Matt Stoller writes: If you picked up a newspaper in DC this week, it would have been hard to avoid noticing that a bizarre and irrelevant spat is consuming much of the insider political media and top political officials. Earlier this week, a corporate lobbyist named Hilary Rosen tweeted a vague insult at GOP Presidential nominee wife Ann Romney. Rosen said that Romney had never worked a day in her life, and so could not credibly speak to the economic concerns of women. The Republicans demanded an apology. Rosen refused. Obama advisors like David Axelrod and Jim Messina then weighed in on Romney’s side. Eventually, Rosen caved to the pressure and apologized. This is why.
By the end of Thursday, the most prominent voices in Washington had weighed in, including Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the first lady, Michelle Obama, and the president himself, who said that there is “no tougher job than being a mom” and that anyone who thinks otherwise “needs to rethink their statement.”
Just what is going on? How did one mildly annoying tweet from a corporate lobbyist who isn’t working on a political campaign come to dominate the electoral coverage for days for the office of the most powerful political position in the world?
Political scientist Tom Ferguson has noted that there are always two elections at work concurrently in America, a public election that voters see, and a hidden election where funders operate in shifting coalitions to pull the levers of power. In this case, it’s the very triviality that is on display that speaks to what is going. Rosen, a corporate lobbyist who represents or has represented copyright interests, for-profit colleges, and BP, is fighting with David Axelrod, who has made money from the nuclear industry, and Anna Romney, who rides expensive horses bought by her husband’s private equity millions. This is staged kabuki between powerful millionaires, none of whom can credibly speak from recent experience on economic struggles.
The 2012 election, in other words, is at this point a completely empty enterprise, bereft of substance, or integrity. This is new to our era, reminiscent of the late 19th century electoral landscape which was dominated by policy consensus around corruption and plutocracy while electoral contests were organized around “bloody shirt” smear campaigns. Populism intruded briefly, but there’s a reason that time period was known as the time of the robber barons. It’s increasingly analogous to our time.