FISH WRAP: WEEK ENDING 8/19/12

by E.C. Fish on August 20, 2012

ISSUE OF THE WEEK — BAD NEWS: Political observers have been somewhat disconcerted this year by the absence of the usual lulls in this particular campaign season. August — particularly August in an election year — is supposed to be one such lull, and thus far has not been.

This week has been a good example. With all of the fallout from Mitt Romney’s announcement of Paul Ryan as his running mate at the dead end of last week (oddly enough for such an attention-getting maneuver, in a news window that many politicians take advantage of as a nice time to dump particularly stinky trash while few are watching) spilling over into this one, the campaigns and their surrogates, spokespeople, cheering sections, and post-Citizens United front groups regurgitated voluminously down the greedy maw of the 24-hour news cycle, so this was far from a slow news week. It was just a news week that didn’t particularly mean anything, one that fed us on ginned-up controversy, empty promises, and semantic bickering, and all of it as close to content-free as the consultants could make it.

HAVE I STAYED TOO LONG AT THE FAIR?: Veep candidate Ryan showed a mastery of the content-free form (which obviously impressed Romney enough to name him as his running mate against the objections of his advisors) in the following exchange with a reporter at the Iowa State Fair on Monday:

“Congressman Ryan, what do you think should be done about the drought problems here?”

“We’ll get into all these policy things later, Alex. Right now, I just want to enjoy the fair.”

The new kid seems to fit right into the Romney campaign’s overall strategy, such as it is, of avoiding “policy things” at all costs — up to and including presenting the spectacle of dismissing the concerns of a drought-ravaged agricultural state at that state’s annual agricultural exposition because you’d rather go have fun. For all the excited beltway prattle about the presence of the “intellectual leader” of the decidedly anti-intellectual GOP lending more substance to the debate, the Romney campaign has proceeded with its pre-Ryan policy of avoiding any statement that might define Mitt Romney as a candidate or require him to defend an unpopular position. Having presumably selected the architect of the Ryan budget plan to give his campaign some sorely needed economic gravitas (a bad pick, but that’s another column), Romney began immediately backing away from the Ryan plan, declaring that they’d follow the Romney plan, which Ryan helpfully pointed out he hadn’t “run the numbers” on yet, and which by late week he was describing as pretty much the Ryan plan anyway.

“We will not duck the tough issues,” Ryan said Friday in Virginia. “We will lead.” They just won’t say where or how.

At least Ryan’s statement to that Iowa reporter was somewhat honest: he genuinely doesn’t care about drought relief, and — in keeping with his philosophy of tough-shit libertarianism — he intends to do nothing about it. This fits a bit less well with his boss’s campaign, which spent the week (again, in keeping with its pre-Ryan strategy) flat-out lying about his opponent’s record and program. It was a lapse Ryan would make up for later in the week with a Mitt-worthy denial of his prior support for stimulus spending and much of his Bush-era congressional record.

THIS WEEK IN PUSSY: Oddly enough, a summer that began with a long and rather silly discussion of the word “vagina” in public discourse is approaching its end with the word “pussy” in bold headline type. The sentencing of the Russian punk collective Pussy Riot this week effectively sneaked the word into the public eye and reduced a serious story about the persecution of political speech in Vladimir Putin’s Russia into a series of titters.

Meanwhile, Todd Akin, Claire McCaskill’s Republican opponent for her Senate seat in Missouri, showed the utter ignorance of female biology seemingly required of Republican legislators by declaring that “legitimate rape” — a term he didn’t further define, and given the grossly misogynistic content of his statement, needn’t have — somehow triggers a pregnancy-blocking response in the victim, rendering morning-after contraception and abortion access for rape victims completely extraneous.

This man is a candidate for the United States Senate, currently in a tie for that election, and his statement is entirely in keeping with the philosophy of one of our nation’s major political parties — and for some reason, no one seems to be particularly ashamed of that.

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E. C. Fish is the editor and publisher of The Spleen.

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