. . . Monday July 19, 2004

Girlie Men and the Art of Politics

The other day I was at a very enjoyable political fundraiser where Arrianna Huffington spoke to a group of well-informed attendees.

While the QandA was fairly tame by Dem function standards, I did hear one familiar refrain when someone asked for a soundbite or two to describe why people should vote for John Kerry. I hear people ask this question all the time.

The first time I heard it, I thought the question reflected some failure on the part of the Democratic higher-ups. Shouldn’t they have honed a series of soundbites for the campaign? Then I thought, no, it’s a laziness on the part of those who want to be involved in politics, but who are only willing to go as deep as a soundbite.

But I’ve realized that neither of these reactions is on the mark (my specialty is having multiple reactions, all wrong). Of course Democrats shouldn’t demand that the gray areas of a complex world be reduced to a meaningless soundbite (or to Bushian Socratic rhetoric: “Would you rather have Saddam still be in power?” … “Wouldn’t you rather keep more of your money?”). On the other hand, soundbites sell. They move the media, they stretch across placards and they put an issue (even if its only for a few inches and a few minutes) into the headlines.

Political coverage is largely about the game. It’s about the sport of politics. Is the Gay Marriage Amendment appropriate or does it make good policy? Who cares? The question is whether or not it was a shrewd move by the Bush team as they try to secure their base.

How many people do you think know any of the details of the budget being debated in California?

In contrast, how many people across the entire country are now aware of the following Governor Arnold quote about California legislators?

“If they don’t have the guts to come up here in front of you and say, ‘I don’t want to represent you, I want to represent those special interests, the unions, the trial lawyers … if they don’t have the guts, I call them girlie men.”

And we don’t just get coverage of this quoting of a parody of a b-movie by the b-actor who was originally being parodied. We also get the reactions. This California quote made it into newspapers across the country that also featured rebuttals (seemingly serious) from those who felt the comment was deeply offensive to either gays or women or both (and believe me, the hermaphrodite voters were none too pleased).

Is Arnold right on the budget? Who cares? The real question is whether or not his girlie men remark (and the follow-up decision not to offer an apology or a retraction) will help or hurt his political career.

Hint: If a politician can quote from a parody of himself, the sky’s the limit.

Do you find yourself hungry for something else other than soundbites and inside baseball analysis of the debate over the positioning of the issues you know nothing about?

Well, then you really are a girlie man. Or a manly girl. Or some other combination. (Now they’ll call me a flip-flopper).

Concentration is important!