your lying eyes objective reality, or the preferred narrative? Dave Weigel at Slate worries at the question of how some politicians can ‘overcome’ sex scandals:
This really was a head-scratcher.Chris Beam and Matthew Yglesias spent some time yesterday trying to figure out how politicians survive sex scandals, and Yglesias crafted the tightest rule: “What you need to do to survive infidelity is (a) be an incumbent and (b) don’t quit!” But Schwarzenegger wasn’t an incumbent when the story broke. He used another, more difficult method of scandal-deflection: Populist anger at the source of the story. It certainly seemed, like Mickey Kaus wrote at the time, like Schwarzenegger was taking on water. But Schwarzenegger attacked the paper, and said the Times was taking part in a “puke” campaign with Gray Davis at the helm. Thousands of LAT readers cancelled their subscriptions out of loyalty to the candidate. They were angry that a story Schwarzenegger had denied was being played up. It didn’t matter that he was lying and covering up a worse scandal.
This is a tricky stunt to pull. The only other politician I can think of right now who’s pulled it is Nikki Haley, the governor of South Carolina, who was hit with two allegations of marital infidelity at the end of the 2010 primary. The stories were neither proven nor debunked. But Haley characterized them as anti-woman, as did Sarah Palin. Conservative voters sided with her. Former SC first lady Jenny Sanford had her back. And voters chose to believe the spin; they got angry at the media, and gave her a huge win.
The short version, of course, is IOKIYAR — It’s OK If You’re A Republican. But for stories like this, I think it goes back to the “narrative”, the concepts that voters hold about a particular candidate, and the difference between Democratic and Republican
principles voters. Modern Democrats, being ‘realists’, have a preference for untidy truth over no-loose-threads stories. Republicans, on the other hand, have spent the last 40 years carefully weeding out ‘distractions’ and ‘false consciousness’ to the point where they not only prefer an Epcot Center small-world simulation to the messiness of actual intellectual travel, they actively resent reminders that we don’t live at Disneyworld and that politicians are not (just) scripted actors but actual human beings. Arnold ‘the Governator’ Schwartznegger was going to crash through the fourth wall and save Kuleefurnya from high taxes, budget deficits, squabbling politicos and scary not-white people babbling strange dialects. The people voting for him not only didn’t care that he might be doing unpleasant things in his supersized celebrity trailer between takes, they resented the reminder that the election was anything other than a short-season reality show intended as a distraction from unpleasant reality. Similarly, Nikki Haley and Sarah Palin were Good Xtian Family Women, so nasty stories about infidelity, fiscal mismanagement, self-centered greed, abuse of office underlings were indignantly rejected as obviously false inventions spawned by demon-cratic minions of the Father of Lies. (And frankly, this is why Clinton survived his impeachment hearings… it did not seem at all out of his public character that he might’ve unzipped his fly for any woman who flashed a thong at him, or that he’d be enough of an old-school suthrun ‘gentleman’ to lie ‘in defense of a woman’s honor’ after the fact. All the Rove effort and Scaife dollars thrown into establishing Slick Willie’s horndog credentials backfired when even the Twenty-Seven-Percenters couldn’t get sufficiently alarmed over a stained dress and the lurid details babbled by third parties listening at doors and betraying their former friends’ confidences.)