We have been treated in the last 48 hours to an extremely vivid illustration of how conventional political Beltway wisdom is created....
First was a story on Monday about the costs of Edwards' haircuts and visits to a spa, plainly intended to fuel the principal right-wing anti-Edwards caricature -- his effeminate obsession with his hair.
That was followed by another Smith story yesterday ripping out of context a small part of Obama's speech -- in which he spoke of various types of "violence" (beyond physical violence) that create divisions in America. Attaching himself to the prevailing anti-Obama cliche, Smith asserts that these excerpts illustrate Obama's "instinct for abstraction and large themes, and his sense that America's problems have at their root solutions that have as much to do with hope and process as with any specific course of action..."
But none of this is substantive criticism. It is just petty, cheap personality-based mockery of the strain that dominates (and degrades and destroys) our political discourse -- it is Al Gore inventing the Internet and claiming to be the inspiration for Love Story, and John Kerry wind-surfing and speaking French. It is all just mindless gossipy shorthand intended to fuel right-wing caricatures and platitudes that have nothing to do with substance and everything to do with demonizing the personality of these political figures in order to render them ugly and embarrassing -- hence, Edwards is a girlish fop and Obama is an intellectual lightweight who relies on empty fancy-sounding buzzphrases in lieu of substance...
What is notable here is not so much the specific petty attacks, but the method of how they are disseminated and engrained as conventional wisdom among our Really Smart Political Insiders. This is the process that occurred here, and it is the process that repeats itself endlessly:
STEP 1: A new right-wing gossip (Ben Smith) at a new substance-free political rag (The Politico) seizes on some petty, manufactured incident to fuel personality caricatures of Democratic candidates.
STEP 2: The old right-wing gossip (Drudge) uses his old substance-free political rag (The Drudge Report) to amplify the inane personality caricatures.
STEP 3: Right-wing hacks with pretenses of respectability -- like Mickey Kaus and others -- follow the script by "analyzing" the gossip and embracing it.
STEP 4: National media outlets -- such as AP and CNN -- whose world is ruled by Drudge, turn the gossip into "news stories."
STEP 5: Our Serious Beltway Political Analysts -- in this case, the very somber and smart Substantive Journalists at The New Republic -- mindlessly repeat all of it, thereby solidifying it as conventional wisdom, showing that "even Democrats and liberals are embarrassed by their candidates."
One should note here that Step 5, the Final Stage, is almost always sponsored by those who endlessly proclaim how irresponsible and substance-free and unserious political bloggers are, and who thereafter write pieces which do nothing other than repeat the latest Drudge gossip...
But this is the process that generates our country's petty conventional political wisdom. And it these type of personality stories which are often outcome-determinative.