By letterhead | September 3, 2008
The roasting of McCain and Palin continues. Just this afternoon former GOP strategists (now media commentators) Peggy Noonan and Mike Murphy were caught on an “open mic” disparaging the Palin pick.
Murphy calling it “gimmicky” and “cynical.”
Noonan calling it “political bullshit:”
“I think they went for this, excuse me, political bullshit about narratives. Every time the Republicans do that, because that’s not where they live and that’s not what they’re good at, they blow it.”
It didn’t take long for pundits, bloggers, and other riff-raff to call Peggy out on her blatant hypocrisy, having penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal this very day which states bluntly:
“…[Palin] is a real and present danger to the American left, and to the Obama candidacy.”
What we see here is the blatant dishonesty that has come to define our national public dialogue on a whole range of issues, because people like Noonan (and PR pros, and CEOS alike) get paid millions to essentially lie to the public.
The “narrative” is that she and others like her are “commentators.”
In reality, they’re just hacks who deliver whatever message the outlet is paying them to deliver. On MSNBC she gets paid to be a “conservative analyst.” On the WSJ editorial page she gets paid to be a good GOP soldier.
Only when she is off-mic do we get to hear what the REAL Peggy Noonan thinks.
One would be right to suspect that this is true of ALL commentators — e.g., Paul Begala comes off as just as disingenuous as Peggy Noonan.
PEGGY NOONAN AND THE TWO-HEADED BOWLING BALL BABY
The image is graphic, intentionally.
Ms. Noonan recently decried on MSNBC the Democrats’ penchant for sob stories, and she used as her example the hypothetical story of a “child born with two heads that they used as a bowling ball.” The TV hosts guffawed.
But when you encounter the reality it’s different. A little less amusing. A little more shocking. It quickly diverges from the humor, shows up the joke to be a little more than macabre.
In full relief we have the spin next to the reality.
Noonan’s partisan and well-crafted op-ed can be seen right next to her shockingly honest and unscripted remarks.
And the enormous gulf between them is as startling as the difference between the joke about a two-headed baby, versus a picture of a real baby with two heads.
THE POWER OF NARRATIVE: MORNING IN AMERICA
One thing that Peggy got wrong — woefully wrong — is that Republicans are no good at “narrative.”
In fact, since Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America” win over Walter Mondale in 1984, the Republicans have been superb at narrative. It’s pretty much how they’ve won all their battles.
George Bush’s “Compassionate Conservatism” campaign turned out to be completely hollow but it helped win him the election. The “Saddam attacked us and is a danger to the US” narrative, while totally false, helped him start a war.
The “national security” narrative helped him win a second term. Just as the “unfit for command” narrative fatally wounded his opponent.
THE DANGER OF NARRATIVE: WHEN FACTS GET IN THE WAY
The issue with the Palin pick is that McCain crafted a specific narrative he thought could win:
national security is the top issue
gotta be ready on day one
gotta be ready to be the next commander in chief
youth and inexperience are a detriment
the war is important
patriotism is good — people who hate America aren’t
straight talk and bucking the status quo are good
There are others, but this is a pretty good list. And the issue is that Palin comes up short in just about all of them. And that’s not attempt to score political points — it’s a gimlet-eyed assessment of how well the VP candidate reflects the stated narrative of the campaign.
She is young, inexperienced, with no foreign policy credentials, who knows little about the war, who spoke to a secessionist group in Alaska on several occasions, whose husband was a member of that group, who is under investigation for abuse of power, who was nearly recalled as a mayor, whose teen daughter is pregnant, who took money from the same group that is under investigation for bribing a US senator, yada yada yada…
Just like the chasm between Noonan’s op-ed and her unscripted comments, the difference between McCain’s narrative and Palin’s reality is startling. (A view in line with even conservative pundit Ben Stein.)
The chasm, in fact, is so huge that the campaign has lost control over the narrative. The question has now become, “How did this decision happen?”
The “decision making” question got so hot that the campaign issued a fiery rebuke to the press for even asking. Then they angrily stopped answering questions about it. (Like that will make the questions go away.)
THE NEW NARRATIVE: HERDING CATS
When the facts get out of control, the whole narrative breaks down. Just ask…
The National Association of Realtors was able to keep spinning their web of talking points well into the worst housing bust since the dust bowl.
The financial services industry was able to keep all its balls in the air, spinning the CDO and securitized markets as healthy and safe until the bombshells started dropping one after the other… Bear Stearns, IndyMac, Fannie & Freddie…
The U.S. auto industry kept its hot-air balloon aloft for decades, blocking reform on emissions and mileage standard, all the while touting their ingenuity and profits, until oil prices poked a hole in it.
(Now, of course, they are singing a different tune, asking the government for $50 billion to fund research into new fuel technologies, as well as for exemption from crash testing to improve mileage — because the geniuses who brought you the Lincoln Navigator and the Hummer just can’t do both safety and economy).
SEPARATED AT BIRTH? BRISTOL PALIN AND MARY CHENEY
Fact is, the GOP got spoiled, just like a lot of people do when things go their way for too long.
They thought they had unruly facts under control. Somehow they started believing their own hype that facts are controlable.
It even looked for a while like they had perfected the Orwellian game of perception management. During the 2004 election, they were positively awe inspiring as they successfully argued two contradictory points:
Americans should amend the Constitution of the United States to forbid homosexuals (ordinary tax-paying citizens in every way) from marrying because it’s a moral issue mandated by God.
At the same time, they argued that the homosexuality of the Vice President’s daughter was off the table as a vehicle for discussing this issue, because that was a personal matter.
And somehow they bullied their way to success.
It seems now that the Almighty has a sense of humor, giving them a chance for an encore. And remember folks, the Lord never gives us a challenge he doesn’t think we can handle.
Once again a key issue is, quite literally, front and center in the election: The GOP’s morals platform of Christian conservatism specifically states that they are opposed to sex education, and that abstinence-only “education” is the way to go.
Their public policy position is based on the purported morality and efficacy of this approach, and it will rule how they govern not just their children, but ours too.
And yet at the same time, they are arguing that Exhibit A — a case of a high-profile pregnant teen — is off limits because it’s a personal matter for the very candidate who espouses these views.
Will they succeed?
WATCH OUT FOR THAT… REALITY CHECK
According to Howie Kurtz, the McCain camp is spitting mad at all the people “on a mission to destroy” Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin by displaying “a level of viciousness and scurrilousness” in pursuing questions about her personal life.
Kind of like Bush did to McCain with the black child push polls? And to Max Cleland, the triple-amputee war hero, whom they successfully portrayed as sympathetic to the terrorists?
But the real issue is that McCain steered his campaign right into the path of an oncoming moose.
The “narrative” was derailed by his own choice, one that subverted almost every talking point he had been slinging (successfully) at the opposition for months. McCain had been making strong headway in polls, and had closed the gap. Until…
The jokester was confronted with a picture of a real two-headed baby. Not so funny after all. The liar was revealed for who she is. Discomfiting her patrons. Out-of-control industries were humbled by the facts they denied. To everyone’s financial pain and loss.
A campaign gaining momentum has hit an immovable object called reality.
Eventually, that’s what always happens when you start believing that you can impose any narrative you want on any set of facts… no matter how bad the mismatch.
At some point there’s a big, messy, come-to-Jesus, narrative-train-wreck moment that is just… well… literal mayhem.
For all of us watching the show, that’s the “experience” that counts.
Let us learn from this, and other, teachable moments.