The Donkey Is Sleeping Today

The Care and Feeding of a Meme

In 2010 Midterm Elections, Message/Framing, Politics on July 11, 2010 at 12:25 pm

Conservatives have green thumbs when it comes to raising memes. Seasoned gardeners, they know how to raise a fully-blossoming meme from the smallest seed of fiction. The best memes eventually have a gardener with keys to the Greenhouse (better known as Fox News.) Here’s one meme that hasn’t yet made the Greenhouse but was planted in the fertile soil of Wisconsin politics this week.

One of the heroes of the modern progressive movement is Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) who, like most incumbents, are in for a tough battle this fall. The latest Rasmussen poll (which is to polling what Fox is to news) has Feingold up by 1% over his challenger Ron Johnson. Obviously, a Feingold defeat would be a huge victory for the right.

So, this week a Republican press release entitled “Feingold’s Silence Speaking Volumes” castigated Feingold for his “silence” in the face of the state losing jobs. Time for the farm report:

Last week, while Russ Feingold was silent on the issue, hundreds of Wisconsin workers dodged a bullet when the federal government reversed a decision that would have forced Bucyrus International to scale back and slash jobs.

Thanks to job-killing policies consistently pushed by President Obama and Russ Feingold, this certainly won’t be the last time thousands of jobs are put at risk by the government’s bad decisions.

“What’s really troubling in all of this is the silence of Senator Russ Feingold,” said Republican Party of Wisconsin Chairman Reince Priebus. “Bucyrus’ CEO cited people like Scott Walker specifically for going after the government’s job killers, but Feingold is content to go in the wrong direction.”

Opponents have accused Russ Feingold of many things but never in my memory has “silent” been one of them. He was the only Senator to vote against the Patriot Act (the 1 in the 99 – 1 final tally) and this week was one of two democrats to vote against the Wall Street Reform bill because of the reasons he states in his article entitled “Standing Up to the Unholy Alliance Between Washington and Wall Street” on the Huffington Post (neither a title nor a publication that are wallflowers.)

That said, this is an interesting (and time-honored GOP) gambit for the Johnson team. Obviously, by attacking Feingold’s greatest strength – his outspokenness – if they can get the “silent” label to stick they will really have something to hang their hat on come November. Remember “swift boats”? So, Feingold responds:

Sen. Russ Feingold accused the state GOP Thursday of “complete fabrication” for saying he was “silent” during the recent blow-up over potential job losses at Bucyrus International. The Democrat, facing a potentially tough re-election fight, also released a letter from Bucyrus CEO Tim Sullivan backing him up on the matter.

“I just think everybody ought to be aware they’re just fabricating things. It’s pretty egregious,” said Feingold, who raised the matter during a phone interview.

The flare-up began with a Republican press release Wednesday asserting Feingold was “nowhere to be seen” and “silent on the issue” when Bucyrus jobs were threatened by the US Export-Import Bank’s rejection of loan guarantees for a coal mine and power plant project in India.

In a subsequent letter to the state GOP, Bucyrus CEO Tim Sullivan said “the facts do not support” its charge that Feingold was silent, saying Feingold lobbied the bank’s chairman in two letters and a phone call.

To recap, the CEO of the company that didn’t lose jobs (but the Republicans claimed almost lost jobs) said in a letter to the state GOP that Feingold wasn’t silent. In fact the exact opposite was true — he lobbied on behalf of the the company to save the jobs and was successful. Senator lobbied. Jobs saved. So that’s the end of that, right? Of course not. Let the pruning begin:

Priebus Statement on Russ Feingold’s Job-Killing Record

MADISON This afternoon, Sen. Feingold made it clear that his election-year re-branding is well under way. Feingold has an 18-year record of job-killing policies and runaway government spending and debt, but now, four months before the election, he’s pulling out all the stops to shift the conversation and cover his record – including an attack on the Republican Party of Wisconsin for calling out his record earlier this week. Priebus released the following statement in response:

“I was very pleased to hear last week when the Export-Import Bank’s decision was reversed, saving hundreds of good-paying Wisconsin jobs.  A company never wants to find itself in the center of a media firestorm, but the attention did have the benefit of highlighting the great work that Bucyrus does.

“Sen. Feingold’s perceived silence was apparently mitigated by two letters and a phone call.

“The point of Republican Party of Wisconsin’s press release was more than a simple criticism of this perceived silence.

“First, this decision by the Export-Import bank was made for a reason.  The bank was following a specific policy from the Obama Administration, and needed a high-profile reversal – an exception to the rule – to save as many as a thousand good-paying jobs.  Supporting the exception doesn’t mean you support reversing the rule, and Sen. Feingold has voted countless times in his 18-year Washington career to support job-killing policies.

“Sen. Feingold still stands by the Obama Administration’s underlying direction for the Export-Import Bank.  If the policy remains in place despite this one overturned decision, similar decisions will no doubt come in the future.

“Next time, the president might not happen to be in town, and the workers might not be so lucky.”

This is a page right out of the GOP farmer’s almanac. See, if one meme isn’t growing (“silent on jobs”) it can be hybridized into a new meme (“job killer”). Of course, the classic example of the Greenhouse effect and genetic splicing at work was Iraq: Osama Bin Laden –>Weapons of Mass Destruction –> Operation Iraqi Freedom –> Democracy in the Middle East.

So while I’m dubious of the success of this tactic and as much as I’d like to toss this into the compost heap, the one thing that always helps a meme – no matter how weak and fragile – is a few months inside the Greenhouse. If that happens, all bets are off. Stay tuned.

– SH

Update: Feingold’s newest spot is here.

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