On Beltway Insiders and Public Attention Spans

As a DC resident, I know that most of the sins that supposedly stem from nefarious Beltway Insiders have other, more specific causes. There’s a kernel of truth within Beltway bashing, though: people here have an outrageously skewed view of how most of the rest of the country consumes political news. Whereas a campaign’s font change or a subcommittee shuffle sets District politicos atwitter, most of the country is, well, doing other stuff. They don’t much care about the merits of Luke Russert’s rise at NBC (insofar as they are aware that he is: 1) at NBC, and 2) rising there). It takes a considerable amount of effort to get them to care for long about Bullygate or Obama’s Russian secrets

This means (obviously) that most of the GOP primary flareups—e.g. moon bases, dogs on roofs, and the merits of letting uninsured Americans die of treatable illnesses—probably don’t matter. Probably. Most Americans don’t start paying serious attention to the presidential campaign until the party conventions (at the very earliest).

And that brings me to my point: as a guy who hasn’t left the Beltway in a few months, I’d love to hear League readers’ take on the top three early season moments that stand to actually matter as the general election kicks off. Which pre-convention flareups will the campaigns and Super PACs force into the public debate?

Conor Williams is a freelance writer. Past work published by The Run of Play, Dissent, The Washington Post, The Center for American Progress, and elsewhere. See more at http://www.conorpwilliams.comon Twitter: @conorpwilliams, or on Facebook

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37 thoughts on “On Beltway Insiders and Public Attention Spans

  1. I think that you’d be surprised, mostly at how polarized things have become. My examination of right wing talk radio – which I’ll admit is forcing myself to listen to some pretty vile stuff that seems designed to rile people up – is a strong indicator that some of this stuff gains a lot more traction than you would think, at least with the party faithful.

    Of course, these people are still riled up over thinking President Obama “bowed to the Saudis.” So your guess is as good as mine as to what they’ll be going on about a few months from now.

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  2. And that brings me to my point: as a guy who hasn’t left the Beltway in a few months, I’d love to hear League readers’ take on the top three early season moments that stand to actually matter as the general election kicks off. Which pre-convention flareups will the campaigns and Super PACs force into the public debate?

    Only 3 huh?

    As it happens I’m traveling down South right now for work – they let me out of the Beltway periodically – and the cuts to public sector jobs by Republican politicians are causing something of a stir. State legislatures seem to think the Governors are going too far. Education, and how to pay for it, are also on the brain.

    Bain Capitol, the Secret Service Scandal . . . Iran’s nuclei threat – not a bit of attention thanks much.

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    • …”they let me out of the Beltway periodically – and the cuts to public sector jobs by Republican politicians are causing something of a stir. State legislatures seem to think the Governors are going too far. Education, and how to pay for it, are also on the brain.

      PhilipH, no offense, but you can take your brain out of the bubble but you can’t take the bubble out of your brain. [I duly apologize for the cheapness of that shot, but it not only writes itself, it’s apt.]

      Scott Walker is cruising ahead of his Jacobin challengers. CNN’s attempt to minimize it—“only “single” digits?—is laughable to those of us outside the bubble.

      THIS is what’s going on out in America, and what it thinks of the “stir” GOP governors are causing. Organized labor threw millions at Scott Walker; now the Democratic National Committee has abandoned the fight as a waste of money.

      According to a St. Norbert College/Wisconsin Public Radio survey, 50% of people likely to vote in the June 5th recall election say they support Walker, the first term governor, with 45% backing Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, the Democratic challenger, and 5% unsure. Barrett won his party’s primary earlier this month, setting up a rematch with Walker from the 2010 election that the Republican won by five points.

      A Reason-Rupe poll, also released Thursday morning, indicates that Walker has a 50% to 42% advantage over Barrett, with 6% unsure.

