By Jonah Goldberg
6:00 AM EDT, April 23, 2012
It's going to be bait and switch for as far as the eye can see.
That's how it looks now that the smoke has cleared after the recent "Mommy war" skirmish over Democratic operative Hilary Rosen's comment that mother of five Ann Romney had "never worked a day in her life."
There's no need to relitigate all of that again. If Ms. Rosen apologized any more she'd have to sever a digit, Yakuza-style. And the White House couldn't distance itself more if they dispatched the Secret Service to burn down Ms. Rosen's house and salt the earth for good measure. Fortunately, the Secret Service is too busy with other things.
And besides, the whole episode was a "distraction." That was the quasi-official line almost the moment Ms. Rosen's comments caught fire. It was a "manufactured controversy." NBC's Chuck Todd, easily one of the best political analysts in the mainstream media, responded to the spat by proclaiming: "Welcome to the world of the shiny metal object. A person no one agrees with has ignited a manufactured controversy."
Way over on the left, the editor of The Nation, Katrina vanden Heuvel, said on ABC's"This Week": "I think this whole debate has been a distraction. The issues we should be talking about are equal pay, combating rising health-care costs for families, and sick payday leave for women. And these are issues that the Republicans oppose."
In fairness, Mr. Todd and Ms. vanden Heuvel are right, at least about the spat being manufactured. The Romney campaign smartly pounced on Ms. Rosen's comments as a way to turn the tables on the Obama campaign, which had been banging the war drums on the entirely phony "Republican war on women" ever since the entirely manufactured Sandra Fluke controversy.
Ms. Fluke, recall, was the Joan of Arc of free birth control who wasn't invited to testify at a congressional hearing about the Obama administration's effort to force religious institutions to pay for medical services that violate their religious teachings. A 30-year-old activist who picked Georgetown because she wanted to fight Catholic policies from the inside, Ms. Fluke was a ringer, and the Democrats wanted to use her to distract from their deeply unpopular plan to bulldoze religious liberty.
When Rush Limbaugh went overboard mocking Ms. Fluke's arguments to the point where he suggested she was a "slut," the Democrats leapt into action. So did the mainstream press. Ms. Fluke became a national martyr, treated with kid gloves by nearly every outlet. The same Katrina vanden Heuvel who mocked the "distraction" of Hilary Rosen anointed Ms. Fluke a "profile in courage" who "speaks for millions of women who won't allow Rush Limbaugh to silence their voice with his vile viciousness."
The Democratic Party raised millions off Ms. Fluke from the ginned-up controversy. Mr. Limbaugh was denounced in Congress. Allegedly pro-free-speech left-wing celebrities started demanding the FCC permanently censor Mr. Limbaugh by revoking his broadcast license. After all, Mr. Limbaugh had tried to "silence people that are speaking out for women," in the words of New York Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney.
Funny how all of the "distraction" and "manufactured controversy" talk starts when Republicans are benefiting from a distraction.
Now, you might complain that Mr. Limbaugh is a much bigger deal than Hilary Rosen -- and that's true. Mr. Limbaugh is vastly more influential and important than Ms. Rosen. But he's also not a professional Republican like Ms. Rosen is for Democrats (if you actually listened to Mr. Limbaugh's show, you'd know that). She's visited the White House some 35 times and is a business partner with Anita Dunn, the former White House communications director.
Regardless, the point is that the controversy over Mr. Limbaugh's comments (for which he rightly apologized) was wholly and completely a distraction from the relevant issues. Heck, his Fluke comments were a distraction from the distraction from the relevant issues.
And let me say a word in defense of distractions. Elections are about what voters want them to be about. Ms. Rosen's comments, for instance, may have been hyped by the Romney campaign, but the hype wouldn't have mattered if the comments didn't resonate with the public.
My complaint isn't about distractions, it's about the press' tendency to treat controversies that help Republicans as "distractions" and ones that hurt Republicans as Very Serious Issues.
And the pattern continues. This week, the Romney campaign is rightly distancing itself from some idiotic comments by rocker Ted Nugent. On cue, Andrea Mitchell -- who seems to cover Republicans like they're from some foreign land, oddly fitting for NBC's "chief foreign affairs correspondent" -- is happily distracted by the story. When Bill Maher, HBO's criminally unfunny and obtuse jester (and million-dollar Obama super-PAC donor) says something idiotic, it's a meaningless distraction.
It's nothing new, of course. (Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers were preemptively deemed "distractions" by the media.) But it is annoying.
Jonah Goldberg is the author of the forthcoming book "The Tyranny of Clichés." You can write to him in care of this newspaper or by e-mail at JonahsColumn@aol.com, or via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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