Feeling a bit jerked around by the headlines and pundit topics of the week, Thursday the meme_ster tuned in to the White House daily press conference with press secretary Jay Carney to hear the Obama administration’s actual responses to journalists’ actual questions. (See How Do You Take Your Info: Straight Up or Mediated?) Would you be surprised to learn that the overwhelming majority of questions were about Vice President Biden’s off-script exhortation that mentioned “chains”? Oh, and there was one question about Syria.
The journalists were rabid in pursuit of the President’s response to Vice President Biden’s “chains” comment while he was describing the importance of Wall Street reform and the Republicans’ vehement commitment to repealing it. Mr. Biden referred to Mitt Romney’s statement that if elected he would immediately rescind the Wall Street reforms (“unshackle Wall Street!” which Mr. Biden rephrased as “unchain”). Then, in a particularly Bidenesque rhetorical flourish that played to the groaning audience, he quipped that “they want to put y’all back in chains.”
Cue faux outrage from Romney campaign and several African American Republicans, accusing Mr. Biden of race-baiting. The news cycle cats were off and running after the unintended but intoxicating “cable catnip,” as the President calls it.
In the White House press conference, serious and respectable journalists pummeled the press secretary with one question after another: Was the President upset with the Vice President? Did the President intend to apologize? Did he think the wording was inappropriate? Why were the President and Vice President having lunch together today? Was the Vice President getting called on the carpet? Was the President’s joke the other day about Mitt Romney putting his dog on the roof of his car also lowering the level of campaign debate? Was the Vice President trying to send a message to African Americans?
One was reminded of a cat chasing its tail.
What interested me most in the press conference was Jay Carney’s patient persistence, reminding the journalists about the function of what he called “confected distractions”:
The purpose of a confected distraction is to change the subject when you’re losing the debate.
The fabricated outrage about the Biden rhetoric is a perfect example. The context of the Vice President’s comment was Wall Street reform, a subject the Republicans do not want to discuss because they are on the wrong side of public opinion.
Ditto wind energy in Iowa (the context of the President’s recent dog joke).
Ditto tax reform.
Ditto extending tax cuts for the 1 percent.
Ditto the current drought and climate change.
Ditto (dare I say it?) the economy.
Truth be told, the Republicans are actually on the wrong side of public opinion—and practical problem-solving—on just about every issue right now. The more they insist they want to focus on “the issues,” the more distractions they confect. They’ll do anything to keep their candidates from having to outline real plans and policies because they don’t seem to have any, at least ones they’re willing to share with us before they are elected.
Remember, the Republicans had planned to run against the President, not on their own ideas. They’re on new territory since the advent of Mr. Ryan, and they’re a bit disoriented.
So watch for these confected distractions, won’t you? And every time you are tempted to turn off the news because you think the debate is so “empty,” peel off the “confected distraction” and ask yourself: What are they trying not to talk about? And why?
Suddenly, it all gets very interesting, I promise.