It’s the “Hysterical Delusional Affirmation” Syndrome

NEW SLAUGHTERThis was pretty good from Charlie Cook’s National Journal column today …

“Driving in to work Tuesday morning while listening to WTOP, Washington’s excellent all-news radio station, I heard my friend, the extremely able congressional reporter Dave McConnell, relate a conversation he had with a Republican House member. This member told McConnell that allowing the debt ceiling to be breached might “get the leadership’s attention.” That sounded like a kid saying if he threw his mother’s priceless vase against the wall, she might start letting him do what he wants. Political judgment this bad, coming from members of Congress, is a dangerous thing for a party. When it comes to dealing with something with enormous consequences, such as intentionally creating a situation that could lead to default on our national debt, we are no longer quibbling about minor differences of opinion.

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Welcome to the First Completely Post-Factual, All Bull[****] Campaign.

I’m feeling better. In my last post I suggested it was a kind of post-hippie, gauzy-eyed, chemical flashback optimism that led me to think America’s generally flaccid “mainstream” press corp was stumbling toward holding politicians accountable to the truth this season. Now I think I can grasp something tangible. In the course of a week two remarkable events have leapt out into the media’s face.

First, Paul Ryan’s speech to the GOP convention. And then … Mr. Ryan’s highly revealing claim that he once ran a two-hour fifty minute marathon.

Over the past seven days people like James Fallows at The Atlantic have noted the — unusual — lengths The Los Angeles Times and other publications have gone to dissecting Ryan (and others’) convention speeches for their shameless parade of fractional truths, complete non-truths and stuff they just clearly pulled out of their white asses. Simultaneously, the topic of what reporters (and their revenue-anxious bosses) should do in the face of “campaigns” demonstrating such a complete indifference to facts and accuracy has dominated conversations on earnest, wonky, “reality-based” public radio shows like “On the Media”. While the latter is speaking to a niche audience with — just guessing here — a single-digit affinity for the Romney-Ryan ticket and the entire modern GOP ethos, if I dare call it that. When big, second-tier papers like the LA Times (albeit in securely Democratic California) start making an issue of flagrant lying, you can safely say the worm is turning.

As I said last week, part of the problem is that the GOP campaign to date has been such a colossal farce. First it was the Sarah Palin-Herman Cain-Michele Bachmann-Donald Trump vaudeville act. Now we have Mitt Romney, a man who has been so steadfast in his refusal to explain exactly how he’d create 12 million jobs, get tough with Vladimir Putin and lay out to fellow Americans precisely how he bootstrapped his way to fantastic financial success that the ordinary press has little option other than to treat a strategy of opacity and rhetorical fraud as a bona fide issue. The press suspects, as I believe the general public also does, that Romney’s career is built on a bedrock of semi-piracy, (gorging on the casino spin of debt, which as Bain handled it required sliding gutted pension programs off on taxpayers) and the ruthless gaming of a tax system that his company and peers lobbied into existence.

But this marathon business — an otherwise silly exaggeration — accelerates and ingrains the notion that Romney and Ryan can be/must be handled differently than even a manifest air head charlatan like Sarah Palin.

Where the roots and mechanisms of Romney’s fortune remain obscured by the arcane terminology of exotic finance — and Romney’s refusal to disclose anything more to “you people”, as Mrs. Romney refers to the press adds to the curtain — flagrant lying like Ryan on his marathon prowess is a much easier — much easier — window for the average voter into “the real person within”.  (BTW, that “you people” line/attitude is not a good strategy for keeping the impudent media dogs off your lawn.)

Big, highly public events like political campaigns are always vulnerable to seemingly extraneous, petty events that distort the careful focus, like someone suddenly slapping on a fish-eye lens. So it may well be with Ryan’s marathon gaffe and how it cements a now well-established reputation for self-aggrandizing mendacity. Post-marathon bullshit, his crediblity is seen through fundamentally different glass.

The “average voter” probably had the same reaction I did to hearing about Ryan’s whopper — told on a right-wing radio show, not over drinks with his P90X buddies. When a guy exaggerates his prowess at anything, by a little, no one much notices or cares. For me to say for example that I once shot par at the Edina Country Club might astonish anyone who has seen me play golf, but the average audience probably won’t think a moment longer, assuming even the worst duffer can have one out-of-his-mind experience. But … if I go around saying I shot a seven-under par, anyone who has ever played the game has a whiplash moment. Life teaches discerning adults that someone who feels a need to lie/prevaricate so flagrantly is someone with a psychology that knows it is a house of lies and is essentially pleading to be caught and revealed.

