The cover of this week's City Paper features an illustration that purports to depict the "mind of the McCain voter." The graphic suggested that there was little inside the heads of GOP supporters except Hank William's Jr. lyrics, the helicoper scene from Apocalypse Now, and -- near the medulla oblongata -- a nerve center that responds to the phrase "my friends."
Some McCain supporters were angered by the image. And it has become obvious to me that I have underestimated them. For that I apologize.
Because apparently, in at least some cases, their brains also contain a large capacity for fabrication and delusion.
At least in the case of Ashley Todd.
I'm not going to spend much time denouncing Todd. For one thing, I have a feeling she's got some issues. For another, plenty of other people will be doing that in the news cycle ahead, including many Republicans.
Besides, it's not fair to blame the GOP, or the McCain camp, for this transparent stunt. Anymore than it would have been fair to blame Obama supporters, or black males, if her laughable story had actually been true.
Besides, the problem isn't that kooks and charlatans crop up from time to time. The problem is that in this election cycle, they become cause celebres overnight. There is an entire media apparatus out there willing to give credence to the kooks, no matter how delusional their assertion.
Predictably, Todd's story immediately became a cause celebre on sites like the Drudge Report, and right-wing talk radio. The gold standard for ludicrousness, though, may have been set by the executive VP of Fox News, Pittsburgh native John Moody. In a blog post whose stupidity is notable even on the Internet, Moody opined :
If Ms. Todd's allegations are proven accurate, some voters may revisit their support for Senator Obama, not because they are racists ... but because they suddenly feel they do not know enough about the Democratic nominee.
So let's see: They'd rethink suporting Obama because of what another black guy might have done ... but that's not the same as racism.
On the bright side, Moody also suggested that
If the incident turns out to be a hoax, Senator McCain's quest for the presidency is over, forever linked to race-baiting.
God knows there are plenty of reasons to vote against Senator McCain. But this isn't one of them. Moody has actually pulled off the rare trifecta of doing a hack job on everyone involved -- Obama, McCain and most of all his audience.
Ordinarily, this would be the place where we shake our fingers at the media -- mainstream and right-wing alike -- for seizing on a story whose basic outlines seemed suspicious from right off the bat. Even the Post-Gazette put this thing on the front page, above the fold. (The Trib did too, but what did you expect?)
But what's the point? This story has already served its purpose: It gave poor Ashley Todd the attention she apparently craves. It gave reputable outlets a hot story for a couple days, and it gave the right-wingers something else to go completely ape-shit about. When Limbaugh comes back on Monday, he'll have moved on to something else.
Hell, John McCain is still talking about Joe the Plumber, despite the fact that almost nothing about that guy seems to be legit either. We've entered this sort of post-modern phase of politics in which everything signifies something that it's not. Hockey-mom VPs with $150,000 wardrobes I can understand. (Criticisms that the McCain camp should have done a better job of HIDING the wardrobe costs, however, are harder for me to wrap my head around.) We all know how much of politics is just stagecraft and shadowplay.
But what's happening now is this thing where a "Joe the Plumber" can be unmasked -- and get celebrated anyway. The assumption, I guess, is we're too dumb to know the difference, or too amped-up on identity politics to care. Joe the Plumber represents the regular man ... even if he falsely represented himself.
Like I said in this space before, the press, the politicians, and the people have all joined in a sort of endless spectacle, each of them using the others, and trying to appeal to the others in turn. I'm just surprised more 20-year-olds don't go nuts.