Tuesday, June 03, 2014

How to Succeed in Washington Without Really Trying

Your Fellow Americans

JUNE 3, 2014

We seem to be in the midst of several national conversations. Every day, in fact, on MSNBC or Fox News or NPR or Sarah Palin’s Facebook page or my brother in-law’s Twitter feed, new national conversations are being set aloft over something or other of great importance — cyberbullying, digital diets, “slut-shaming,” Benghazi and all that. But the only way to have your national conversation rise above the others is to have a “face” of that conversation — your very own Pussy Riot, Edward Snowden, Sandra Fluke, New York City carriage horses or “Duck Dynasty” guys. Or that cattle rancher from Nevada, what’s his name?

After refusing to pay more than $1 million in grazing fees to the Bureau of Land Management and attracting a militia of defenders, Cliven Bundy recently catapulted to folk-hero status on the right. His newfound celebrity was enhanced when the Senate majority leader Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat, called his supporters “domestic terrorists,” and a herd of Republicans were subsequently obliged to “stand with” the rancher. “What Senator Reid may call domestic terrorists, I call patriots,” noted Dean Heller, Nevada’s Republican senator. Herman Cain sympathized; Ted Cruz said that the case represented the “tragic culmination of the path that President Obama has set the federal government on.” By the next morning, Bundy became the face of a new national conversation about land rights and government overreach and a few other things, too — at least until The New York Times revealed that he had shared some problematic views about “the Negro.” Cause célèbres come and go so fast, and by the next news cycle the cattle rancher’s new friends were stampeding on to the next thing (Get me some talking points on Dinesh D’Souza, please!).

Cause célèbres are not, of course, a new phenomenon. A world war started over the assassination of a cause-célèbre archduke (Franz Ferdinand), a regional one broke out over cause-célèbre islands (the Falklands), the Bernard Goetzes, Tawana Brawleys and Karen Ann Quinlans of yore roll seamlessly into the Elián Gonzálezes, Terry Schiavos and George Zimmermans. Now, as identity politics has become the dominant currency of national debates — the personal has never been more political, and vice versa — we seem to be living through a particularly fomenting age. People no longer simply have opinions. They have feelings. And those feelings tend to coalesce around movements with easily accessible outlets for their various grievances and rooting interests.

(More here.)


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