Thursday, May 9, 2013

Paul Ryan's Coonskin Cap

Davy Crockett may have been the first great American political fabrication. He really was a woodsman and guide of note and, though there is some disagreement on this point, he probably went down fighting at the Alamo. As a legend, though, "Davy Crockett" was largely a creation of the Whigs who were desperate to counter the man-of-the-frontier threat posed by Andrew Jackson. If memory serves, Crockett himself deeply resented being reduced to a walking self-parody.

It was fairly easy to forgive that sort of thing in the 1830 when journalists were working with limited technology and crude institutions. These days, there is not really a good excuse for passing along an obviously manufactured persona, but the practice continues. Hell, it might even be on the upswing.

The first President elected (rather than re-elected) during the Internet Age was successfully marketed as a plain-spoken cowboy despite being on the record as having a strong aversion to cowboy boots and being deathly afraid of horses* (google "Vicente Fox George Bush Horses"). Bush was, of course, the Republicans' answer to Bill Clinton's man-of-the-people appeal just as Crockett was the Whigs' answer to Jackson. I read Age of Jackson early in the Bush years and I always wondered why more wasn't made of the parallel.

Currently, the fabrication du jour is Paul Ryan -- honest conservative, dedicated policy wonk, everyday guy. Jonathan Chait, Paul Krugman and others had seemingly taken apart the Ryan edifice so thoroughly that there was no stone on stone, then salted the ground so that nothing there again shall grow, but we are dealing with some hardy weeds.

Here Michael Scherer does some serious cultivating:
The Belgian restaurant lists 115 beers on its menu, but not Miller Lite, Ryan’s beer of choice. “I ended up getting some lager I’d never heard of,” said Ryan, who mistook the place for a French joint. But it turned out McDonough had done his homework in other ways. He knew that Ryan had graduated from Miami University in Ohio the same year as his own wife Kari. Both men hailed from former frontier towns in the upper Midwest, and both had been drawn to Washington as young congressional aides. They were nerds, in the best sense of the word, and they were fierce competitors. 
Not surprisingly, Chait takes this one apart:
It's worth noting that Ryan's tastes in alcoholic beverages do not always run along such downscale lines. In 2011, a liberal confronted him drinking a $350 bottle of wine at Bistro Bis, a swanky French restaurant catering to the political elite. ("Its regular guests include Senators, Congressmen, celebrities and powerbrokers looking to dine in the ambiance and luxury of one of Washington's most popular restaurants," boasts its website.)

Bistro Bis probably does not serve Miller Lite, which likely forced Ryan to instead order $350 wine as a fallback, as most Miller Lite fans do when their beer of choice is unavailable. And you can see why he mistook a Belgian brewery for a French restaurant. The one time he was publicly confronted at Bistro Bis is probably the only time he has ever patronized a European restaurant of any kind, and he probably naturally assumed that all European restaurants are French.
This is obviously a trivial example but it reflects a bigger point. the Sherers unthinkingly repeat a standard narrative even after it's been thoroughly debunked. They pay no penalty for shoddy work while the rest of us become progressively less informed.

* I grew up around cows and horses but I have to admit I'm with Bush on the cowboy boots.

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