Both conservatives and progressives have the words and phrases they like to invoke, the commonly offered arguments, the villains and heroes who populate their rhetoric. But you could sift through every word of contemporary American political debate -- read every stump speech, pore over every press release, endure every moment of every cable chatfest -- and you would be unlikely to encounter a more complete, unadulterated, shameless piece of outright bullshit than "judicial activism." It is the ne plus ultra of disingenuousness, the zenith of cant, political deceit in its purest form. And seeing John McCain embrace it should disabuse anyone of the notion that he is somehow more honest than the typical politician.
In September of 1988, the presidential campaign of George H.W. Bush decided to demonstrate that their Connecticut Brahmin candidate was positively turgid with patriotism, particularly in comparison to his opponent (a guy with a name that was just too ethnic). So they sent Bush to a flag factory in Verona, New Jersey, where he lovingly fondled Old Glory for the cameras. To any reasonable observer, it was just too much. But Roger Ailes, Lee Atwater, and the rest of the Bush brain trust didn't mind a bit of criticism. They made their point.
Ladies and gentlemen, your intrepid press corps has circled back around to its favorite narrative: Democrats divided! The party of the people in peril! The circular firing squad locked and loaded! And what of John McCain, the Maverick (TM), the Straight Talker (TM), the One Politician Who Never Does Anything For Political Reasons, So Full Of Integrity Is He (TM)? He's just trudging along, winning over voters left and right.
Based on the possibly unrepresentative sample of my friends, relatives, and acquaintances, Democrats have become extremely nervous in recent weeks. McCain, many think, has such appeal to independent voters (and lots of Democrats) that the Democratic candidate, whoever he or she may be, could be facing a uniquely tough Republican opponent.
The press is convinced that badgering candidates about faux scandals is necessary because the issues, "will be raised" in the general election, but it ignores its own crucial roll in shaping the terms of debate.
"We may not like it," wroteThe New York Times' David Brooks, rising to the defense of Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos after last Wednesday's Democratic debate, "but issues like Jeremiah Wright, flag lapels and the Tuzla airport will be important in the fall." Brooks' fellow members of the media elite's innermost circle could not be blamed, he wanted you to know, for they were merely doing their jobs, forcing the candidates to answer the questions they'll have no choice but to confront in the general election.