Thursday, April 12, 2012

Why These Awful Campaign Flaps Happen

Look, we all know why these phony controversies flare up during presidential elections. It's just institutions. First, you have tons of pundits and reporters sitting around ready to talk about the presidential campaign, but essentially nothing much is going to happen between now and the conventions, which are months away. Second, you have the cable networks, which have to fill up 24 hours a day, and often have very little else to do.

Third, you have two campaigns, fully staffed, fully aware of the legends of campaigns past -- including the one about how Bill Clinton beat George H.W. Bush by having a then-state-of-the-art rapid response "war room," and the one about how John Kerry lost to George W. Bush because he failed to respond to some crazy stuff fringe conservatives were saying until it was too late. Never mind that 1992 could be more or less completely predicted by the economy, or that Kerry actually did better in 2004 than some "fundamentals" models predicted,  suggesting that perhaps the candidates and campaigns pushed things a bit towards, not away from, the Democrats that year.

Anyway, all those people are hired to monitor everything said on CNN and MSNBC and FNC and the network news and blogs and twitter and the rest of it and to make something of it, and they're not going to get a boost to their careers if they report back that nothing of any real interest was said today. No: they all have a serious career incentive to create this kind of flap.

So are we all just helpless before it? Mostly, yes, but not completely. First, obviously, reporters (and their editors) should think hard about whether they want to participate in it. Granted, some are going to; that's what they do. But for the rest of us, my suggestion isn't to react by being outraged about the outrage. It certainly isn't to assess who won, or to ponder What It Tells Us about the candidates and the state of the campaign. The only ways to respond are to remind everyone it doesn't matter (as Ezra Klein was doing very nicely on twitter today), or, even better, to just laugh at the whole thing. Just refuse to take it seriously.


  1. I can't believe nobody is considering that the "flap" was intentional and orchestrated by the campaign. The controversy will blow over in a few days, but for the next 6 months everybody will be aware that Ann Romney has never worked a day in her life. It's a page from the Fox News handbook of "attack no matter what, because the outrage over the attack will dissipate long before the message of the attack." It backfired with Sandra Fluke, but it's worked before.

  2. This is as good as politics (which is never sublime) gets, so pretending that you're unaffected when your team loses a news cycle is obvious sweet lemons. Nobody's buying it.

  3. It seems to me you can look at these things from two levels: there's the immediate, 'hysterical' level, and then there's the meta, story-behind-the-story level. I agree that these things are always irrelevant at the hysterical level, but at the meta-level they could sometimes matter somewhat. The meta level doesn't have to matter; for example, the backstory of a last minute reveal like OBL endorsing Kerry or GWB's DUI is the other guy trying to win. No relevant issue there. Not sure the same applies in this case.

    We'd agree, I think, that Mittens has probably been running for POTUS since at least his failed 1994 Senate bid, and maybe longer. I mean 'running' in the context of: "what Mittens discusses at dinner". Part of such discussions would surely be the role Ann Romney should play in such a family. The answer lies before us.

    The hyper-feminist argument that she should have been an ambitious professional is surely wrong. But its also notable that Ann Romney didn't even bother with the patrician, Laura-Welch-as-librarian-helping-the-children route.

    Its interesting because Mitt Romney has undoubtedly known for at least two decades that the highly conservative, misogynistic reputation of his beloved church was a potential liability for his Presidential aspirations. That Ann Romney nevertheless made the choices she did is pretty telling in that regard.

    Maybe it doesn't cost him the WH, but to the extent anything matters at the margins, my guess is this will.

    1. @CSH -- she does have multiple sclerosis ...

    2. @the classicist - that's a great point, and it certainly may mitigate against any pushback for her life choices. Two thoughts though:

      1) Ann Romney was diagnosed in the late 1990s; to the extent the family was positioning itself for a hoped-for President Mitt era, such decisions were surely made prior to her diagnosis, and

      2) As I understand it, much of the resistance to "Jerry's Kids" comes from folks who feel that condition should not mitigate against them living full, complete adult lives. By a similar logic, it seems to me one might still anticipate Ann Romney creating some sort of identity outside her husband's shadow.

    3. Actually, to the classicist and everyone else - I just did a bit of research and realized that my line of reasoning above is among the stupidest things I've written here. My lame defense is stream of consciousness, but when you say dumb stuff you should own it, and man my argument here is really awful.

      Ann Romney not only has MS, she's a breast cancer survivor; entirely contra my message above, she's been very visible and active in raising awareness and funds for both MS and cancer research. Her list of charitable activities and other good works is longer than my right arm. On the one-in-a-million chance someone who knows Ann Romney is reading this, I fully apologize for my profoundly inappropriate and undeserved comments above.

      I still don't like that Mitt Romney much. But I was totally wrong to let that color my impression of his wife, whose life has been, at least on the surface, beyond the reproach of a person like me.


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