is the only guy telling it “like it is,” sans stagey talking points, oft-repeated jingoisms and bumpersticker hooey.
After years of voters saying they prefer authentic, it’s dawning on more people than ever that whether he is destined to win the primary or not, Paul is a breath of fresh air in a cloying room of blowhards.
The Stewart Effect
Jon Stewart has been called a number of things — a satirist, a comedian, an activist, and from his biggest detractors, absolutely not a journalist.
This usually follows some news that his Comedy Central show, which pulls in about 2.3 million cable viewers a night, is the primary source of news for adults under 30.
The squawking over Stewart is typically led by some rankled Republican outfit, or a thin-skinned establishment media type, because they are most often Stewart’s best fodder for laughs on the show. He has been particularly hard on the corporate news, heaping scorn where due, and down deep they must know he’s right — they are the first-line defense of the status quo, and a very pusillanimous, vain, self-righteous, superficial, agenda-driven line at that.
So it was no surprise, really, when Stewart let them have it after the 12-term congressman came within 152 votes of Iowa straw poll winner Bachmann but was largely ignored by the mainstream news, from the political punditocracy all the down to the top-of-the-hour anchor reports.
Stewart’s shaming was immediately met with sheepish, albeit defensive, explanations from the telegenic cable news bobbleheads and yappers — “We just know that he can’t possibly be elected, that’s all.” But to a person, they admitted that the Paul supporters were a force, strikingly effective at putting emails in their inboxes. Others also recognized that Paul was tapping into something, particularly the growing unpopularity of the wars overseas.
Not everyone, of course, yielded as much. Neoconservative hawk Charles Krauthammer on Fox’s Special Report Aug. 15 said thusly on the question of the media ignoring Paul’s standing in the Iowa poll: “Ron Paul is not going to be president of the United States … We’re not a libertarian country. It’s a very important strain of conservative thought but it’s not the dominant one.”
He as well as others have dismissed Paul’s “neo-isolationist” positions on war and foreign policy, displayed apparently, in his appalled reaction to candidates like Rick Santorum shilling for the neoconservative crusade for regime change in Iran. What’s interesting is the next day on Special Report, Krauthammer massaged his thoughts on Paul a bit, admitting he has more general support from Republicans than in 2008, and charging that if he were to run as an independent, he would be a “tremendous factor” in the 2012 rate. That transcript, unfortunately, is not available online.
Even more interesting are some of the other reactions. For two days on POTUS’s Stand Up w/ Pete Dominick Sirius XM radio show, middle-of-the-road establishment types filling in for Dominick alternately fumed and lamented over Paul’s lack of attention. After Stewart, political beat reporters found themselves assigned “why is Ron Paul being ignored” stories, forcing them to quote the campaign at length and provide a balanced look at media reaction. A quick Google News search on Sunday yielded 2,000 results for keywords “Ron Paul + media.”
The most interesting explanation yet is that Paul is not so much a marginal figure as he is a threat, not only to fellow Republicans but to Democrats too — a thought that I’ve heard floated around in the mainstream more than once in the last week.
From John Kass at the Chicago Tribune:
Another possible reason why the media is ignoring Paul could be fear rather than love. Perhaps Democrats and Republicans are afraid of him. Paul is anti-war, and there are many independent Democrats who’ve been antiwar, including those who elected President Barack Obama in 2008 and have since turned on him because, well, he recently help start a war in Libya, turning America’s two wars into three. Paul also doesn’t campaign on social issues, like outlawing abortion, or involving the government in the bedroom. He’s not a political evangelical, so Paul’s stance would be attractive to many Democrats.
The Paul campaign can only hope. But such talk only indicates that the war issue may be a stronger pull on voters than anticipated. It also underscores how dated and formulaic these other GOP candidates are sounding on the stump.
“First Tier” Ham-n-Eggers
Keeping with the Comedy Central theme, there is nothing more deliciously on-target than the opening of the Colbert Report (Stephen Colbert’s glorious nightly lampoon of Bill O’Reilly’s The O’Reilly Factor, six years running), where an image of Colbert, his face a masque of faux righteousness and purpose, descends from the sky to thrust an American flag into the ground like spear. This is followed by a screaming American eagle, wild with aggression, as if to devour the audience itself. This obvious play on Republican iconography is so pointedly exaggerated it’s worth a laugh every time.
