There’s something sad and quaint about the massive coverage the Washington Post is giving to the revelation that an FBI official named Mark Felt was the legendary Deep Throat: the primary source for the Post’s own Woodward-Bernstein revelations about the Watergate scandal. It’s kind of sad because WaPo is having to acknowledge being scooped on this story by Vanity Fair, which must really hurt. The Post’s coverage of Watergate, after all, is what basically established it as a national Newspaper of Record right up there with the New York Times.The coverage is quaint because it serves as a reminder of a very different era of political journalism, and of journalism generally. Unless you are old enough to really remember Watergate, you might have trouble understanding the extent to which this one story dominated newspapers and network news for months and months on end. Nowdays the only story that can approach this kind of media obsession is a celebrity trial (or, following the American Idol template, a trial of “ordinary” people who play culturally stereotypical roles). The only political story out there now with the potential to morph into something vaguely approaching Watergate is the Casino Shakedown Scandal, which for sheer drama, irony, and symbolic resonance is actually a lot more interesting than Watergate itself. And again, it’s the Post (with recent assists from the Boston Globe and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution) that’s putting the story together, apparently without any assistance from a Deep Throat. Maybe lightning will strike twice for the Post, but more likely, the Deep Throat revelation is the last news from the last truly dominant political story of our times.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
I’m certainly old enough to remember lots of these pre-election “agenda” documents, and couldn’t help but mock the latest one at New York:
In Thomas Pynchon’s 1965 cult novel The Crying of Lot 49, a character who has taken too much LSD decides that if everyone on earth repeats the marketing phrase “rich, chocolatey goodness,” it will represent the voice of God. With or without drugs, a lot of people in politics have a similar delusion that getting candidates to make the same noises like chirping cicadas will produce electoral victories. It’s a particularly strong belief among congressional Republicans, who share the dubious conviction that Newt Gingrich’s “Contract With America” is what flipped control of Congress in 1994.
With the assistance of Gingrich and former Donald Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, the House Republican Conference has released a new “agenda” document, entitled “Commitment to America.” The document, clearly designed for online consumption, has lots of bells and whistles and factoids about the hellish reign of Joe Biden and his “Democrat” Party. What it doesn’t have is a whole lot of specificity, unlike the unfortunate “agenda” that Republican Senate Campaign Committee chairman Rick Scott released earlier this year to the near-universal horror of his colleagues, who don’t want to be identified with the proposed sunsetting of Social Security and Medicare.
The relatively anodyne character of Kevin McCarthy’s pet project doesn’t mean it is entirely useless. Candidates mouthing the approved pieties will presumably not be expressing their pithy views on Jewish space lasers or repeating QAnon slogans.
Still, it’s hard to take seriously an agenda for the nation that does not mention climate change, Russia, or extremist threats to democracy — or one that suggests the sole cure for inflation is to cut “wasteful government spending” without explaining what that means (in the indictment of Democrats that accompanies the agenda, there is much criticism of direct stimulus payments, which Donald Trump preferred to virtually every other form of government spending).
Most interesting was how House Republicans handled a red-hot issue they dare not ignore completely, given the obsession it commands among a very big chunk of the GOP party base: abortion. You have to look pretty hard to find it, nestled as it is under the unlikely heading of “A Government That’s Accountable,” and the downright misleading subheading of “a plan to defend America’s rights under the Constitution.” And it simply says Republicans will “protect the lives of unborn children and their mothers.” So they checked off a box for anti-abortion activists in the manner least likely to draw curious or unfriendly attention to the extreme abortion views so many of them have expressed, which don’t poll well. Perhaps voters will be too mesmerized by the overall party message to notice. Repeat after me: rich, chocolatey goodness.