There is no media process more fascinating to watch this week than the one unfolding around Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the newest GOP presidential candidate.
The process involves network news and cable channels trying to take the candidate down a peg -- telling him essentially, "Hey, hot dog, this isn't the Texas League any more, this is the big show, so settle down."
Perry hit the Upper Midwest Bus and Corndog Tour that has claimed many of the very people who should now be in Washington trying to find ways to create jobs instead of barnstorming through small towns in full campaign mode talking about jobs. This is especially true of President Barack Obama who seems totally focused on campaigning even as hard times get harder for so many Americans. Hitting the campaign trail, going on TV and vacation seem to be three of the things our president enjoys far more than actually doing the grit and grind of governing.
Perry, in fact, is one of the the only politicians who doesn't have more pressing obligations in Washington, and can probably claim the right to be playing bumper cars with all those tricked-out campaign buses crisscrossing Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois. What a sorry spectacle for American politics 15 months away from an election. It is a near-perfect metaphor for how we have become a nation of candidates perpetually running for office and hardly ever finding the time to govern the way a giant like Lyndon Johnson did. All we get are latenight, weekend crisis sessions where politicians in Washington tell us scary stories about what will happen if we don't back them -- and then play chicken with our futures.
As for the attempted quick-hit takedown of Perry, check out this video of Andrea Mitchell on the "NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams." It is representative of what is happening across the dial.
Perry has made some hot-buzz comments coming out of the box, but almost everything he says has been turned up or recast just a little in pieces like this to make it more problematic.
For example, I think someone who served in the military as Perry did (as a fighter pilot) has every right as a candidate to raise the issue of who made a bigger sacrifice to his country as a young person -- him or someone who chose college. He has an absolute right to do that and it gets at the hypocrisy of the Washington political and media class that urges people to serve their country as members of the military and then sends their own sons and daughters to elite colleges and universities instead of military service.
Putting his military service against Obama's lack of service isn't calling Obama unpatriotic as many in the press have characterized it, it is showing a clear difference: The person who goes into the military risks her or his life, while the young person who goes to a top college or university gets an education if they apply themselves that all but guarantees them a good economic life if nothing else.
I am glad Perry has the courage to raise such issues.
My favorite part of the Mitchell video is the way she essentially rips him for 95 percent of it, and then, at the end, reports that those who know him say he shouldn't be counted out.
This is vintage TV journalism RIP JOB 400. You have to be a senior in broadcast news before they teach you this formula.
I am enjoying the political carnival that has come early to my TV and computer screen. I won't deny it. As a media critic, I enjoy nothing more than mapping the crazed and constantly shifting terrain where media and politics meet in out culture.
But as a citizen, I wish we still elected people who were actually willing to lead and govern this nation -- the job we elect and pay them to do.