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SPIN WINS! Did “issues” really decide the election? We hold a simpler view: Spin wins:


SPIN WINS: Did the Wellstone event hurt Dems outside Minnesota? At THE HOWLER, we don’t have a clue. In yesterday’s Salon, Joe Conason calls the theory a “snipe hunt.” And he belts Matt Cooper for pushing the theory in Time, although Cooper cites a survey by pollster Marc Penn, then notes Penn’s overall view:

COOPER: Penn believes national security was ultimately a bigger issue. His poll shows a stunning 65% of voters thought Democrats weren’t supportive enough of the President’s war on terror. “That was the issue,” says Penn. “But the memorial didn’t help.”
According to Penn, the war on terror was the big issue. Reaction to the memorial service fell somewhere behind that.

Did the Wellstone event hurt national Dems? We don’t know, but there’s surely a reason why Rush Limbaugh devoted many hours to the topic. The event became the central spin-point which drove talk radio in the election’s final week. It would be silly to assume that it didn’t affect the voting outside Minnesota.

“In some respects, this is an attractive theory,” Joe writes. “While it would suggest that millions of silly voters are swayed by media-hyped trivia, it would also mean that the election was no referendum on issues.” But elections rarely turn on just one thing. And yes—though pundits and pols both hate to say so, the electorate is full of “silly voters,” who respond to all sorts of spin campaigns from various sides of our aisles. Stampeding those voters is talk radio’s purpose. (It’s also the purpose of much of cable.) But alas: Spin campaigns in these potent media are generally ignored by our mainstream pundits. That was the point of our critique of Jonathan Cohn’s current TNR piece. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/12/02. For the record, Cohn is an excellent policy analyst. We’re just not sure that he understands what goes through the minds of our voters.)

What decided last Tuesday’s election? Even if you have exit polls, such questions are hard to answer. But our mainstream press corps prefers to act as if Rush doesn’t exist. Alas! The spin campaigns that drive our elections often come from talk radio and cable. Did the Wellstone service affect the election? Here at THE HOWLER, we don’t have a clue—but we’d be quite surprised if it didn’t.

LONG MAY SHE WAVE: Congrats to Salon for the Sean Wilentz piece concerning the Georgia flag issue. This is hardly an unknown matter. Here’s the way the Washington Times played it on November 7, in a report by Robert McCain. Headline: “Georgia boots Barnes, elects Republican over flag change:”

MCCAIN: In 2001, Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes changed Georgia’s flag. On Tuesday, Georgia voters changed governors.

Sonny Perdue became the first Republican elected governor of Georgia since carpetbagger Rufus Bullock, who was chased out of the state in 1871.

Mr. Barnes’ redesign of the state flag, reducing its large Confederate emblem to a tiny spot, alienated many white Georgians who scorned the cluttered new design as the “Barnes rag”…

“I tried for months to tell the Republicans down here that the flag was an issue, but they wouldn’t believe it,” said Jim Arp, former chairman of the Floyd County Republican Party. “I told them, ‘You don’t understand—these people won’t whine and moan, they’ll just go do something about it.’”

They did do something. Members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans [SCV] followed the governor to campaign stops, displaying the old Georgia flag and anti-Barnes signs at protests. One group of SCV activists started “Project Wave,” which erected hundreds of 24-foot flagpoles flying the old flag around the state.

“I think there was a backlash [over the flag change],” said Anthony Scott Hobbs, chairman of the Georgia Grassroots Republican Action Committee.

Post-election, this issue has been widely discussed in the Georgia press. Wilentz points out that the Republican, Perdue, did campaign on the issue. But Wilentz’s piece may be the first you’ve seen, because the topic has barely been mentioned in our “liberal” media. In particular, the issue has barely been whispered on our cable shoutfests.

Reasons? For that, we have to read some minds. But the issue paints an unlovely picture of the surprising election results in Georgia. Most mainstream pundits and news producers—deeply mired in their “liberal bias”—seem to prefer the Standard Account. They prefer to say that Tuesday’s election showed the power of Bush Transcendent.

