Political Animal


May 21, 2012 10:40 AM Distractions

By Ed Kilgore

It’s pretty hilarious to listen to RNC Chairman Reince Priebus complain that Republicans are the victims of media attention paid to the Ricketts/Davis ad story, or that Obama is to blame:

I know how it works. It’s the Democrats and Barack Obama that want the story out there. He wants the story to play out in the media, because for every day that [Obama adviser] David Axelrod and this President don’t have to talk about their broken promises when it comes to jobs, the debt, and the deficit — the more time they can talk about hypotheticals that may or may not come true — is a day they want to win on. So, look, this president’s got a bigger problem and his problem is no matter what he puts out there, no matter what distractions he puts out there, he can’t change the truth and escape the reality of where we are in this American economy. And it’s no good.

Now best I can tell, Priebus is an unusually intense advocate of the idea that the best way to exhibit “message discipline” is to sound as blitheringly stupid as is possible: just stare at the camera with the eyes of a goat and repeat your talking points whether they are in any way relevant to what you are supposed to be talking about or are the least bit persuasive. So it doesn’t surprise me all that much that he’d have the chutzpah to insist that a leaked discussion between a major GOP donor and the all-time superstar conservative media consultant about exactly how much racism and religious bigotry they can get away with in a political ad represents an effort by Obama to change the subject.

But the larger point here is pretty important for progressives to understand: the GOP is running a two-track campaign this year, one with a fiscal/economic message, and the other with a cultural message, and they have a lot invested in making sure the persuadable voters the first message is aimed at don’t hear the second. That would, as Priebus suggests, in fact be a “distraction.” But blaming the “distraction” on the very target of their own cultural attacks is entirely in line with the attacks themselves: Obama and “liberals” are always described as the aggressors in cultural conflicts. Is the Obama administration reluctant to carve out large areas of public policy where religious conservatives are allowed to do whatever they want? Then they are assaulting religious liberty! Do they suggest Americans still suffer from discrimination? Then they are racists! So it’s clear Obama’s “suspicious” background, whether it’s where he was born or how he got into this or that college or what his former pastor said in thirty years of sermons, is just an intolerable provocation to conservatives. How dare he distract the people who hate him!

Get used to it. We’ll hear this every single time Republicans get caught pursuing the cultural prong of their campaign strategy.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • c u n d gulag on May 21, 2012 10:57 AM:

    Yes, I can see why they'd need to keep these things separate.

    So, it's ok for Republicans to hold-up a "STOP" sign to the economy with one hand, and use the other to signal the MSM to come to them so they can ask, "How come the President can't get this economy moving? What's stopping him? He's the wrong man for the job? Try our guy."

    And, later, in another part of town, they can gather their rubes together, and yell

    But they'd prefer no one notice that it's the same people doing both things.

    Yeah, I can see why they wouldn't.

    What amazes me, is that they think anyone from the MSM might. (I mean, besides the usual SHRILL suspects, like Krugman and Maddow - and ya know, they're always bitchin' 'bout somethin'!).

  • SYSPROG on May 21, 2012 11:16 AM:

    Perfect, Ed. Yes we can't talk about BAIN because we are attacking the 'free market'. We can't talk about when Romney actually GOVERNED and his state was 47th out of 50th in job creation...old news. NO War on Women because the GOP is 'focused like a laser beam' on the economy. Meanwhile NO ANSWERS to any question. Oh and Preibus just doesn't look 'stupid' he looks like a snarky ahole. The NEW FACE of the RNC.

  • suekzoo on May 21, 2012 11:26 AM:

    And we thought the GOP was not capable of getting someone dumber than Michael Steele. At least Steele was entertaining...

  • boatboy_srq on May 21, 2012 11:26 AM:


    It would be amusing how they lump all those "ists" together, regardless of how contradictory they are - if their supporters didn't buy into the framing and believe every word.

  • stormskies on May 21, 2012 11:29 AM:

    from gulag: "So, it's ok for Republicans to hold-up a "STOP" sign to the economy with one hand, and use the other to signal the MSM to come to them so they can ask, "How come the President can't get this economy moving? What's stopping him? He's the wrong man for the job? Try our guy."

    and the corporate media does exactly what gulag is saying. check this exchange out with Jim Crammer and David "I am not a used corporate condom" Gregory.

