Friday, November 12, 2010

I see orange people. Reflections on relative demonology.

2011 State of the Union

The single most dramatic change in the complexion of our government emerging from the midterm election is the impending leadership change in the House of Representatives. Republican John Boehner will be replacing Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House. He will be seated next to Joe Biden behind President Obama for the State of the Union Address in early 2011. You may want to take some time now to adjust the tint and color intensity on your hi-def flat screen.

The Daily Caller - Alexis Levinson:
History will be made when Boehner becomes first orange-American Speaker of the House
"In January, America will pass another milestone on the road to full equality when Ohio Republican Rep. John Boehner becomes the first orange-American Speaker of the House.Boehner’s unique skin has made him a target of liberal mockery, and talk of his tan has often eclipsed discussion of what he actually says or does. Even President Obama has gotten in on the fun, joking at the 2009 White House Correspondence Dinner that he and Boehner “have a lot in common. He is a person of color—although not a color that appears in the natural world.”
Cartoonists, columnists, bloggers, pundits, and humorists get in on the fun, including Olivia Munn's election report on the Daily Show (at the 4:00 minute mark):

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Indecision 2010 - Maybe We Can't - Election Results
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorRally to Restore Sanity

I could not pass up the opportunity to take the same subject headline and use it on my political and personal blog for posts on completely different topics. Between John Boehner presumptively winning the Speaker of the House and the San Francisco Giants winning the World Series, it was just a really big week for all things orange. But I digress...

I don't want to fall into the trap outlined by the Daily Caller, and lose sight of the content while caught up in the novelty of our first Orange Speaker of the House. In terms of the meaning of the election and the role John Boehner will play, Jonathan Rauch nails it on the pages of the New York Times:
Divided We Thrive
A GRAND victory for Republicans in the 2010 midterm election? Yes, of course. But also no. In all three of the most recent earthshaking midterm elections — 1994, 2006 and now 2010 — the same candidate won: divided government. That is not a coincidence. In the last two decades, a strong and persistent pattern has emerged, one that will dominate our politics for some time to come, because it is rooted in two important political realities. First, the public strongly prefers divided government. Second, it has every reason to...

But divided government, in today’s world of ideologically polarized parties, is the only way of attaining sustainable bipartisanship. And that is likely to remain the case for the foreseeable future. By promising to transcend partisanship in an all-Democratic government, President Obama, in 2008, promised something he had no prayer of delivering. Paradoxically, the three words that will do the most to help him deliver on his broken promise of bipartisanship — and, indeed, that offer him the best hope of governing from the center, broadening his support and stabilizing his presidency — are these: Speaker John Boehner."
Two Speakers, one coming in, one going out, characterized differently in the press. MSM reporting on one focusing on a reputation for toughness, ideological inflexibility and hardball partisan politics. MSM reporting for the other focusing on appearance and a penchant for emotional outbursts. I cannot help but wonder how the public and media would perceive the two if these reported characteristics were reversed. Would Nancy Pelosi get the same media treatment if she had a reputation for weeping on camera?

It is interesting to speculate how John Boehner will be covered by the media during the midterms four years hence. Perhaps a hint can be seen by recalling how Speaker Pelosi was perceived when she won the gavel four years ago.

First, a tip of the hat to Cranky Critter for introducing me to a field of study I had heretofore been unaware of - Comparative Political Demonology. [UPDATE/CORRECTION: As noted in the comments, I completely screwed up this attribution. I should have linked to this post, which would have pointed me to the correct attribution for this phrase - our occasional co-blogger Tully, who defines the term in this 2007 post. Earliest use I have found thus far is this 2006 Centerfield comment thread also led by Tully. Mea Culpa.] This is a little too big a subject area for me, so I will focus here on a more specialized subset - Applied Relative Demonology and the Speaker of the House in 2006 and 2010 Mid-term Races.

A great deal of electrons and ink are being spilled over the role Nancy Pelosi played in the 2010 election outcome and the political wisdom of her continuing to lead the Democrats in the House of Representatives as minority leader. She was demonized by Republicans as a San Francisco liberal leading steamrolling a progressive agenda over the objections of our center right country. Indeed, as it turns out, being a reliable vote in the House of Representatives for Nancy Pelosi was a career limiting move for many Democratic Representatives. Pundits on the right and left inform conventional wisdom that she is a political poison of such devastating toxicity that her leadership of the minority Democrats would virtually guarantee Republican victories in 2012 and 2014. Color me unconvinced.

