Daily Meme: Of Ferns and Bellwethers

  • Pity the poor political pundit. We're eight months away from a mid-term election that will likely change nothing in the partisan political balance, the Conservative Political Action Conference and its clown car of presidential contenders has closed up shop, the do-nothing Congress persists in doing nothing—but even so, clickable content must be concocted.
  • And so, today, we have much (much, much) ado about ... ferns and bellwethers.
  • In case you've been in a blissful media-free zone all day, the headline news of the day is that President Obama went on Zack Galifianakis's faux talk show, "Between the Ferns." The commander-in-chief did a respectable job of deadpanning and "droning" on about healthcare.gov. 
  • If you are so inclined, you can read virtually identical reviews and analyses of the six-minute spot at several million outlets including The New York Times, TPMUS NewsPoliticoHuffPoCNN, and, just to arbitrarily stop the list right here, The American ProspectCliff's Notes version: It was reasonably amusing, Obama used it smartly to promote health care to snarky youngsters, but (says our Paul Waldman, making an original point) Mitt Romney would probably have been funnier. 
  • The slightly more consequential story that the pundits can't talk about enough is happening in Florida's 13th congressional district—a special election that's being cast by one and all, to use the obligatory lexicon, as a "bellwether" for November's mid-terms
  • The Washington Post tells you all you'd ever want to know about the race, and then some
  • Here's a quicker summary: Democrat Alex Sink, who narrowly lost to Governor Rick Scott in 2010, has a good shot at taking the seat of a dead Republican against a Washington lobbyist named David Jolly. That would make her the 100th woman in Congress—which sounds dandy until you consider that would still leave us with 435 men. 
  • The bellwether-y aspect of the race isn't just a Democrat possibly capturing a Republican seat, but the GOP's attempt to make it (here comes another obligatory political-pundit word) a "referendum" on Obamacare. The Rothenberg Political Report pithily summarizes the CW: "If Democrats win, they will be emboldened to implement their defense against Republican attacks on the Affordable Care Act (fix, not repeal) into competitive races nationwide. If Republicans win, the long march against Obamacare will continue." 
  • That is, of course, complete and utter bull-hockey. Even The Hill, wringing as much as it possibly can out of the election—headline: "Drama-Filled Race is 2014 Bellwether"—is forced to admit that it's really no referendum on the ACA: "even if Republicans do lose they said they won’t make any strategic adjustments coming away from the race."  
  • Greg Sargent does a fine job of puncturing the bellwether balloon: "Most observers agree today’s election will be extremely close," he notes. "If you are going to say the outcome will tell us either that Dems are doomed because of Obamacare or that Dems have found the correct formula to rebuff GOP attacks on it, then you must of necessity agree that if a few thousand people, or even a few hundred, had voted the other way in this quirky special election eight months before election day, it would have supported precisely the opposite grand conclusion." 
  • Both candidates' particular brands of lameness have provided some entertainment value. National Republicans are stomping mad at their guy, Jolly, who's been trailing slightly in the polls.  
  • But it was Sink, who's hardly an Obama-esque campaigner, who let loose with probably the most damaging gaffe of the campaign: “Immigration reform is important in our country," she opined, "for obvious reasons, because we have a lot of employers over in the beaches who rely upon workers who, especially in this high-growth environment, where are you going to get people to work to clean our hotel rooms or do our landscaping?”
  • As reported by Raw Story, there was even a fake website that looked like it was raising money for Sink, but was actually raising it for Jolly. 
  • And lest we be too hard on hard-up political commentators, let it be duly noted that David Weigel went down to Florida and managed to muster up a darn fine story about the special election—and the way Sink, the Democrat, has tried to finesse her support for Obamacare. 

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