    CNBC personality Jim Cramer provided an opinion Sunday morning that won’t be endorsed by Republican presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney, calling his time at Bain Capital as one more about firing than hiring people.

    Appearing on Meet The Press in the roundtable segment, the Mad Money host differed with David Gregory’s perspective that Romney had a “real area of strength” over President Barack Obama on the economy. Gregory based his view on a recent ad from the Romney campaign that mentioned how the former Massachusetts governor would approve of the controversial Keystone pipeline if he was president.

    “Romney is known as a job destoryer, not a creator,” Cramer said. “I just don’t think that this will stick, I think Bain sticks. I think the idea that you bring in Bain, which is what happened, in the 80′s. They fire people and that’s how they get prosperity for the rich.”

    And there you have it.

  • exlibra on May 21, 2012 11:31 AM:

    From where I sit, it's impossible to sever the cultural from the economical message.

    Take, for example, the Republican War on Women. On the surface, it may look like it's all about abortion and/or birth control, sanctity of unborn and unformed life, and religious freedom. But, in fact, it's all about economy. A woman who spends her life pregnant is tied to the house which, in turn, means that a) she's not competing for a job with a man and b) is financially dependent on a man.

    It's the old, old "oak and the ivy" model of society (still extant, BTW, in tribal areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan, for example). Pretty soon, it's quite evident that we shouldn't waste our money on educating women beyond, say, 4th grade -- she ought to be able to sign her name and know enough math to do the shopping without being rooked at he cash register -- because what's she need chemistry lab for, if all she's gonna be doing is washing nappies and darning socks?

    Wherever else old Karl Marx might have been wrong, he was dead on target when he said that economy ("base") always comes before, and is the driver of, culture ("superstructure"). The cultural "wars" are frou-frou, for the easily fooled.

  • Danp on May 21, 2012 11:35 AM:

    the GOP is running a two-track campaign this year, one with a fiscal/economic message...

    Whoa there. And what would that message be? That the economy is getting better, but not as much as it would be if we did some non-specific other thing? That the deficit is terrible, but not as bad as if we cut a bunch of things he won't name at this point in time? You really thing the GOP want to have that discussion?

  • Tom Hilton on May 21, 2012 12:24 PM:

    Priebus also has the most uncannily soporific voice I have ever heard. He sounds as if he himself is half asleep already.

    Not that that has any relevance to this. Just something I noticed.

  • c u n d gulag on May 21, 2012 12:57 PM:

    Maybe he's soporific 'cause he's heard it all before.
    And said it all before.
    And he know we've all heard it before.

    'Before's' all they got, since they ain't had nothing new since Nixon was in short pants.

  • coop on May 21, 2012 12:59 PM:

    Priebus works for the RNC. Doesn't that by definition mean that he will complain about being a victim though he is member of the richest 1% of the richest nation on earth and has about 65% of all media coverage favoring his party?

  • Diane Rodriguez on May 21, 2012 1:08 PM:

    Priebus has great memorization skills. Luntz calls him, gives him the line and voila, flawless repetition. Memorization is often a finally honed skill for those who sport a double digit IQ. He is the perfect GOP Chairman. Oh and Steele wasn't stupid, he made himself a lot of money as Chairman and now has an ongoing gig on MSNBC. Obviously, he is still a Republican but he is much more articulate now than he was as Chairman. He knew his audience as Chairman and knew that the Republicans couldn't fire a Black man in his position. I think that's what you call "paradoxing" someone. GOP isn't making that mistake again. Priebus is perfect for their purposes.

  • smartalek on May 21, 2012 2:23 PM:

    "Priebus... has about 99% of all media coverage favoring his party"


  • Doug on May 21, 2012 4:39 PM:

    Run a two-track campaign? Keep the economic and culture war messages separated and focused ONLY on those intended vict...I mean viewers?
    We ARE talking about Mitt Romney's campaign, aren't we?