It is not like Nancy Pelosi has changed her politics since 2006. She was not an unknown quantity after serving 19 years in the House as representative and minority leader, and was not perceived politically any differently in 2006 by the electorate than she is today. She was demonized by Republicans in 2006 as a San Francisco liberal, yet that did not stop voters from sweeping Republicans from the majority and installing her as the first woman Speaker of the House, complete with her "San Francisco Values" baggage:

2006 SNL skit

There were some differences between then and now. There was a Republican President, and the Democrats had a much bigger target to demonize in 2006. A Liberal Speaker of the House steeped in San Francisco Values does not sound so bad when the alternative is a corrupt political hack that "would not meet the moral standards of one of the most corrupt 1906 political participants of the most corrupt political organization in the history of the United States." Hence "Relative Demonology". After serving as Speaker of the House for two years, voters increased the Democratic majority in the House in 2008, dealing Pelosi a stronger hand as Speaker. She didn't change, but in 2006 and 2008, the Republican demons were worse.

For many Americans, John Boehner is more of an unknown today than Nancy Pelosi was in 2oo6. They know he is politically conservative, gets emotional on camera, and is orange. That's about it. What we will learn about him in his role as Speaker, how he will be perceived by the electorate in 2012 and 2014, and who is elected President in 2012 will be bigger factors in those elections than whether or not Nancy Pelosi continues to lead the Democrats in the House. Today, Boehner gets the benefit of the doubt from the electorate. Under the more intense and extended media scrutiny in his new role, the weeping everyman shtick could wear thin and even raise doubts about his fitness to lead.

Pelosi was widely credited with Democrats winning the House in 2006. She was an effective Speaker in 2007-8 when acting to restore some balance with a Republican administration. She was an even more effective speaker in driving the Democratic agenda set by the Obama administration through the House of Representatives in 2008-10.

If Democrats want effective, competent leadership in Congress, they should stick with Pelosi. We won't see her crying on the floor of the House, and by 2014, an orange hued basket case weeping over tax cuts may very well be perceived as a relatively greater demon.

Full Disclosure. Nancy Pelosi is my representative in Congress. Consistent with my Divided Government preference, I voted for her and supported other Democratic candidates nationally in the 2006 mid-terms. I voted against her and supported Republican candidates nationally in 2010. Your mileage may vary.

UPDATED: Corrected typos, added correct attribution for CPD
Divided and Balanced.™
Now that is fair.


Tully said...

RE: CPD™ : You're welcome. I first coined the term and defined it back around the 2002 elections. "Political demonology" as a descriptive has been around a good bit longer and is a well-recognized phenomena. CPD™ I invented as a convenient shorthand for the tiresome and endless competitive and utterly pointless:

"process of making tit-for-tat comparisons between political figures or factions in the attempt to make one side look either better or worse than the other by comparison, when in truth neither side is blameless and the comparison is generally irrelevant to the issue at hand. Such comparisons are almost always completely dependent on the subjective emotional stance of the utterer(s), and are generally intended to divert discussion by distraction. Example: "Clinton lied to our faces about having sex with Lewinsky! And then he lied under oath!" "Well, at least he didn't lie us into war, which is worse." A prime symptom of PDS."

PDS is Political Derangment Syndrome, and of course I didn't remotely invent that term.

Tully said...

See also: "Look! An Evil Pony!"

mw said...

Huh. I thought CC coined that one. You should have sued him or at least slapped a Cease and Desist on him. I'll edit the post to attribute this properly once I've verified the prior use claim.

Tully said...

Yeah, I stuck the ™ on it kind of as a joke, but still ...

The Orange jokes really kind of write themselves, don't they? The left is already polishing their sabers and constructing their tropes and memes, which is only to be expected. What is really amazing is the huge number of people completely incapable of independent thought who seize upon those things and treat them as (literally!) gospel.

Anonymous said...

arguing with idiots again,.. don't worry, 2012 will get rid of the idiots, the idiotic "orange" socialist democrats who have ruined America; if we ever needed God Bless America, we need it today,.. to save us from democratic communism elected into power in 2008 by the liberals who have been trying to bankrupt and ruin America,.. We the people believe in the freedom that our forefathers gave us,.. arguing with idiots is useless, we will vote them out of government in 2012!

mw said...

You obviously have no idea what this blog is about. I suspect you did not even read the post as your comment is something of a non-sequitur.

While I moderate comments here, I decided to include yours, because it typifies the kind of language, sloganeering, and mindless catch-phrases that are likely to alienate independents and generate the exact opposite 2012 result you seek.

Many on the right are misreading the meaning of the 2010 election and overreaching, exactly like many on the left misread the meaning of the 2006 and 2008 election and overreached.