Several writers and sites have noted the popular response to Al Gore for “saying he invented the internet”, something he never said but suffered with far more patience than I could have ever mustered. Gore’s actual statement has been heavily fact-checked, and he has a long career built on treating scientific facts as sacred, “inconvenient” things.

Not so much in Ryan’s case. What he said in a half-dozen different points in his big, nationally televised speech and about his marathon ability has now been heavily fact-checked … and proven wholly, utterly false or at best, grossly misleading.

Team Romney may believe they can get away with running the first wall-to-wall completely post-factual All Bullshit campaign, unabashedly ignoring demands for details and transparency and shamelessly repeating the most transparent lies.

But I’m saying they have taunted and tempted an inconvenient fate.

Palin Pulls Plug on Prexy Push…

I’m sure the Daily News and the Post will come up with better headlines, but the “below-the-fold” news this evening is that Mrs. Palin has apparently shut the door on a presidential bid in 2012.


Ever since her walk-away from her tiresome duties as Alaska’s governor, I’ve always thought that Mrs. Palin is too clever by half to fall into a situation where she might be held accountable for her words and where she might have to use something other than Twitter and Sean Hannity to communicate with.  She’s also done the math – a campaign would mean millions in lost opportunity costs and for what?  A job with an annual salary that probably doesn’t cover her yearly spend on leather wear.   And, about the only thing that could make the current Republican field look presidential is for Ms. Palin to be on the podium with them.  Next to her, Michelle Bachmann looks like an accomplished legislator, Herman Cain is a statesman and Ron Paul is…no, Ron Paul would still come off as crazy Uncle Stu.

But, have no fear.  We’ll still have Ms. Palin with us through the election season.  You can count on her to pop up on Fox and at motorcycle rallies and any other place that’s photogenic and well-covered whenever a Republican candidate strays from the bullgoose lunacy of the Tea Party’s platform.  Dropping the “g” off of every present-tense verb in sight, Ms. Palin will sally forth from her Escalade, her Harley or her snow-machine to decry the takin’ and the spendin’ and the taxin’ and to stand up for the keepin’, protectin’ and honorin’ that all real Americans value. Her handler will collect the check and – woosh – pop-up Sarah will be back inside the cocoon.  Hell, she’ll probably moderate the next debate now.

But, a Palin candidacy would have been fun to watch.

– Austin


Romney Rally Anthem

Don’t be angry. Don’t be sad.
And don’t sit cryin’ over good times you’ve had.
There’s a girl right next to you.
And she’s just waitin’ for something to do.

And there’s a rose in the fisted glove.
And the eagle flies with the dove.
And if you can’t be with the one you love,
honey, love the one you’re with.

Love the one you’re with.
Love the one you’re with.
Love the one you’re with.

– Stephen Stills

Third Parties: 2012 Election’s Critical Missing Piece

In the wake of the Iowa straw poll – a particularly charming incarnation of the poll tax– and the late entry of Texas Governor Rick Perry, the news media is telling us that that the 2012 presidential field is starting to congeal.

Except that it’s not. Not even close. Because we don’t yet know what will happen with third parties. In the end, third parties might very well impact the selection of the next President more than the outcome of the GOP primaries and caucuses that are dominating the news.

At a time when the American electrate is about evenly divided between the two major political parties, and huge numbers are turned off by both parties, this 2012 presidential election could hinge on which third party, or parties, emerges to relative prominence. If it’s a liberal-friendly third party ticket that dominates the third party space in 2012, Obama will almost certainly lose. If it’s a conservative-friendly third party dominating, Obama could still pull it out, despite the environmental mega-trends – lack of peace or prosperity — working against his reelection.

A third party ticket led by Ron Paul, Sarah Palin, Donald Trump or their ilk looms on the right, and a ticket led by Ralph Nader, Dennis Kucinich, Bernie Sanders or their ilk looms on the left. I’m as interested in those melodramas as I am about the more high profile Perry, Bachmann, Romney scrum.

And beyond the third party machinations on the left and right fringes, keep your eyes on a new third party wild card this year – Americans Elect. Americans Elect looks like it will be a centrist party, and is being promoted by center-left voices like syndicated columnist Thomas Friedman. Here is how they explain themselves.
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