God forbid that anybody in a country where two parties have controlled all power for the last 150 years, where citizens are prohibited from engaging in political speech during election campaigns, and whose most populous state is divided into districts that allow only marginal turnover even between the two ruling parties, should ever tell the "common man that politicians are against them or that the political process is a farce."
That's the takeaway of this Time mag. dual profile of a pair of congressional back benchers who have attained celebrity in the past few years.
Always fair and balanced, Time's Michael Scherer and Jay Newton-Small run the gamut from A to B, profiling submissive Rep. Michele Bachman (R-Minnesota) and sepulchral Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Florida). Powered by the interwebs, Grayson and Bachman have become "breakout stars of partisanship." The article takes you through all nine stages of gateekper grief:
In another era, strident politicians on the ideological edges found themselves marginalized once they got to Washington, where power accrues to longevity--and longevity tends to mellow.
The difference today is that politicians no longer need to broaden their appeal beyond a committed, activist base. And they know more precisely than ever what the base wants.
The soapbox, which became the sound bite, thanks to radio and television, has gone interactive. If you say it today, the audience will come to you.
4) we-tried-dammit-we-tried befuddlement:
The White House was forced to respond, condemning Bachmann in a blog post--which played exactly into her hands.
5) meaningless web statistic:
It was an instant online sensation, with more YouTube viewers than Grayson got votes in his home district.
6) you're television incarnate:
Cable news embraces this sort of stuff, having turned August into the summer of town-hall fury. [Examples follow from MSNBC and FOX, but not from Time-affiliated newsnet CNN.]
Their devoted followers respond to appeals.
8) on the other hand:
We still don't know whether this sort of fly-by-night notoriety of rhetorical bombast is sustainable or just diverting.
9) not anger, just disappointment:
In the meantime, the Establishment is obligated to roll its eyes.
And at last, sadder-but-wiser headshaking:
"It's all theater," says South Carolina's James Clyburn, the House Democratic whip. "People have learned to speak in sound bites and look to generate headlines." That insight is key. The headlines are what matter most, not the substance. And in Congress today, the loudest carnival barker gets the crowds.
Which of course is why Newt Gingrich is still representing DeKalb County in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The article doesn't explore what strikes me as the most interesting element here: the regional factor. Bachman represents the cool, windswept Gopher State (God's country) while Grayson represents hot, boggy Florida (Satan's). Yet all we learn of their home districts is that Grayson's borders Disney World and that Bachman "had to battle for her seat." It seems like you might add some value by consulting the voters who sent them to Washington. But that would involve leaving the Northeast Corridor.
Hey Time, your readers are almost definitely poorer and less contented this year than they were last year. They're watching one of the biggest financial swindles in the history of the country unfold, and they're helpless to do anything about it. They've seen the national political leadership pass directly from incompetence to incompetence, and there are several actual wars going on. You may think your readers should be more worried about a couple of populist madcaps. But do you have to suck out even the tiny bit of joy people might get from having slightly easier and cheaper access to old-timey political theater?