      And I say this as one who thought Walker moved too quickly. But Wisconsin itself is admitting he did what needed to be done.

      http://reason.com/blog/2012/05/21/milwaukee-journal-sentinel-endorses-scot

      See also Michael Barone, a state/local/district election numbercruncher par excellence, on the WI version of the “Beltway bubble”:

      Another case in point is Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s law restricting the bargaining powers of public-employee unions. The unions and the crowds in Madison, which is both the state capital and a university town that, with surrounding Dane County, voted 73 to 26 percent for Barack Obama, egged each other on with cries that this would destroy the working class. No one they knew found this implausible.

      The unions had an economic motive to oppose the laws and seek to recall first Republican legislators and then Walker himself. The law ended the automatic checkoff of union dues, which operated as an involuntary transfer of money from taxpayers to union leaders.

      But voters declined to recall enough Republicans to give Democrats a majority in the Senate, and Walker currently leads Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett in polls on the June 5 recall election.

      The Madison mob seemed unaware that there were attractive arguments on Walker’s side.

      Why should public-employee-union members pay less for health insurance and get fatter pensions than the taxpayers who pay their salaries? Why is it a bad thing for property taxes to be held down and for school districts to cut perks for union members enough to hire more teachers?

      Beyond the Madison cocoon, in Wisconsin’s other 71 counties, which voted 55 to 44 percent for Walker in 2010, such arguments are evidently proving persuasive.

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      • The cynic in me says that being a crony of a multibillionaire and being able to fundraise for nearly 2 months before your opponent, resulting in a 25-to-1 funding advantage before anyone even says the word SuperPAC, might have something to do with it as well.

        And be a good indication of why campaign finance reform is desperately needed.

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      • I’m no fan of the gov’t employee union concept myself (though because of the whole “government” thing), but why doesn’t the “gov’t employees get better benefits than us!” line equally prompt private-sector employees to ask what happened at our end?

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        • It’s a “class envy” thing. The market failed the private sector a long time ago, but the conservative theory goes that the market is never wrong. Therefore in order to prove their theory the benefits that public sector employees had must be destroyed.

          Also, government employees are a “hated other” to the conservatives. I’ve yet to hear a radio show host describe them as other than lazy or inept – main line being “people who couldn’t compete in the real world.” They’ve also used that line about public school teachers more times than I care to count – and yet Roger accuses non-conservatives about not caring about education!

          Of course the reality is that government employees didn’t always have better benefits – the market has just screwed the private sector first. The more “right to work” a state is, the worse the benefits to private sector employees go, and the more conservative a state government, the worse the benefits to public sector employees go. And it’s accelerated by the presence of a recession, when “the market” is so full of people seeking employment or desperate to keep their jobs that employers can get away with just about anything.

          The top 1% is laughing as the conservative rank and file whine about public sector benefits, distracted from asking the same question you asked.

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          • Also, government employees are a “hated other” to the conservatives

            Unless they carry a gun (or support people that do) and then it’s mostly the mirror image. And if they’re receiving govt money through a contract, instead of through a GS payscale, then it’s entirely a mirror image.

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  3. Mitt’s coasting and rising; the Obamans’ trial attack balloons are being shot down even by Dems. The reason they’re pissed at Cory Booker is for defanging a planned attack strategy more than just for getting out of line.

    But he probably did them a favor, because that line of attack had no teeth when Newt tried it, and is not going to appeal to anyone right of #Occupy.

    This new tack, that BHO isn’t really the big spender that he’s accused of being, seems reasonable—when all else fails, try the truth, and even GOPers must admit that Dubya spent like a drunken Kennedy.

    I realize I’m still being inside baseball with this, but my larger point is Dick Morris re Bill Clinton: the more BHO says or does, the more he sinks in the polls. It could very well be that Romney’s not really rising atall, or if he is, it’s by letting BHO sink himself.

    Even the much-ballyhooed “Obama is more likable” is evening up in the polls bigtime. As a GOPer, I’ve been watching Romney closely all along and his master strategy has been to do as little as possible and still win. Each of his GOP challengers crashed on their own, Romney applying just the right amount of ruthless heat to set them aflame in the ditch.

