We are still early in the 2012 election cycle, but already the primary phase has had its share of missed opportunities, hilariously inaccurate statements, and misplaced emphases. Defining those moments is probably up to some debate, but here are some candidates:
This week pushed the upper limits of absurd and offensive: two incorrect stories hit the wire, although they can't both be called "news" per se; Glenn Beck went off the air, only to reappear thirty minutes later; and a fake candidate for President got real Federal Elections Commission approval to form a Super PAC. Earlier this week I wondered if I shouldn't juxtapose Beck and the Oxford comma's departure, but it now looks like neither of them have left. Instead let's look at the weird week that was.
Rep. Weiner gave us another version, earlier this month, of the near-iconic image of the suffering, strong wife standing by her disgraced man as he calls a press conference to discuss whatever scandal has plagued him. Actually, his wife doesn't even need to be at his press event; the Washington Post will force the image on readers anyway:
So does the media cover the spouses of politicians differently when it comes to husbands?
Ronald Reagan has nearly reached mythic status in this early part of the 21st century as something of a Republican's Republican. Every year in Congress, no matter which party controls the House, at least one representative introduces a bill to name something big after Reagan, or to build a monument, or make space on Mt. Rushmore, and so on. But looking at Reagan's domestic agenda reveals that his rhetoric was a lot closer to current Tea Party talking points than his actual politics. Reagan may have been the first President to cast doubt on the sanctity of "government," but are conservatives overstating the man? And when we look at the candidates in the running for the White House, do any of them meet the new standards of the extreme right wing?
This year, an unprecedented wave of voter suppression bills hit statehouses across the country, and garnered very little media attention in response, even as voting rights activists decried the shift. In 27 states, bills that will demand voters show identification, bills that require proof of citizenship, bills that will change processing of provisional ballots, and bills that are aimed directly at students were all introduced or moved through the legislative process. GOP proponents of these bills claimed they were simply protecting elections against fraud. This seems specious at best, given that there are no reports of system-wide fraud at the polls in the 2008 or 2010 elections.
Wisconsin passed its new voting law, rescinding the ability of neighbors to vouch for each others' residency, and requiring an approved identification card be shown at the polls—and perhaps not surprisingly, a University of Wisconsin ID does not count as valid.
Barack Obama impersonator Reggie Brown (not to be confused with the football player) was yanked by GOP operatives at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans this weekend when he came a bit too close to sensitive topics like Tim Pawlenty's backbone and the rest of the presidential field. With the grace of a roughly managed Oscar night, the music began and the helpful staff ushered him offstage. Maybe more telling than the sudden end of Brown's performance, however, was which jokes drew laughs and which a few jeers or silence. Mocking Obama's mixed race heritage—lots of laughs. Saying Barbara Bush looks like a really old George Washington—boo. My own one liner goes something like: The next best thing to defeating Obama in an election is getting to boot his impersonator off stage! Hey, I'm here all week, folks.
Information on the power of American workers' wages show stark losses in their portion of the money pie, unemployment figures took a hit in May that required explanation, and for all of the "recession is over" talk in Washington, people don't feel optimistic about their own economic outlook. In rolls the second GOP debate of the 2012 campaign. Did they capitalize on the country's bad mood? Well, kind of.
Last January a certain bill in the House of Representatives caught the attention of the media. At the very start of the 112th Congress, House Republicans made moves to "redefine rape" and shift how publicly funded insurance covers (or doesn't cover) abortions. Speaker of the House John Boehner, at the time, said that the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act was a priority for the GOP. An outcry from pro-choice, women's health, and anti-poverty advocates rose up almost immediately, and the bill's sponsor, Christopher Smith of New Jersey (and my Representative when I was a teenager), backed down.
It has only been a few years since the "yes we can" wave made landfall in Washington, DC, ushering in Barack Obama and a broad sense of hope, after two long Bush administrations, during which progressives were increasingly alienated and frustrated. While President Obama was marketed, during the last campaign, as a liberal politician, his political stances on everything from same-sex marriage to economic policy and health care reform, were more centrist. So while hope and change led the day, for 2012 he will have to struggle against whatever cynicism has formed since 2008, and battle what many see as a disappointing track record in his first administration. So what are the messages we're likely to see from his campaign management this time around?
Right around the corner is the first New Hampshire debate of the 2012 presidential election. Participating are seven people—not necessarily candidates, mind you—with aspirations for the White House, if not declared campaigns. It may be an event co-sponsored by CNN, and held in the state with the first stab at primary season, but many politics watchers question whether any of the people at the top of the GOP list now will be in the race at all come the party's convention next summer. One big factor: the ease with which the information superhighway throws potholes in their faces.