There are few things I consider more trite in the world of punditry and politics than claiming that a candidate is the victim of “liberal media bias.” Like a garden of so much tulip mush the charge has long since lost its eye-catching appeal after being trampled to death, thus lacking the stature of word-mojo it might have once enjoyed and a victim of its own excessive and repetitive usage. What has been purchased at the cost of relevance to any non-conservative has been to convince those pre-inclined individuals to embrace closed-information bubble of talk radio, book clubs and the like. Nevertheless here comes Jonathan Cohn on Mitt Romney’s recent period of bad press, still fighting the good fight:
“I mean, I was expecting this narrative in October,” one advisor said. “You know, the polls are close, and so the media starts cheering on their guy, saying Romney’s doomed. But I didn’t expect it to happen this early. They just seem really eager.”[...] Romney really does seem to be getting a lot of negative coverage right now. But is “negative” the same as “biased”? In this case, I don’t think so. I can think of four perfectly valid reasons [...]
Cohn makes the case that, whatever the media’s prejudices (which, from my own perspective, skews towards getting bogged down in the mintuae of day to day campaign movements more so than any perceived ideological cheerleading), Romney’s negative attention comes from, you know, questionable campaign decisions:
1) The deceptions. The most conspicuous change in media coverage that I noticed occurred sometime in mid-August. And it was in response to repeated statements, in speeches and in advertisements by the Romney campaign, that Obama had “gutted” the work requirements in welfare reform. Virtually every independent expert who examined the allegation had found the allegation baseless, but Romney kept using it. Confronted with this, an anonymous Romney adviser indicated the campaign didn’t care what fact-checkers think, because they bring their own biases. (The advisers were right: Fact-checkers do have their own biases. But the welfare claim happens to be dishonest anyway.) At that point, even reporters at non-opinion news outlets, the kind that typically make such efforts to seem even-handed, began stating that Romney was not telling the truth. When Paul Ryan gave a speech full of deceptions, reporters called him on that, too.
Feel free to read the rest of Cohn’s reasoning for why Romney is getting bad press. My feeling is that today he’ll be adding a fifth reason after yesterday’s Mother Jones “SECRET VIDEO: Romney Tells Millionaire Donors What He REALLY Thinks of Obama Voters” (seriously, who comes up with these headlines?) bombshell:
The key quote:
There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax.
By the time this post goes up I’m sure a million more pieces on Romney’s words will be written, most likely put in better context with regards to the politics of the campaign and those “grander visions of it all” posts I myself am particularly interested in reading. Someone else can try to convince you that it’s the esoteric “real” Romney, or not. I’m more concerned with whatever real consequences such rhetoric has towards the those who don’t share that worldview.
For my own part I wrote about the freeloader myth last year, conceptualizing it as occupying a special place in the conservative “Tax Matrix.” I’m sure that others will remind the Romney campaign that eight of the ten states with the highest rate of non-payers are reliably Republican (via the Tax Foundation):
The implicit message in Romney’s discussion is that those dependent on federal government largesse are essentially taxpayer financed voting blocs of the Democratic Party and Barack Obama. Despite the graph above, this line of thinking is well accepted in the conservative media bubble, as espoused by Rush Limbaugh and repeated at the Values Voter Summit (reported by Dave Weigel, and the emphasis is mine):
“There’s a growing segment of the American population that is dependent on government funds and largesse,” says Dean Welty, an activist from Virginia. “Many of them give the Obama administration credit for that. We have the largest number of people on welfare we’ve ever had. We have the largest number of people on unemployment. It’s not good for the country, but it’s good for Obama.”
[...] At the conference, I hear the same argument from a businessman and a self-publishing author, William Been. “When you figure that 47 million of us are receiving food stamps today—which is double the number from four years ago—that’s a way, possibly, for people in poverty to feel better about themselves.”
In other words, voters are being bribed. Gary Bauer, the deathless evangelical leader who still fills seats at these sorts of events, uses his afternoon speech to name and shame the moochers. “There’s a lot of people out now around America who depend on checks from their fellow taxpayers being in the mailbox every day,” Bauer says. “They will turn out in massive numbers.”
Again, this is popcorn gospel irrespective of the truth that voter turnout increases as income increases:
And the 2010 mid-term elections:
Yet my point in this post is that these pandering solicitations, these rhetorical word salads and ham-fisted appeals to conservative fairytales have consequences. As in, legislative consequences:
The above is a screenshot taken from my inbox last Friday. My congressman is on the Education and Workforce committee. The “August Outrage” over the TANF waivers (which, of course, do not remove “work from welfare”) coming from Romney et al., while nearly universally denounced as untrue, is marked-up in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives as legislation.
This whole process of outrage, with the tireless repetition of narrative indignations towards nonexistent threats, to a warped political version of a Lion King-style “Circle of Life” moment in proudly upholding laws to usher in a new era of conservative knowledge, strikes me as Sanchez-flavored epistemic closure. Except the price for this brand of closure is the imposition of a Fox News-dominated reality on a country that no longer sees such news organizations as credible. So whatever else you think of its peculiarities as a movement and the idiosyncrasies of its moral crusaders, understand at least that the bubble has consequences.