THE STORY OF DEMOCRACY, WITHOUT THE BORING STUFF ABOUT ORDINARY CITIZENS
This weekend, The New York Times has run three stories about Republican governors -- John Kasich of Ohio, Rick Perry of Texas, and Nikki Haley of South Carolina -- and they all seem to be written according to a formula. The formula says that it doesn't matter very much what the public thinks of a governor, or at least it doesn't matter what non-right-wing members of the public think; it also doesn't matter much what the likely consequences of the governor's actions are. All that matters is how well the governor did in dealings with the rest of the political class. Just win, baby! Then you're a great governor!
So we get this gushing profile of Kasich:
In Ohio, a New Governor Is Off to a Smooth Start
In Washington, Congress may still be fighting over the national budget, but in Ohio, where Republicans control the House, the Senate and the governor's office, the budget passage has been about as smooth as a knife through butter.
That is partly because Republicans kept tight party unity, voting together on bills that Democrats say are some of the most conservative the state has ever seen. But the driving force was Ohio's governor, John R. Kasich (pronounced KAY-sik), who has pressed his legislative agenda with remarkable success since his election in November.
On Thursday night, he signed his $56 billion budget into law, with few major changes from the version he had originally proposed and neatly ahead of a July 1 deadline....
In his five months in office, Mr. Kasich, a former congressman and Lehman Brothers executive, has established himself as a get-things-done governor who has expansive powers and is not afraid to use them.
"Inning after inning, the guy scored every round," said Gene Beaupre, a political science professor at Xavier University in Cincinnati. "I don'’t see where he lost anything in the budget game." ...
You would never know from this article that voters disapprove of Kasich's job performance, 49%-38%. You learn (in paragraph #15 of an 18-paragraph story) that there's a petition drive to overturn his signature piece of union-busting legislation, but you don't learn that the voters seeking to overturn in needed to collect 231,000 signatures and gathered nearly 1.3 million. All that matters is that he repeatedly says "Jump!" and the legislature says "How high?" That's all it takes to be off to a "smooth start."
Rick Perry's year has also been smooth, according to the Times, again with an awestruck quote from a poli-sci professor:
Gov. Rick Perry may or may not try to become the leader of what was once called the free world. In the meantime, he has cemented his reputation as one of the most powerful governors ever to walk the corridors of the Texas Capitol.
As the longest serving governor in state history, Mr. Perry has named more people to boards and commissions than any predecessor -- 5,495 at last count, Legislative Reference Library figures show -- allowing him to put his conservative stamp on every corner of state government.
The reach of his power, and his willingness to use it, have been most striking in the recently concluded sessions of the Texas Legislature, which gave Mr. Perry a fairly long wish-list of conservative reforms. If Mr. Perry does end up on the presidential campaign trail, he will be ticking them off like a pre-trip checklist. Curbs on abortion -- done. Lawsuit restrictions -- check. Staggering cuts to programs once seen as off-limits -- yes, yes and yes.
"Basically nobody has dominated the executive branch, that I'’m aware of, like Rick Perry has," said Jim Henson, a political scientist at the University of Texas at Austin. "It's a very different kind of governorship now. He's been there so long, and he’s effectively used the resources at his disposal." ...
Again, it doesn't matter that the guy's popularity is less than stellar -- one poll now shows he'd lose to President Obama in his own state. A fellow Republican is given space to complain that Perry's a bit too pro-pork, and we learn that "some Republicans worry there will be political fallout for supporting the first decline in overall public-education spending since at least 1949," and that a Democrat thinks teabaggers have led him by the nose -- but the vast majority of the article is about how manly and powerful the guy has been.
Nikki Haley, by contrast, has hit a few bumps in the road in South Carolina, according to the Times, -- again, almost exclusively defined in terms of how she works with fellow pols:
...the governor's strict approach to limiting spending hit a wall with lawmakers, who this week overrode most of the vetoes she issued on a $6 billion general fund budget.
Ms. Haley wanted to eliminate spending for the South Carolina Arts Commission and its public educational television system, money to pay for the state Republican presidential primary and some financing for education, economic development and tourism.
Some of the tension between the governor and members of the Legislature comes from a style of governing that can bypass the decorum that underscores much of political life in this stalwart of the Old South.
Ms. Haley kept political rivals off the guest list during an end-of-session barbecue at the Governor's Mansion that has traditionally been open to all lawmakers. She also began issuing report cards on legislators, prompting some to call her a schoolmarm.
And she tried to force the State Senate to return early from a break to get her way on a bill to change the way the state's administrative work is done, losing narrowly in the South Carolina Supreme Court. She viewed the fight as one against entrenched power. Some lawmakers saw it as a lesson in how not to play the game.
Many constituents were troubled by Ms. Haley's removal of Darla Moore, the most influential donor to the University of South Carolina, from the board of trustees. She replaced her with a campaign contributor....
The whole affair had even Ms. Haley's most-enamored Tea Party supporters shaking their heads....
All that matters here is what other powerful people think, and whether she wins. Unlike the manly men in Ohio and Texas, she doesn't win all the time. So even though she has actually has better approval ratings than Kasich (42%-41%), she's depicted as somewhat of a loser.
The consequences of what these people are doing barely register. All that matters to the Times is how they play the game.