By BRAD WARTHEN
EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR
LONESOME? Want to make a boatload of new friends, fast? I have a simple, surefire method.
Step 1: Start a blog. You can do this in minutes, and for free, at a number of sites on the Web.
Step 2: Post something on your blog with “Ron Paul” in the headline.
Caveat: Make it something nice, or all those new people who come rushing to you will be something other than “friends.”
As you may have heard, there is a whole alternative universe full of people who spend large amounts of time Googling their one and only, and eagerly reading anything they find. Many are political first-timers, either because they’re quite young or because they gave up on mainstream candidates long ago. They are the reason why Dr. Paul has raised great gobs of money, despite his support in polls tending toward the single digits.
This does not discourage or deter the libertarian’s following, but one thing does sort of cheese them off: What they perceive as a general lack of respect from the MSM, a.k.a. “mainstream media.” In stories about who might win this or that primary, their guy’s name doesn’t even come up.
Last week on my blog (where I really must stop engaging in the cheap, traffic-boosting ploy of putting “Ron Paul” into random headlines), in the midst of a discussion among Paulistas, “Alex” earnestly asked me, “Brad — what do you think of the main media’s a) coverage and b) depiction of Ron Paul? Fair in both respects or less so?”
A two-parter, as we might say in the MSM. My response got one encouraging comment, which is all I need to provoke me to reproduce it here. It went like this:
I’d say, on both counts, it’s about par.
On the whole, there is a shameful tendency of news media to try to oversimplify the race. The press, and the TV cowboys, like politics to be like sports, which means everything is couched in terms of winning, losing and whether the coach called the right play, and there are never, ever more than two teams on the field at a given time.
This means anointing two people in each race as the “front-runners,” and giving everybody else short shrift. This, of course, is appalling, especially when the most qualified candidates don’t make the short list, and that’s at least as often the case as not.
Look at the Democrats. It was decreed via the great colonial beast’s collective “mind” that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were it. Never mind that the experience and qualifications for the two of them combined fell short of that of Joe Biden or Bill Richardson — or Chris Dodd, if you’re hard-up…. This is not to say either Hillary or Obama is a bad candidate, mind you; there’s something to be said for
sheer electoral appeal. Hillary’s got the Clinton fan club in her pocket, and Obama’s got that certain something called “charisma.” I’m just saying it’s ridiculous that Biden and Richardson have never been given a chance.
On the Republican side, the MSM have been confused. They’ve wanted in the worst way to have Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney be the anointed twosome, or maybe Fred Thompson. But the facts that John McCain is more experienced than any of them, and that Mike Huckabee actually has qualities that appeal to key portions of the base (unlike any of the chosen ones) have led to what you’ll sometimes see the MSM refer to as “confusion” or “a muddle.” And the MSM don’t like confusion. They like clarity, and polarization,
and a good fight. Giuliani’s a scrapper (and just loaded with personal idiosyncracies that make great copy); and Romney can have a knock-down dragout just with himself.
In light of these factors, Dr. Paul is far down the list of people who are likely to get major respect. As I say, the MSM like it simple. If they can’t keep the number down to two, then they assign simple, stock-character roles to other players. Dr. Paul has been assigned the role of Quirky Outsider Without a Prayer, a role filled with some gusto on the Democratic side by Dennis Kucinich.
Except that Dr. Paul is even more of an outsider. Dennis the Menace, after all, is a sort of double-distilled version of a liberal Democrat. Dr. Paul is not seen by any of the major players as any kind of a Republican.
While the MSM as a whole have the attention span of a goldfish — they find endless fascination in the
serial misbehavior of well-built young women with substance-abuse problems — the guys on the political beat can be like the sports guys. That is, they can have long memories, especially for electoral trivia.
To political writers, Ron Paul is the 1988 Libertarian Party nominee for president, and he’ll never outgrow that role. To some extent, he doesn’t seem to want to outgrow that role. He’s the same guy, believing and espousing the same things. To his followers, this consistency, this adherence to principle, is admirable in the extreme. To the press, it makes him a dependable eccentric.
Dr. Paul’s one hope to get Serious Attention lies in his other role, that of This Year’s Internet Phenom. You’ll remember that role was filled by another physician, Howard Dean, in 2004. Unfortunately for Dr. Paul, the role lacks the freshness that it had when Dr. Dean created it. For a moment there four years ago, the MSM thought it was on the cusp of a genuine Paradigm Shift, where a guy with a passionate cyber-following and impressive fund-raising capabilities would actually sweep aside the front-runners and win it all. But that didn’t happen, and the MSM is uninclined to get swept up in such enthusiasm a second time.
I don’t know if any of that helped, but I did what I could to answer the question. Now, back to the front-runners…