“We’ve started and we’re working with the White House on a hashtag,” Senator Chuck Schumer told reporters on day three of the government shutdown, unveiling a new messaging strategy Democrats were plotting with the White House. OK, a hashtag might not end the shutdown. But Schumer’s comment was a reminder of how central the social networking site has been during the last week to our painfully dysfunctional political system. By Friday morning, Congress still hadn’t found a way to do its constitutionally mandated job—but staffers were fighting in plain view with other staffers, once anonymous congressmen were clowning themselves in the public sphere, and a major breaking news event had turned everyone on the hill into a Twitter reporter.
Twitter played no small role in the echo-chamber dynamic that led a small group of like-minded individuals in the House GOP into believing a fairy tale: that they could force the president to dismantle his signature legislative accomplishment simply by being tough enough. Robert Costa, a National Review editor who understands the dynamics within the House GOP as well or better than any journalist in Washington right now, told Washington Post’s Ezra Klein this week that “so many of these members now live in the conservative world of talk radio and tea party conventions and Fox News invitations. And so the conservative strategy of the moment, no matter how unrealistic it might be, catches fire. The members begin to believe they can achieve things in divided government that most objective observers would believe is impossible.”
He’s right to trace it back to talk radio and cable news. In his 2005 Atlantic piece on the rise of talk radio, David Foster Wallace pointed to the real power of Rush Limbaugh’s positioning as a righteous warrior against mainstream liberal media bias. He wrote:
This turned out to be a brilliantly effective rhetorical move, since the MMLB concept functioned simultaneously as a standard around which Rush’s audience could rally, as an articulation of the need for right-wing (i.e., unbiased) media, and as a mechanism by which any criticism or refutation of conservative ideas could be dismissed (either as biased or as the product of indoctrination by biased media). Boiled way down, the MMLB thesis is able both to exploit and to perpetuate many conservatives’ dissatisfaction with extant media sources — and it’s this dissatisfaction that cements political talk radio’s large and loyal audience.
What he couldn’t have realized is that, less than eight years later, the army of dittoheads would become mini-Rushes themselves. Thanks to Twitter, they’re no longer passively nodding along in their car—they’re also creating and distributing content themselves, and linking up with like-minded individuals who do the same, creating a perfect storm of like-minded people reinforcing their own political views. Some of them are members of Congress. The last time the government shuttered, the most a supporter of the House GOP’s efforts could do was call a congressional office or write an email. Now, supporters can retweet, favorite and send a real time messages to congressmen that tap immediately into the pleasure centers of their brains.
Twitter probably never should have become the animating conversational platform of official Washington. It’s not that you can’t say anything intelligent on Twitter, but the format is paradoxically expansive and very, very limited. Nuances are lost. What’s easier: snark, talking points, ad hominem attacks.
That Twitter has elevated the voices of many who would not otherwise be at the table is undeniably a good thing. But when you look specifically at what’s wrong with Washington at the moment—that one party has shifted dramatically away from the established center, and is now fighting itself with no strategy for how to get what it wants—it is hard not to see the Twitter effect at play. Inside the Capitol, the charge to repeal the Affordable Care Act no matter the cost is being led by insurgent lawmakers like Ted Cruz, who built a considerable buzz among conservative activists online and off and marshalled it to a winning campaign against an establishment candidate. Outside of it, those same groups, like the Senate Conservatives Fund, are pressuring fellow Republicans to comply at threat of negative advertising to their real constituents, or worse, a primary challenge. Some of the most powerful Republicans in the Senate are also some of the most junior, elevated inside the Capitol by their perceived influence among groups outside of it.
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Former Rep. Bill Goodling (R-PA), who served 26 years in the House representing York County, PA, died Sunday at age 89. Goodling, who succeeded his father George Goodling in 1975, "faced few serious opponents over the years, winning 13 consecutive terms. He retired in 2001." He also served as chair of the House Education and Labor Committee from 1995-2001.
"Donald Trump Jr., his wife Vanessa Trump, and Kellyanne Conway are dropping Secret Service protection, Fox News has confirmed. The move to get rid of round-the-clock protection came after Trump Jr. wished to have more privacy. Other family members of the president will remain under Secret Service protection." Conway dropped the protection after the threat level against her dropped from earlier in the administration.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson "will resign as Foreign Secretary before the weekend if Theresa May veers towards a 'Swiss-style' arrangement with the EU in her Brexit speech in Florence, The Telegraph understands." He "believes he will have no option but to walk out of the Cabinet if the Prime Minister advocates permanently paying for access to the single market."
"Senate Republicans are considering writing a budget that would allow for up to $1.5 trillion in tax cuts over the next decade. ... A budget that creates fiscal room for a $1.5 trillion tax cut, if adopted, would then be followed by a tax bill that would specify rate cuts and other policy changes that don’t exceed that figure. Calling for a tax cut in the budget would let Republicans lower tax rates while making fewer tough decisions on what tax breaks to eliminate to help pay for the cuts."
"The Senate has overwhelmingly approved a sweeping defense policy bill that would pump $700 billion into the military, putting the U.S. armed forces on track for a budget greater than at any time during the decade-plus wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Senators passed the legislation by an 89-8 vote Monday."