A PEEK BEHIND THE CURTAIN?…. One of the most talked-about political stories of the day yesterday just didn’t seem that interesting. But given that we rarely get to hear politicians speaking candidly, when they think no one else is listening, I suppose stories like these are bound to get at least some attention.
Um, senators, ever heard of the mute button?
Moments before a conference call with reporters was scheduled to get underway on Tuesday morning, Charles E. Schumer of New York, the No. 3 Democrat in the Senate, apparently unaware that many of the reporters were already on the line, began to instruct his fellow senators on how to talk to reporters about the contentious budget process.
After thanking his colleagues — Barbara Boxer of California, Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland, Thomas R. Carper of Delaware and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut — for doing the budget bidding for the Senate Democrats, who are facing off against the House Republicans over how to cut spending for the rest of the fiscal year, Mr. Schumer told them to portray John A. Boehner of Ohio, the speaker of the House, as painted into a box by the Tea Party, and to decry the spending cuts that he wants as extreme. “I always use the word extreme,” Mr. Schumer said. “That is what the caucus instructed me to use this week.”
Soon after, someone apparently realized reporters waiting for the call to begin could hear the senators, and quickly muted the line.
To hear the right tell it, the scandal here is that elected officials apparently get talking points from their party, and leaders would like these officials to repeat them when speaking to the media.
Like I said, this just doesn’t seem that interesting. Indeed, soon after, Schumer’s office issued a statement saying, “There’s nothing wrong with reporters overhearing him calling the House Republicans’ [position] extreme, because that’s what it is…. The sooner Speaker Boehner abandons the Tea Party’s extreme demands, the sooner there can be a bipartisan deal on the budget.”
But perhaps the most entertaining response came from Jonathan Cohn, who referenced one of my favorite “West Wing” episodes.
But I also couldn’t help think back to one of my favorite West Wing episodes, when the fictional President Bartlett (played by actor Martin Sheen) was beginning his re-election campaign. After the end of a television interview, Bartlett lets slip that his opponent isn’t too bright–or, as Bartlett puts it, that he has a “.22 caliber mind in a .357 magnum world.” It turns out the television camera was still running. The press ends up reporting the comment, ostensibly embarrassing Bartlett but, of course, reinforcing the idea that his opponent is dumb.
Later, press secretary C.J. Cregg (played by Allison Janney) asks Bartlett whether he knew the camera was on, making the comment purposely. When Bartlett smiles and walks away, she says “that was old school.”
Did Schumer “accidentally” slip and get reporters to run a bunch of stories connecting the GOP plan to the word “extreme,” straight out of a Sorkin script? I rather doubt it, but it’s fun to consider the possibility.