Redbait and Switch: An Arms Race of Outrage
As the campaign year heats up, the politics of umbrage already is in full swing. But some offenses are worth getting outraged about more than others.
I refuse, for example, to get all worked up over Ted Nugent. Sure, he's a blight on decent society for his recent rant about President Barack Obama that earned him a sit-down with Secret Service agents. His fiery remarks at the National Rifle Association convention in St. Louis came close to calling for violence against the president. Not cool.
But let's be real. Nugent may be a blight, but he is not a "Mitt Romney surrogate," as Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, identified him in a news release that deplored his remarks.
Surrogates are designated spokespeople for candidates. Nugent was, at most, a Romney supporter from whom Romney might back away at light speed.
Schultz, at best, was dealing some payback. Republicans and other conservatives labeled Democratic CNN commentator Hilary Rosen a "surrogate" after her on-air remarks about Romney's wife, Ann, not having "worked a day in her life" sounded condescending to stay-at-home moms.
Rosen's connections to Obama were about as close as Nugent's to Romney. But that was close enough for the Romney supporters, who were desperate to close his yawning gender gap behind Obama among women voters.
That's how the politics of umbrage operate. When voters are upset with your side, try to feed their outrage about the other side. When the other side is not committing a serious scandal, manufacture some outrage over some other alleged offense.
Much of this inflated umbrage amounts to what NBC's Chuck Todd has called "cable catnip," the sort of pulse-pounding dust-ups that feed our daily media appetites without amounting to much significance when votes finally are cast.
By that standard, the recent redbaiting offenses of Rep. Allen West are a more serious matter. He's not a rock star or a pundit. He's a lawmaker who has turned on his fellow House members with unfounded attacks on their character and patriotism.
At a recent town hall meeting, West said that he thinks as many as 80 House Democrats "are members of the Communist Party. ... It's called the Congressional Progressive Caucus."