I think I’m turning Japanese

So, I’ve finally conquered a new language in print interviews.  Here’s my excerpt:


The NC Senate non-bellwether

Probably the best piece I’ve yet read about the NC Senate race from TNR’s Jason Zengerle.  He aptly points out that initially this race was very much a bellwether in that it was seen as a, if not, “the” key race for overall control of the Senate.  But Hagan has stubbornly out-performed many seemingly less vulnerable Democrats in the polls.  As I’ve told a lot of interviewers lately, if you had told me months ago that come November Democrats in Iowa and Colorado would be trailing while Hagan was leading in the polls (all close, but still) I would hardly have believed it.  But that’s the case.  I’ve ultimately decided, though, that it is more Tillis under-performing that Hagan over-performing.  Anyway, Zengerle:

Hagan’s focus on the local has been comical at times. “I am thrilled to hear that North Carolina is becoming one of the sweet potato capitals of the world,” she said during her speech in Sims, before launching into a long ode to the orange-fleshed tuber that called to mind Bubba’s thoughts on shrimp in Forrest Gump. The banners at her campaign events read “NORTH CAROLINA FIRST,” as if North Carolinians worried that their junior senator harbored secret allegiances to Virginia or South Carolina.

On the issue of education, however, Hagan’s hyper-local strategy has definitely struck a chord. Beginning in the early 1960s, with Terry Sanford’s governorship, North Carolina’s business and political elites formed a bipartisanship consensus around public education funding: they supported ita lot of it. In the process, North Carolina became a leader in the South. But in 2010, with the Republican takeover of the state legislature, and then in 2012, when Republican Pat McCrory was elected governor, that consensus unraveled as the GOP slashed education funding (along with funding for other social programs) to pay for huge tax cuts. “North Carolina has been governed by moderates, both Democrats and Republicans, until the current experiment to make the Tar Heel State a national laboratory for libertarian conservatism,” the Raleigh News & Observer’s Rob Christensen recently wrote.

Many smart political observers in North Carolina believe that the experimentation has gone beyond what Tillis (and McCrory, for that matter) envisionedthat the North Carolina House speaker was caught in a John Boehner–like bind as the more conservative elements of his party pushed him further than he originally wanted to go. But whatever Tillis’s true feelings, Hagan has made sure that, in the Senate campaign, he has had to own the state legislature’s record, especially on education. She and her surrogates have repeatedly harped on the fallout from those education cuts in the most granular detailfrom a reduction of teacher’s assistants in Rockingham County to a shortfall in bus drivers in Wake County. As one Hagan advisor saidto National Journal’s Alex Roarty, “We turned this into a school-board race.”

Of course, as I’ve noted, Hagan could not have done that if her opponent were not so tied to the legislature:

Amazingly, North Carolina and national Republicans never seemed to foresee the bind they’ve put themselves in with Tillis. Faced with a couple of Tea Party candidates in the GOP primary, a pastor and a doctor backed by the likes of Rand Paul and Mike Huckabee, respectively, the state and national GOP establishment threw their support behind Tillis. An uncharismatic businessman-turned-politician with a soft face and close-set eyes, Tillis is no one’s idea of a political superstar. But that was what the GOP wanted: an inoffensive and generic Republican who could ride the anti-Obama wave, much like Bill Cassidy is doing against Landrieu in Louisiana. The problem is that, as speaker, Tillis has been easy to tie to the unpopular legislature. As Thomas Mills has written, Tillis’s “greatest accomplishment has turned into his greatest liability.” And rather than him riding the public’s anger at Washington, it’s Hagan who has been able to benefit from their far more immediate disgust with Raleigh.

Of course, Tillis may very well yet win this race.  In an era when “all politics is local” is seemingly less true each year, it certainly is intriguing to have a Senate race where this very much remains the case.

Photo of the day

A Wired gallery of photos inside the Ferrari factory.  There was a time in my life when I could give you the performance specs on every current Ferrari.

Including the company’s F1 Clienti program, designed for Ferrari enthusiasts who wish to acquire and drive a single-seater F1 vehicle. Members can participate in annual non-competitive events organized by the company, at famous circuits around the world. LUCA LOCATELLI/INSTITUTE

It’s the narrative, stupid

One of the points I end up hitting over and over in my media class is that the media have a story they want to tell.  And they are damn well going to stick with it.  This is especially so when it comes to political candidates.  Al Gore of 200o is boring, GWB of 2000 is not smart, John McCain is a maverick, John Kerry is an elitist who cannot make up his mind.  Some of these narratives are more or less true, the problem is that every new fact gets interpreted (or misinterpreted as is often the case) through this pre-existing lens.

