The mainstream media seem fixated on the notion that John Ensign’s sex scandal has deprived the GOP of a 2012 contender and rising star. They have whole conversations about how the GOP can get over the loss. Listen, if before this week you stopped one hundred Republicans on the street and asked for the names of the future stars of their party I guarantee not one of them would have mentioned Ensign. (I suspect at least twenty wouldn’t know who he was.) But it makes for a good storyline — another episode in the endless series of “Republicans in disarray!” columns.
This is poppycock squared, of course. There isn’t supposed to be a leader of the opposition party in the first six months of a new administration. In 2005, Barack Obama was freshman senator. In 1989, Bill Clinton was a governor who had bombed in his keynote speech at the Democratic convention. And, in 2009, we have no idea who will be the Republican nominee in 2012. Not exactly startling, nor indicative of much of anything.
It is, in some sense, the flip side of the other media obsession: Obama’s popularity. His fans in the press (I repeat myself) have used this as a shield to disarm or rebut the president’s opponents. Their views don’t matter and the president’s lack of support for his positions doesn’t matter, you see, because he’s popular. Now that he’s not so popular — and his policies aren’t at all — all of those anxious media Obamaphiles have to come up with new ways of discounting his critics.
Both of these storylines — “Republicans don’t have a single leader!” and “Obama’s so darned popular!” — betray a fixation with temporary and utterly mundane political phenomena (e.g. the losing party doesn’t chose it’s nominee three years in advance, new presidents enjoy a honeymoon). And for reporters indifferent to the details of complicated policy issues, stories which feature either or both of these themes offer a respite and require little thought or effort. But at bottom they expose the media’s now all-too familiar desire to keep their guy on top and denigrate or dismiss his opponents.
So don’t feel bad if you didn’t know who Ensign was before this week; few did. He is simply a convenient prop in the never-ending mainstream media production “Obama Still Without A Rival.”