Sunday, September 26, 2010


In a New York Times Week in Review article about President Obama's struggles in getting his message across, John Harwood argues that a new media environment makes it harder for Obama to continue railing against George W. Bush than it was for Ronald Reagan to rail against Jimmy Carter at a similar point in his presidency:

Mr. Obama aims to use President George W. Bush's record in the same way Mr. Reagan used Mr. Carter's. It was Mr. Bush and his Republican allies in Congress, he tells campaign audiences, who drove the economy "into a ditch."

The velocity of contemporary media, not to mention its ferocity, may render that argument more difficult to make. In the ever-advancing news cycle, on cable television and the Internet, news tends to get old faster.

Thus, [White House communications director Daniel] Pfeiffer asserted, in 1982 "Carter's presidency seemed more recent than Bush's presidency" does to voters this year.

Really? Is that the difference? I don't think so. Apart from the obvious point that the GOP noise machine has relentlessly attacked Obama for attacking Bush (I don't recall Democrats attacking Reagan very much for attacking Carter -- being Democrats, they internalized the attacks rather than lashing out at them), I'd say there's a simple reason that Obama can't get traction with criticism of Bush, even as poll after poll shows that voters blame Bush for the economic meltdown: the Republicans began rebranding themselves almost immediately after Obama's inauguration. It was the kind of rebranding that didn't so much replace the old brand as build a seemingly new brand -- think of the tea party as "GOP Extreme!" -- that's barely different from the old brand, and has essentially the corporate parentage, but nevertheless seems angry and countercultural and bad-ass.

And so even though we know from a story elsewhere in today's Times that Karl Rove is effectively running the GOP's reelection efforts, it's "GOP Extreme!" the voters want to support.

Meanwhile, over in the Times Magazine, Matt Bai, a Connecticut native, writes about the Senate race between Democrat Richard Blumenthal and the GOP candidate, wrestling doyenne Linda McMahon. Bai thinks McMahon can win (so do I), and I don't disagree with his reasons as much as I do with the voters' thinking, if in fact they do elect McMahon:

Connecticut in my parents' day was the kind of state in which institutions really mattered -- religious congregations and city newspapers and insurance companies, garden clubs and the Knights of Columbus, with their towering headquarters in New Haven. Connecticut voters, like voters in a lot of the country, trusted in an established order that seemed to be working pretty well for them, but then people saw their cities and their industries collapse, and even the Catholic Church was tainted by scandal, and elected officials started selling their services for home improvements.

And this is what makes a Linda McMahon possible here and in other parts of America -- not just her millions of dollars or the crippled economy, but the sense that the establishment has lost its credibility. It is something McMahon, having built a megaentertainment business without the imprimatur of cultural arbiters, intuitively understood about politics.

(Emphasis added.)

I guess that "without the imprimatur of cultural arbiters" bit refers to, say, the Arts & Leisure section of the Times, or similar tweedy outposts. And, yes, it's true that pro wrestling doesn't get much love in those precincts.

But here's how iconoclastic and bad-ass World Wrestling Entertainment is on a corporate level, according to Wikipedia:

World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. (WWE) (NYSE: WWE) is a publicly-traded, privately-controlled integrated media (focusing in television, Internet, and live events) and sports entertainment company dealing primarily in professional wrestling, with major revenue sources also coming from film, music, product licensing, and direct product sales....

The company's global headquarters are located in Stamford, Connecticut with offices in Los Angeles, New York City, London, Tokyo, Toronto, and Sydney....

NBC Universal, Viacom, and other major media companies have broadcast the TV shows. Mattel, Acclaim, and other big companies have made the toys and video games. The music CDs, back when people bought CDs, were released on major labels. And so on. This is just big-money capitalism centered in entertainment, one of the few industries America still dominates. Apart from the content, what's bad-ass about that?

But it seems bad-ass, and that's all that matters in GOP rebranding.

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