If your media were swimming in “liberal bias,” you’d have heard about this topic. It’s sad, but revealing, that we turn to Salon to receive basic news of the day.

WHO WAS PAUL WELLSTONE? Did the Wellstone service affect the election? We don’t know, but conservative spinners knew enough to jump on the topic. Dissembling about the event was common; mainstream pundits knew not to notice. And make no mistake: This is the way conservative spinners drive their “silly voters” to the polls.

No one was nastier than the Weekly Standard’s Chris Caldwell, who not only embellished and embroidered the event, but trashed Wellstone’s character in the process (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/8/02). For the record, we thought we’d pass on one more critique of some of the things Caldwell said.

In his name-calling piece on the Wellstone service, you may recall the brave scribe saying this:

CALDWELL: Iowa senator Tom Harkin’s tribute to Wellstone as a man who “made a miner up on the Iron Range know that he was as important as the president of the United States” may have been true for some miners (and some presidents)…But the poor were Wellstone’s topic, not his constituency. Wellstone’s constituency was academic leftists. We don’t doubt that his struggle helped rescue the poor on occasion. But the help they got was incidental to his larger struggle, which was to rescue the consciences of his fellow professors.
Caldwell was far too busy a man to justify or attempt to explain those odd statements. But meanwhile, back in Minnesota, those “fly-over” folks whom conservatives love seemed to hold quite different views. On October 30, John Myers filed a report in the Duluth News Tribune, quoting deluded Iron Range miners who had misunderstood Wellstone’s focus:
MYERS: [Duluth activist Steve] O’Neil noted that Wellstone had a special affection for Northeastern Minnesota.

“We had a fund-raiser for the Damiano Center (in Duluth). This must have been 1993. We couldn’t get anyone big to come. But Paul came just so we could have an attraction to get other people to come,” O’Neil said. “How many U.S. senators would do that?”

O’Neil said Wellstone was able to make the transition from liberal activist to populist politician because of his passion, speaking skills and ability to connect with regular people.

It was a theme repeated often Tuesday night.

“He was just one of us,” said Gerry Castagneri, a retired steelworker who lives in Cherry. “He fought for the little guy. If you had a problem, it was his problem.”...

“Paul was our friend. He was Minnesota’s friend. I think he connected with us so well because he understood our values on the Range,” Castagneri said.

Many others expressed such views. And there was more; on November 2, the Duluth paper’s Lee Bloomquist reported a local service for Wellstone. Other misinformed local residents stated their views of the man:
BLOOMQUIST: A crowd of blue-collar Iron Rangers bid a classy farewell Friday night to their lunchbox senator.

Three days after a Williams Arena memorial to the late Sen. Paul Wellstone turned political and received criticism from all corners of the state, an Iron Range Wellstone memorial service in Virginia came off as dignified and reverent.

About 1,000 people—including Steelworkers, teachers, municipal workers and everyday citizens—attended the nearly two-hour memorial at Virginia High School’s Goodman Auditorium…

The emotionally moving service, which included prayers, a photo display of Wellstone, his wife and daughter, a 12-minute video clip, and stirring patriotic music, left many in tears.

It also underscored Wellstone’s close ties to the Iron Range, which he often referred to as his second home…

The Wellstones were en route to Virginia for the funeral of [Tom] Rukavina’s father, Martin, when the plane crashed about two miles from the airport.

By the way, who was Martin Rukavina? That was explained in the Washington Post. When he died, Wellstone “was traveling to Virginia, Minn., a blue-collar town near here, to attend the funeral of Martin ‘Benny’ Rukavina, a retired union organizer.”

Our conclusion? Deluded Minnesotans had been led to believe that Wellstone was a friend of working people. Luckily, we have much brighter people here in DC, people much like Christopher Caldwell—people equipped to correct misconceptions held by these “fly-over” flunkies. And one final point: the conservative spin-press hammered this topic because it helped stampede their voters. These are, in fact, the gong-show “issues” on which American elections turn. Was last week’s election a referendum on policy? Please. More on that topic tomorrow.