    And now after becoming nominee-apparent, I think he’s been masterful at not making people sick of him with 5-6 months left to go. He’s barely shown a card of how he’s going to attack Obama’s record. If Gingrich had emerged, he’d have been up 8 points in April on Obama, been down 12 by June for sheer obnoxiousness, and lose by 18 in November because he’d used up his ammo on Obama before the convention.

    If you remember Phil Hartman’s “real” Ronald Reagan

    http://www.hulu.com/watch/4174/saturday-night-live-president-reagan-mastermind

    Mitt’s no pushover behind that limpid smile and Boy Scout demeanor. Be afraid, be very afraid.

    _________________
    Conor, I’m sure you weren’t polling the Great Unwashed. LoOG there’s no such thing. To a man [and other gentlepersons], we are all quite Washed. ;-)

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      • I’m a dirty hippie, Dan. Bohemian actually. That’s the point here—read deeply. The “conservatives” you see here LoOG do what they want, work when they want, say what they want.

        The conservatives here are largely rebels. Rebels who survived, is all. Dying for the cause isn’t as great as they make it sound.

        I read what everybody says here. There is not one person here who writes anything here that I don’t understand where they’re coming from, whether I agree or not. I love the LoOG, I hope everybody knows that. When I quote Lincoln that we’re the last best hope of earth, it’s with everything I’ve got.

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          • The righties here are “mainstream” enough to chafe at slanders directed at their half of the country. The disturbing question is whether the acid lefties [not all are acidic] actually believe the vile shit they say about the right, or whether they’re cynically making it up.

            What I do know is that when many or most lefties “sample” the right [say, turn on Limbaugh] what they think they’re hearing is not what he’s saying. There’s a universe of context necessary to appreciate the nuance.

            For example, when the cop “transcribed” Lenny Bruce’s act and read it to the judge. Something like that.

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              • No, AnneG, what I’m saying is the problem is in the ear of the beholder. One can read [or listen] charitably or uncharitably. One can try to understand the other person’s POV, or one can take their knives out.

                This has nothing to do with conservatives or conservatism. If I have to watch James Hanley have to defend libertarianism one more time from the acid left’s charge that it doesn’t care about fraud or toxic pollution or the plight of the sick and weak, I’m gonna puke.

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                • Part of the problem here, Tom, is that neither left, nor right, nor libertarian is a fixed point. James’ exercise with the political graph thingy should have proven that to everyone’s satisfaction. Believe me (or not, suit yourself), but I’ve run into more than a few self-described libertarians who espouse positions that effectively amount to not caring about “fraud or toxic pollution or the plight of the sick and weak.” Why do I make that judgement? Because they reject any proffered solution to these problems while offering none of their own other than vague platitudes about “voluntary” or “bottom-up” solutions. That’s not every libertarian and I sincerely don’t believe it applies to James (who, after all, describes himself as a liberaltarian), but it happens often enough to not be an anomaly.

                  You also have to consider that liberals (at least of a certain vintage) have spent the last three decades being slandered so thoroughly by the right that the word “liberal” until recently was all but abandoned in favor of “progressive”. I don’t think you truly have a grasp on how nasty conservatives can be as evidenced by how casually you throw insults our way and then expect us to just smile and move on.

                  And I don’t just mean mooks on the Internet, either. For example, none other than President George H.W. Bush stated in public that atheists weren’t “good Americans.” When he uttered those words I was wearing my Navy uniform and he was my Commander-in-Chief. That’s right–I had taken a solemn oath to protect and defend the Constitution of these United States with my life if ordered to do so (potentially by the President himself) and I wasn’t a “good” American because I didn’t believe in his fucking Sky Spook.

                  Trust me here; we experience our own waves of nausea now and then as well.

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                    • Here’s the thing; did you look at my link? Here’s the author’s CV:

                      Jason Brennan (Ph.D., 2007, University of Arizona) is Assistant Professor of Ethics, Economics, and Public Policy at Georgetown University, and formerly Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Research, at Brown University. He specializes in political philosophy and applied ethics. He is the author of Libertarianism: What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford University Press, 2012), The Ethics of Voting (Princeton University Press, 2011), and, with David Schmidtz, A Brief History of Liberty (Wiley-Blackwell, 2010). He is currently writing The Politics of Voting: Competence and the Right to Rule.