Sadly, our “top tier” candidates in the GOP field never get the joke. They are the very clichés in life, playing into them again and again without guile. Here’s Rick Perry announcing that “we would treat [Ben Bernanke] pretty ugly down in Texas.” There’s Michele Bachmann calling herself one tough “hombre-ette.” Then Sarah Palin, who has yet to declare her candidacy but is touring around on her “One Nation” bus tour with obligatory photo-op stops at places like Ronald Reagan’s boyhood home, wearing “a red, white and blue pin in the shape of a cross,” releases a campaign-style video in which she lathers it on with her “doggone it!” doggerel about “folks who love their country” — capping it all off with a grizzly bear roaring against the sunset.
And all this in the last two and a half weeks.
Not only are these candidates peddling super-processed cheese, they are going back to Rovian times to get the media’s attention, and without someone like Paul keeping it organic, we’re about to go on toxic overload.
In fact, in addition to George W. Bush, Karl Rove launched Rick “Yosemite Sam” Perry’s career in 1990, and it shows. Perry has already sauntered through the swinging doors, up to the bar and is demanding a shootout. He’s positioning himself, however clunkily, as the “Don’t Mess with Texas” cowboy to Obama’s Steve Urkel. Doubt it? Never mind the bluster leveled at Bernanke, he’s already got surrogates out there slinging the hash.
“He’s a cowboy,” gushed Michael Goldfarb, former senior staffer on John McCain’s presidential campaign, to Josh Rogin at Foreign Policy’s The Cable recently. “You have to assume he’d shoot first and ask questions later — which would be nice after four years of a leading from behind, too little too late foreign policy.”
Here comes that screaming eagle, or should we say, hawk.
“He will distinguish himself from other Republicans as a hawk internationalist, embracing American exceptionalism and the unique role we must play in confronting the many threats we face,” one foreign policy adviser with knowledge of Perry’s thinking told The Cable. “He has no sympathy for the neo-isolationist impulses emanating from some quarters of the Republican Party.”
Perry, according to an aghast Phil Giraldi, appears to be staging a comeback for the old Bush/Cheney war cabal, which hasn’t won a major election, since, well, Bush. Nevertheless, for his first trick, Perry is suggesting that Obama doesn’t have the respect of the military, nor could Obama possibly understand the military because he didn’t bother to serve in it.
“I think people who have had the same experiences connect with people who have had the same experiences. That’s human nature,” he said last week on the stump. “If you polled the military, the active duty and veterans, and said ‘would you rather have a president of the United States that never served a day in the military or someone who is a veteran?’ They’re going to say, I would venture, that they would like to have a veteran.”
Then the knives come out: “The president had the opportunity to serve his country,” he said. “I’m sure at some time he made the decision that isn’t what he wanted to do.”
While Perry has the right flank on service and manliness, forked-tongued “ideas man” Newt Gingrich will make sure to keep the fires simmering under Obama’s “Muslim problem.” Is he American enough? Gingrich certainly brought that silly narrative down to a new low as he suggested Obama carries a “Kenyan anti-colonial worldview” earlier in the year. His invective was based on theories already sketched out by the Hoover Institution’s Dinesh D’Souza, who basically turned Glenn Beck’s obsessive ramblings on Obama’s Kenyan father into a 3,400-word exercise in how to say the president is not really an American without really saying it.
Gingrich, by the way, told the audience at the Iowa debate (full transcript here) that there needs to be a better way to ensure that people in the government are “loyal” to America. Rick Santorum, on the other hand, complained that Obama feels the need “to go around and apologize for the fact that we’ve gone out and exerted our influence to create freedom around the world.”
Meanwhile, we should expect that America’s virtue will be on the bill as Glenn Beck and maybe-candidate Sarah Palin team up for their “Defending the Republic” spectacular (the good seats are only $103!) on Oct. 7 in Missouri. Can the sequel live up to last year’s “Restoring Honor”, the titan of all cynical publicity pageants? Hard to say, since Beck and Palin won’t have Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln to appropriate and abuse. And they’ll have to make do without the National Mall (hey, at least they weren’t dancing silently at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial).
And there are Jumbotrons at the Family Arena in St. Charles.
If those two can’t do it, maybe we’ll just give over the Republic’s defenses to a higher power. Perry certainly wants to.
“I think it’s time for us to just hand it over to God, and say, ‘God: You’re going to have to fix this,’” he said in a speech in May, explaining how the nation’s problems could be solved.
My only question is, who defends us from this assault on our intelligence? Ten years and it’s getting stale, guys. Creepy even. If Paul’s the only one keeping it real, he’s doing us a huge favor. As for the others, send in the clowns. They’d be much more amusing.