New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, whose heyday was during Bush I, when she was an ace reporter instead of a columnist, who should have interesting ideas, has a bad case of RDS—Ryan Derangement Syndrome.
In a column headlined “Beware a Beautiful Calm,” Dowd proposes that “beyond the even-keeled Ryan mien lurks full-tilt virulence.” She quotes this gem from…a Rolling Stone article by Tom Morello, “the Grammy-winning, Harvard-educated” guitarist for a rap band called Rage against the Machine:
“He is the embodiment of the machine that our music has been raging against for two decades,” Morello writes, adding: “I clearly see that Ryan has a whole lotta ‘rage’ in him: A rage against women, a rage against immigrants, a rage against workers, a rage against gays, a rage against the poor, a rage against the environment. Basically, the only thing he’s not raging against is the privileged elite he’s groveling in front of for campaign contributions.”
I’ve not noticed signs of Paul Ryan’s rage, but Dowd’s is evident. She writes bizarrely:
Just as Cheney, hunter of small birds and old friends, once defended cop-killer bullets and plastic guns that could slip through airport metal detectors, so Ryan, deer hunter, championed concealed guns and curtailing the background check waiting period from three days to one.
Cheney, it might be recalled, wasn’t actually hunting his friend—the vice president shot him by accident (the man survived). But he was hunting quail and most Americans aren't as horrified by this as Ms. Dowd. Yes, the birdies are wee but they are also tasty.
Dowd’s column seems breathtakingly divorced from reality—she slings mud but doesn’t seem to show the familiarity with any of the actual ideas Ryan has put forward. (Compare Ms. Dowd's apparent rage to Niall Ferguson’s cooler analysis.)
Dowd, however, is illustrating something beyond the state of her own psyche or the pressure of producing a column when you don’t have anything much to contribute.
She is manifesting a Washington phenomenon that Scott Rasmussen writes about today: the gap between official Washington and mainstream America. (I don’t know if Rasmussen lumps journalists into “official Washington” but I do).
According to Rasmussen, the selection of Ryan ensures that pollsters will be asking questions such as: Is creating jobs or cutting government more important? Should the next president focus on repealing Obamacare or the economy?
These questions make perfect sense in official Washington, but the premises are baffling to mainstream America, where cutting government and creating jobs, or repealing Obamacare and focusing on the economy, seem like part and parcel of the same thing, not opposites.
As Campaign 2012 progresses, we'll hear lots of analysis and polling data based on the Washington view of the world. But the election will be decided outside of the nation's capital.
This brings us to the presidential debates. Maureen Dowd is not going to be one of the moderators. But all the moderators represent the views of official Washington, and Mitt Romney and Ryan are no doubt practicing ways to get their points across through a maze of questions that come from this perspective. The GOP candidates for the first time showed an agility in dealing with this mindset in the valuable primary season debates.
It would be nice if the questioners at debates thought more like America (to reconfigure a phrase). But they don't, and, unless there is a sea change at the Commission on Presidential Debates, the moderators will continue to come more from Dowdworld than from the real world.
Another hurdle: according to Rasmussen, most people beyond official Washington have given up on the hope that government spending will be cut, no matter who is elected. It will be interesting to see if Romney-Ryan can convince the public otherwise.