Memes in Search of Quotes

In a weekend news cycle populated by little other than distant violence in Syria and the near distractions of NBA basketball, I regret that I was unable to attend either of the media confabs in the news: Joe Biden’s media picnic, where anyone bringing a child got the chance to vicariously super-soak the likes of Wolf Blitzer and David Brooks; or this year’s Netroots Nation event in Providence. MSM coverage of the latter event is, as usual, a matter of memes in search of quotes. One AP story suggests the dirty hippie attendees of NN are ready to stay home in November due to various grievances with Barack Obama. A Politico take treats the gathering as a bunch of smug Obama supporters slowly awakening to the possibility Mitt Romney could win on a wave of Super-PAC money. Either interpretation could have been, and for all I know, might have been, phoned in from Washington or written a year ago.

In any event, we are entering a tedious phase of the presidential contest in which the underlying realities of a close election can still be spun as a “surprise” or a trend. Conservatives are particularly manic at the moment, treating the entirely predictable consolidation of Republican support behind Mitt Romney as a sea-change in public opinion, and hailing every random off-message half-sentence by a prominent Democrat (or in some cases, semi-Democrat or former Democrat or pretend Democrat) as the abandonment of a doomed Obama by a demoralized party.

It is always possible that a huge mistake by one of the candidates, or an external event (ranging from unexpectedly good or bad economic news to a foreign policy crisis) will make this something other than a nail-biter. It’s even possible that Democrats will find a way to convince both base and swing voters that a Romney victory plus Republican majorities in both Houses of Congress will produce a sudden policy shift that will make the Reagan Revolution of 1981 look like a tiny tweak, much to the great shock of the large majority of Americans who want no such thing.

But the odds are high that we are looking at a cyle like 2000 or 2004, in which no lead is safe, pundits preoccupy themselves with endless efforts to identify which state and which tiny slice of the electorate gets to decide the outcome for the rest of us, and the days in the calendar pass so slowly that we’ll all want to scream in frustration by October.

In the end, national trends may congeal enough that it’s not as close as 2000 or 2004. But anyone who promises to tell you how it’s going to turn out right now is probably a scribbler or shouter with an attention-grabbing or audience-pleasing meme in search of a quote–or a poll–to support it. Because many conservatives are pursuing not only a vision of victory in 2012 but an ongoing effort to rewrite recent American political history as a decades-long slide into unspeakable barbarism lubricated by elite-underclass conspiracies and RINO betrayals, they can be expected to exhibit the most excitement over every twist and turn in the contest. The rest of us can be forgiven for occasionally grabbing the remote in search of less portentous blood sports, or metaphorically soaking down Blitzer or Brooks with mockery.

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.