                      This isn’t just some putz on the Internet. This guy is an academic philosopher in the milieu of libertarianism. He’s one of the main authors on a decidedly non-hardline libertarian blogsite. This is the site where I first ran across the term “liberaltarian,” so these are precisely the kind of libertarians that James Hanley purports to be.

                      And you called them “bottom-feeders.”

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                  • Rod,

                    What I like in that link are the comments–a bunch of libertarians arguing about whether you have to be a natural rights libertarian, or whether utilitarian libertarianism is possible, and questioning the author on whether he can really say “libertarians believe,” since–as the redoubable Ilya Somin writes–“On some of the issues you note, there are deep disagreements among libertarians.”

                    Imagine that. From reading comments at this blog I’d gotten the impression libertarians were all monolithic, marching in lock-step agreement on everything.

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    • Personally, I don’t think Romney was even that crafty. I think that the media decided that it would take a “hot” Republican to beat Obama, and so they focused as much effort as they could on anyone who was even mildly spicy (when compared to rice-pudding Romney.)

      Unfortunately, the voter that brought Obama into office in 2008 have gotten bored with politics, because it was never about anything but Being Someone Who Voted For The First Black POTUS. Now we had the First Black POTUS and nobody cares anymore.

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  4. I’m still surprised that Luke Russert wasn’t laughed off the airwaves after this. (title is NSFW, though the content is G-rated) . The way the sweet young thing who’s been looking at him adoringly throws up her hands in horror and flees is classic.

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  5. -Don’t know which debate it was, but when they asked the GOP candidates if any of them would cut a deal with $10 in spending cuts for every $1 in tax increases and nobody raised their hand..Seemed indicative of the way this election season will go, especially with the Bush-Obama tax cuts and automatic deficit reduction sequesters coming up. Bain Capital, along with private equity and finance in general, will certainly play a strong part of this season too.
    -How genuine Romney is in his beliefs, particularly for social issues. I expect Obama will use his newly-enunciated gay marriage support to clash with Romney’s flip-flopping when he ran for Senate in Mass vs. now.
    -Romney’s personality/religion in general will be up for debate amongst the people, though not “officially” by the Obama campaign. Personality example: One of my favorite Colbert clips of Romney repeating his “America, the Beautiful” speech ad nauseum (http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/405156/january-04-2012/indecision-2012—iowa-caucus—mitt-romney-s-victory-speech—rick-santorum-s-coup) We’ll see if all the primary talk about Mitt’s awkwardness dissipates in the general election.

    These seem broad enough to be lasting influences of the primary campaign…but maybe I just read too much politics.

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  6. If you’re talking about the folks that are not already heavily engaged, none of those things you list have registered.
    Of course, I live in Georgia and the state was so Newt and/or Cain obsessed that I sense mostly detachment now, outside of a general anti-Obama mood that is pretty unchanging.

    All my friends back home are politically-obsessed liberal Midwesterners, they hang on every single little insinuation about Mitt’s time at Bain, none of them are real OWS members but they find the 99% rhetoric extremely compelling.

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  7. Not a moment, and I have no idea what it means for the general, but prior to Santorum and Gingrich retiring from the race, Romney was winning his delegates largely in Obama country: the Northeast and urban areas in other states. When you look at the county-level results, you can pick out most of the major cities in most of the states by looking for whatever color they were using for Romney. While I may not know what the surprise will be, I expect that this pattern will show up in some sort of surprise in the November returns.

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  8. I believe that the general tenor of the GOP debates left an impression though no specific element to date. I don’t buy the argument that most folks don’t pay attention – the general populace may not know specifics and probably will forget the names of folks who had their 15 minutes.

    Ultimately I believe the economic metrics will rule – is unemployment getting better & is the GDP growing/what rate, and the rest will be noise regardless of how many SuperPAC commercials are on the airwaves.

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