This week's news about Osama Bin Laden had one of those "palate clearing" effects on our news and public culture. The news of his death, the story of the raid, the unfolding reactions... all of this swept much of the rest of the news off the front pages, and reordered the priorities of what's really rather important.
All of which means that we have a chance to consider what matters in the rest of our political discussions.
When we get back to the issues on the American political plate, I think we'll be dismayed by the scraps. So much of what's been taking up time on the news, and the "who's up and down," looks a lot less vivid, or crucial, in the wake of this week's events.
The death of Osama Bin Laden becomes, I think, one of those "before and after" moments - life after this will not quite be the same. The world will not be the same. It's hard to predict what "after" will look like, much as it was hard to anticipate what America after 9/11 turned out to be. Without trying to predict too much, I think it's worth considering what "after" looks like to some of the scraps of news that carry over from "before":
- Donald Trump. Trump was already destined for irrlevancy before Sunday night's news, especially after both the President and Seth Myers took fairly equal amounts of wind out of his sails with spot-on humor at the White House Correspondents' Dinner (the night before... which now seems ages ago). Though Trump may still be popular with "the Blacks" - that white family Myers so aptly described, and which made pretty much every black person smile - the idea that he's going to unveil a presidential campaign anyone could take seriously at the season end of The Celebrity Apprentice is yet another punchline waiting to happen. Whether Trump can undo even a bit of the national joke he's become might be interesting to watch, but as I said... he'll never be President.
- The Other Republicans. Nearly as upstaged this week as Trump was the rest of the GOP field, even with an end of week debate in South Carolina that Palin, Romney, Huckabee and Gingrich all felt confident enough to miss. Tim Pawlenty, who went, probably proved them right, looking even sadder and smaller than he seemed going in. Rick Santorum did himself no favors, but Herman Cain, a former fast food CEO - and the only black Republican in the race - proved to be the Anti-Trump. Cain's potential candidacy may be interesting to ponder - he'd certainly put the Democratic Party on notice to not take black votes for granted - but it's basically the same "let's pick someone for politics who's never tried politics" appeal Trump offered. Cain has similar blunt, plain-spoken views, but little in the way of fresh ideas. Indeed, the real hallmark of the South Carolina debate was bopth that Republicans have no real coherent opposition message, and with anti-Afghanistan types like Ron Paul and Gary Johnson in the mix, less than clear indications of the much ballyhooed "conservative principles" everyone on the right is supposed to support. This is the week, I argued, that Obama's reelection became much clearer, and Friday's debate really only solidified that.
- Medicare. Quietly, but firmly, Republicans began backing away from anything like Paul Ryan's plan to overhaul Medicare and replace it with vouchers (or what they call "premium support" which is apprarently vouchers plus means testing). Any discussion of altering Medicare is off the table in negotiations over the debt ceiling, and is also unlikely to be any part of whatever spending bills Republicans in the House can manage to pass for 2012. This is being sold as "political reality" and put off, simply until after the 2012 elections... but the reality is that massive negative response to the proposal (as I expected) pretty much killed any Republican will to take this on and lead the effort. That, as many people noted this week, is a big mess for Republicans who voted to pass Ryan's budget last month, tying a slew of House members to an easy campaign ad that will anger seniors in local districts (a fate proven all too real by the upcoming special election near Buffalo, New York, where the Democrat has a chance to flip the seat once held by Tom Reynolds, much like NY-23 a few years back). The bottom line is that Medicare will not be ended... now the question is whether Democrats have any spine left to defend Medicaid.
- An Economy in Shreds. With the President looking so much politically stronger, a lot of naysayers looked for anything to tarnish Obama's halo, and most settled on the lousy economy, especially when last month's unemployment figure bounced back to 9%. There's no doubt the economy is still in terrible shape, that we have enormous problems with poverty, unemployment and debt still looming (this was the week, again, that the foreclosure mess drfited off the front page into the fog), and things could go terribly worse terribly quickly... but as a political issue, it's hard to see how this translates into a problem the President can't handle. Republicans made plain this week, whether discussing employment, or gas prices, or debt issues, that they have no interest in standing upfor the people suffering most, and tend, generally, to back industry and big business when given a choice. Democrats may be, as lefties suspect, no better - but given a choice between President Obama dn anything Republicans have to offer, it's hard to see how Republicans are making an argument that wins over anyone but their most diehard supporters. Nor does their relentless campaign on debt and deficits offer much in the way of positive, upbeat solutions that most Americans want to hear.
It would be nice, of course, if we might start dining on more than the old political scraps... but no news organization seems especially interested in the kind of stories that would fill the void, espeically if no one's talking about them already; hence, no stories on the continuing failure to sort out foreclosures, few examinations of foreign policy beyond Afghanistan or Pakistan or Libya, and certainly nothing about the problems facing people sinking into worse levels of poverty. The finding and killing of Osama Bin Laden could remind us how so much of what the media's been making important is, in fact, meager and scraps and largely irrelevant to the lives we lead and the problems we face. In stead we're likly to get more of the smae... and then watch people wail, again about the terrible MSM, Versailles and the resumption of the status quo. I don't plan to write much more about these scraps - or take up more Blame the Media arguments - because they don't need much more summarizing than what'a already been said. I'm planning to try harder to find more things that really matter, and stay focused on them. How about you?