Distractions

It’s pretty hilarious to listen to RNC Chairman Reince Priebus complain that Republicans are the victims of media attention paid to the Ricketts/Davis ad story, or that Obama is to blame:

I know how it works. It’s the Democrats and Barack Obama that want the story out there. He wants the story to play out in the media, because for every day that [Obama adviser] David Axelrod and this President don’t have to talk about their broken promises when it comes to jobs, the debt, and the deficit — the more time they can talk about hypotheticals that may or may not come true — is a day they want to win on. So, look, this president’s got a bigger problem and his problem is no matter what he puts out there, no matter what distractions he puts out there, he can’t change the truth and escape the reality of where we are in this American economy. And it’s no good.

Now best I can tell, Priebus is an unusually intense advocate of the idea that the best way to exhibit “message discipline” is to sound as blitheringly stupid as is possible: just stare at the camera with the eyes of a goat and repeat your talking points whether they are in any way relevant to what you are supposed to be talking about or are the least bit persuasive. So it doesn’t surprise me all that much that he’d have the chutzpah to insist that a leaked discussion between a major GOP donor and the all-time superstar conservative media consultant about exactly how much racism and religious bigotry they can get away with in a political ad represents an effort by Obama to change the subject.

But the larger point here is pretty important for progressives to understand: the GOP is running a two-track campaign this year, one with a fiscal/economic message, and the other with a cultural message, and they have a lot invested in making sure the persuadable voters the first message is aimed at don’t hear the second. That would, as Priebus suggests, in fact be a “distraction.” But blaming the “distraction” on the very target of their own cultural attacks is entirely in line with the attacks themselves: Obama and “liberals” are always described as the aggressors in cultural conflicts. Is the Obama administration reluctant to carve out large areas of public policy where religious conservatives are allowed to do whatever they want? Then they are assaulting religious liberty! Do they suggest Americans still suffer from discrimination? Then they are racists! So it’s clear Obama’s “suspicious” background, whether it’s where he was born or how he got into this or that college or what his former pastor said in thirty years of sermons, is just an intolerable provocation to conservatives. How dare he distract the people who hate him!

Get used to it. We’ll hear this every single time Republicans get caught pursuing the cultural prong of their campaign strategy.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.