I had been wondering how a crazy right-wing nut like Jodi Ernst in Iowa is leading in the polls.  Norm Ornstein explains– the narrative is that the GOP has purged the crazy right-wing nuts from its Senate nominees so we can ignore the fact that Ernst holds some spectacularly fringe views (Agenda 21, anyone?):

Joni Ernst is an Iowan, born and bred, an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, and the Republican nominee for the Senate in Iowa. She has also flirted seriously with wacky conspiracy theories, especially Agenda 21, which takes off from an innocuous, voluntary UN resolution and turns it into a sinister plot which, as the John Birch Society says, “seeks for the government to curtail your freedom to travel as you please, own a gas-powered car, live in suburbs or rural areas, and raise a family. Furthermore, it would eliminate your private property rights through eminent domain.” And she has made comments about Americans totally dependent on government that make Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” observations look almost populist by comparison…\

For those interested enough in the 2014 elections to read stories about them in the premier newspapers of our time, The Washington Post and The New York Times, you would know about the bios of Ernst and Cotton, two prize GOP recruits this election cycle. But you would be likely clueless about the wacky or extreme things they have said. Why?

The most common press narrative for elections this year is to contrast them with the 2010 and 2012 campaigns. Back then, the GOP “establishment” lost control of its nominating process, ended up with a group of extreme Senate candidates who said wacky things—Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock, Sharron Angle—and snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in races that should have been slam dunks. Now the opposite has happened: The establishment has fought back and won, vanquishing the Tea Party and picking top-flight candidates who are disciplined and mainstream, dramatically unlike Akin and Angle.

It is a great narrative, a wonderful organizing theme. But any evidence that contradicts or clouds the narrative devalues it, which is perhaps why evidence to the contrary tends to be downplayed or ignored. Meantime, stories that show personal gaffes or bonehead moves by the opponents of these new, attractive mainstream candidates, fit that narrative and are highlighted.

Exactly.  It’s all quite depressing.  I’m sure that Braley in Iowa has done what he can to emphasize Ernst’s extremism, but if the media is not buying– which it apparently won’t be as long as she’s smart enough to avoid a Todd Akin moment– then he’s out of luck.  Meanwhile, the media reports endlessly about a meaningless dispute his family had with neighbors over chickens.  Seriously.

A Nexis search shows that the Post has had four references to Ernst and Agenda 21—all by Greg Sargent on his blog from the left, The Plum Line, and none on the news pages of the paper. But there have been dozens of references to Braley’s spat over the neighbor’s chickens, including a front-page story. The New York Times had zero references to Ernst and Agenda 21, but seven, including in a Gail Collins column, to Braley and chickens.

The truth is, you can get away with being absurdly extreme in this country if you are good looking, charismatic, and avoid saying anything really stupid.  And that’s what we’re seeing with both Ernst and Tom Cotton.  The likely result is that the voters of Iowa and Arkansas will be represented by Senators far, far to the right of the citizens of the state.

Some nice commentary from Drum that strikes me as spot-on:

  • For some reason, conservatives get a pass for holding wacky views unless they do it in a particularly boorish way (see Akin, Todd). When they chatter about, say, the Agenda 21 plot to take over our neighborhoods, it’s taken as little more than a routine show of tribal affiliation, not a genuine belief in nutball conspiracy theories.
  • More generally, campaign reporters simply don’t care about policy. It’s boring, and anyway, commenting on it tacitly suggests that they’re taking sides. So they write about it as little as they can.
  • The flip side of this is that campaign reporters are smitten with campaign strategy. Far from being disgusted by candidates who successfully hide their real views, they consider it a sign of savvy. Only bright-eyed idiots tell voters the truth about themselves.

And so we end up with puff pieces about Ernst’s folksiness and repeated coverage of Bruce Braley’s chicken battles. Agenda 21, personhood, privatizing Social Security, and other far-right hot buttons get buried by the simple expedient of Ernst refusing to talk to reporters about them and then being rewarded for it by reporters who admire her “control” of the press.

Obviously Ernst isn’t my cup of tea, but if the citizens of Iowa want to send a right-wing loon to the Senate—well, it’s their state. As long as they do it with their eyes open, they should go right ahead. But if they send a far-right loon to the Senate because they mistakenly think she’s actually a cheerful, pragmatic centrist, that’s not so OK. And if the press is helping her put over this charade, the press ought to take a good, long look in the mirror. They don’t need to take sides, but they do need to tell the truth. [emphasis mine]

I don’t see that look in the mirror happening anytime soon.  Reporters will always care far too much about strategy and not enough about policy.

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