Big Bird, Comment of the Week
October 15th, 2012

In case you’ve ever wondered how much Sesame Street makes from licensing Big Bird, Elmo, Cookie Monster, etc.

Then there’s our comment of the week from Galley Reader M.K.:

Brother, lay off the hyperbole.  You’re either listening to too much sports radio (“I’ll say it.  Dwight Howard’s performance last night was the G.O.A.T.”) or reading too many comic books (“Worst. Episode. Evar.”)

“Catastrophically bad”?  “[W]ould have been career-ending”?  You sound like Andrew Sullivan.  And considering the response from outside your isolation chamber, you missed the mark utterly.  There is no “Heisenberg effect” of Twitter.  Politics is not practiced alone.  It is meant to change upon contact with other people, and it is otherwise meaningless.

Paul Ryan is a practiced explainer — indeed, he is highly skilled in presenting the conservative case by making (deliberately) complicated issues digestible to low-information voters.  He was clearly waylaid by Biden, the veteran obfuscater of four decades’ experience.  Mitt Romney also underestimated his opponents some forty debates ago, and only two weeks ago did we see the improvement that attends experience.  Ryan naïvely assumed his explanatory gifts would carry the day, rather than being prepared to <i>force</i> the opportunity to explain over Biden’s rather surprising raspberries, interruptions, and fart noises.  He was not as prepared for a taping of <i>Crossfire with Martha Raddatz</i> as affable old Joe.

But the bottom line is, Ryan is introducing himself to the nation.  As a loyal number two, his job above all others is to promote the top of the ticket, which he did consistently (and in contrast to Biden, who mentioned Obama once).  His primary goal on Thursday was to not screw up and give the media material to chew on until Tuesday.  His next most important goal was to present himself as relaxed and confident in his ability to radiate competence.  In the few moments between Biden’s overbearing slapstick, Ryan showed a command of the arguments.  Even the most “catastrophically bad” performances by veep candidates amount to nothing (cf. Bentsen-Quayle; Gore-Quayle-Stockdale).  The goal is to demonstrate a baseline competence.  Hardcore DailyKosian critics on the left could not say Ryan betrayed a “catastrophic[]” incompetence.

No, the problem with your one-man echo-chamber — particularly with a politician for whom you personally have the very highest of expectations — is that you will tend to hyper-focus on not just weaknesses but the <i>perceived weaknesses</i> of your champion, imagining what your worst opponent might think of what you’re both watching.  “That won’t sound good to women in the 30-45 demo.” “Ohh, don’t say that! You’re playing right into the stereotype they have about theocons!”

This is meta-politics, the disease of our age.  Our opinions are not based on the substance of the disagreement but rather how we perceive those opinions will be received by other people.  “I agree with his pro-life policy, sure, but I’m not sure if it will poll well with the suburban housewives outside Philly.”  Everyone is a pundit now.  No one talks substance, they talk process. You have fallen into this trap.

The great James Bowman has been banging the drum about the emptiness of meta-politics for year, but it seems there isn’t much audience for media theory.  Too bad, because he is one of the few who gets it:

It is malpractice to pundificate without having read Bowman’s book, <i>Media Madness</i>.

  1. Nedward October 15, 2012 at 10:09 pm

    2nded on Media Madness (and it’s even short enough to knock out during a typical Acela ride, on the way to the Newseum or JournoCon or 4th Estatepalooza or Kennedy Center Honors, wherever it is that lot spends its weekends)

  2. REPLY
  3. wfb October 16, 2012 at 12:25 pm