Take it away Ezra Klein….
You can’t pass what you can’t say:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid played dumb last week when a reporter asked him if the energy and climate bill headed to the floor would come with a “cap” on greenhouse gas emissions.
“I don’t use that,” the Nevada Democrat replied. “Those words are not in my vocabulary. We’re going to work on pollution.”
One of my rules in politics is that whichever side is resorting to framing devices is losing. In 2004, when Democrats became obsessed with George Lakoff, it’s because they felt unpopular and looking for a quick fix. And in 2006, when they took the Congress back, it wasn’t because they found a new slogan. It was because the Iraq War and Jack Abramoff had made the Republicans toxic. In 2008, it was exhaustion with George W. Bush and a cratering economy. Post-9/11 frame theory wouldn’t have said run the black guy with the name “Hussein.”
If cap-and-trade is so unpopular that its primary legislative advocates can’t mention it, then it’s dead. The BP oil spill offered a chance to change the fundamentals on the issue and Democrats decided against trying to use the disaster as a galvanizing moment for climate legislation. Word games don’t offer a similar opportunity.
Photo credit: Drew Angerer/AP.
Meet Mike Allen.
Mike isn’t any part of the elected government of the United States. Yet he wields more influence over the narrative of our politics than any rank and file member of Congress or Senator.
Mike writes a highly influential daily email tipsheet for Politico (it’s on the blogroll). This email, which I signed up for today, is required reading in the beltway. He’s in constant touch with the White House, and every other major player on the Hill.
Allen’s e-mail tipsheet, Playbook, has become the principal early-morning document for an elite set of political and news-media thrivers and strivers. Playbook is an insider’s hodgepodge of predawn news, talking-point previews, scooplets, birthday greetings to people you’ve never heard of, random sightings (“spotted”) around town and inside jokes. It is, in essence, Allen’s morning distillation of the Nation’s Business in the form of a summer-camp newsletter.
Like many in Washington, Pfeiffer describes Allen with some variation on “the most powerful” or “important” journalist in the capital. The two men exchange e-mail messages about six or eight times a day. Allen also communes a lot with Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff; Robert Gibbs, the press secretary; David Axelrod, President Obama’s senior adviser; and about two dozen other White House officials. But Pfeiffer is likely Allen’s main point of contact, the one who most often helps him arrive at a “West Wing Mindmeld,” as Playbook calls it, which is essentially a pro-Obama take on that day’s news. (Allen gets a similar fill from Republicans, which he also disseminates in Playbook.)
Pfeiffer tells Allen the message that the Obama administration is trying to “drive” that morning — “drive” being the action verb of choice around the male-dominated culture of Politico, a three-year-old publication, of which the oft-stated goal is to become as central to political addicts as ESPN is to sports junkies. “Drive” is a stand-in for the stodgier verb “influence.” If, say, David S. Broder and R. W. Apple Jr. were said to “influence the political discourse” through The Washington Post and The New York Times in the last decades of the 20th century, Politico wants to “drive the conversation” in the new-media landscape of the 21st. It wants to “win” every news cycle by being first with a morsel of information, whether or not the morsel proves relevant, or even correct, in the long run — and whether the long run proves to be measured in days, hours or minutes.
It’s fascinating (to me, at least) to watch the evolution of the fourth branch of government (the media) in the internet age. As the Times notes, postwar Washington reporting was driven by a few long-standing, well-connected writers at the establishment (NYTimes, Washington Post) papers. They got fed the juiciest stuff, with the tacit (or explicit) understanding that they would help steer the narrative in a certain direction. The internet has helped to shatter that closed loop. To the extent that relative outsiders (Mike Allen, Ezra Klein, Jon Cohn, etc etc) are able to democratize the information and stories that drive our government, we’re all better off.
And yet, this story strikes me as a real reminder of the somewhat sealed-off, echo-chamber culture within the beltway. Even a new-media guy (Allen) seems to have been captured by his sources (at least to some degree). It makes sense- to win the media battle, you have to win the writers, and co-opting them is the best way to do that. But this cycle can lead to a sort of group think makes it harder to challenge any dominant view. This in turn can lead to disaster (such as the “bipartisan” consensus in the run-up to the Iraq war in 2003). Thanks to PS193 for the “source-capture” framework. This is a great piece either way. Meet your government at work.
The Republican Party has assumed the mantle of “the party of no”. Or “Hell No!”, according to Bobby “The Great Commnuicator” Jindal, and Sarah Palin, and John Boehner (his outrage is comical). Vanity Fair set out to calculate the price of the GOP’s unbending opposition.
In honor of Tax Day, the magazine set out to discover “Just how much money are taxpayers spending on the Republican Party’s commitment to doing exactly nothing.” The answer is evidently $1.32 billion, which includes $47.9 million for congressional salaries; $231.3 million for congressional aides; $163.1 million in health, retirement and other benefits; $533.1 million in paper clips, free postage, and other office expenses; $281.4 million in building maintenance; and $63.5 million in lost federal revenue due to tax-exempt donations to conservative think tanks. As for the latter, as Vanity Fair put it, “Sure, they’ve come up with some interesting ideas. When Republicans enact any of them, you can take this item off the list.”
They apportioned overall congressional costs based on the number of Republicans in the Senate and House, and we have adjusted the totals to reflect 15 months of spending, from Inauguration Day, 2009, through Tax Day, 2010.
I guess you can also file this under What Would Reagan Do? I’ll be using the WWRD tag going forward.