November 17, 2006

This is supposed to be a happy occasion

Filed under: Laws and Sausages — tomemos @ 1:33 pm

Those of you who’ve been following the news may feel, like I have, that you woke up on Wednesday or Thursday and found that the resounding Democratic victory had been transformed, in the media narrative, into a debacle of infighting and politicking. This because Nancy Pelosi wanted Murtha to be Majority Leader and he didn’t get to be. Even the paper of record got into the mix, using such restrained language as “tempts disaster” (in the headline!), “acted like some old-time precinct boss,” “skepticism … about her political smarts,” “intramural vendetta.” I can hardly wait to see what the coverage is going to be like once, y’know, the Democrats actually take power.

Now, dear reader, I am capable of admitting that Pelosi made a mistake sticking with Murtha. He’s a controversial public figure who has a bunch of skeletons in his closet. And certainly politicians have power insofar as they convince people to do things, so this betrays some not-quite-sure footing on Pelosi’s part. However, I do think it’s worth noting that:

1)In and of itself, this really doesn’t matter very much. An election was held, a guy won. They held that election two years ago and they’ll hold it two years from now. Therefore,
2)This is only a “disaster” for Pelosi to the degree that the chattering class says it is.

And they’ve decided to say that it really, really is. If you’ve read this far, I really recommend two admittedly longish articles on this topic: one by Digby, and one by Glenn Greenwald. These are two of the smartest, most level-headed left-wing blogs there are—in fact, they are the joint winners of the inaugural Most Level-Headed Left-Wing Blog Award, presented by me. Both of them come to a conclusion that is hard to dispute: that the media treats Democrats differently. I won’t say “worse,” since it’s probable that the Republicans get picked on in their own way, but they sure as hell don’t get the “incompetent party management” label as much as the Democrats do. Consider that the Republicans just completed a Senate leadership election at least as “divisive” (formerly-disgraced Trent Lott won Whip by one vote), plus they lost a Congressional election not so long ago, but you don’t hear about them tearing themselves apart. Nor did you in 1994, when (Digby tells me) Newt Gingrich didn’t get his pick for Majority Leader, either.

One thing I haven’t seen talked about directly, though it has been alluded to, is the element of sexism in all this. Would we be seeing all this talk about catfights, personal vendettas, and power squabbles if this was a male Speaker of the House-Elect? This CNN screenshot, given in the Digby post, makes me think that they’re talking about Pelosi’s suitability as a wife rather than the viability of the Democrats as a party. And I don’t think that Bill Frist has ever been described, as The New Republic’s Marty Peretz described Pelosi, as “rather svelte.”


1 Comment »

  1. I’ve been briefly reading this Pelosi stuff too, although I don’t really know enough about the substance of the issue to comment on it. But, I can see why the press is covering it the way that they do (not that that makes it ok). The Democrats have just taken power and, like the first 100 days of an administration, these initial battles hold a symbolic value for prognosticating the success or failure of that administration. I recognize that these are arbitrary designations, but this narrative seems to hold water for the press – for both republican and democratic administrations. But, as you say, this is not a “real” event so much as it is a “media event.” Given the abbreviated nature of news cycles, none of this will matter in two weeks.

    And you also say that the Democrats are portrayed as incompetently led . . . well, if the shoe fits. Two failed presidential elections and 6 failed congressional elections doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in the party leadership. One electoral victory (albeit a blowout) doesn’t automatically reverse that Part of my blogs about Whitehouse (which I’ll answer eventually) had to do with how tight of a ship the GOP runs as a political organization in throwing its support behind Whitehouse as contrasted to the clear fissures in the democratic party over choosing between Lieberman or Lamont. While the Democrats are clearly making moves towards creating a strong and organized leadership, this scuffle may indicate that the Democrats are farther away than the election would make it seem.

    One way of accounting for why the GOP’s internal battles aren’t as public is because their party isn’t in power, so those disputes aren’t as newsworthy. But, the Murtha battle may hold more traction and be genuinely newsworthy given that the Democrats won an election based on a large part on a widespread perception of Republican corruption. So, perhaps, Pelosi’s choice of Murtha does have a sort of predictive value in terms of how hard of a line the new speaker will take on questions of ethics and reform whereas Lott’s appointment to the same position doesn’t have that same predictive value (again, taking into account that these are all media narratives that bear little relation to reality). It may not be that the Democrats are necessarily covered differently than the Republicans because they’re Democrats, but rather has to do with their leadership styles when in and out of power and the specific political situations and problems that each party runs into when in or out of power.

    Comment by Brandon — November 21, 2006 @ 9:41 pm

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