Grapefruit League

Media keepers of the status quo upset at Lugar’s defeat by a fellow conservative

Published: Friday, May 11, 2012 5:00 a.m. CDT

(Continued from Page 1)

(MCT) — A few weeks after the recent synod of the bishops of journalism — known to us taxpaying chumbolones as the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner — the secular clergy pronounced sentence on Indiana Republican Richard Mourdock.

Mourdock had the audacity to whomp the heck out of six-term U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar in Tuesday’s Indiana Republican primary.

Mourdock’s sin, according to the high priests of establishment journalism? He’s a conservative, and a constitutionalist, backed by the tea party.

Watching all this from the bordering state once called Illinois — now known as the wind-swept economic wasteland of Madiganistan — makes me wonder what it would be like to live in Indiana or Wisconsin, where Republicans aren’t always eager to help the Democratic machine bosses.

So Mourdock’s victory isn’t making everyone happy. Lugar was of Washington, he was the establishment. He was one of theirs. So the high priests approve another narrative, that Mourdock’s victory helps the president because Mourdock is a tea party conservative and, therefore, extreme.

No matter that Mourdock’s victory was also an unmistakable message to establishment Republicans that voters are tired of them.

My brother Peter heard a great line on the Indiana campaign and called me as I sat down to write this. He got it from iconoclast Democrat-turned-tea-party-conservative talker Tammy Bruce.

“It was a gigantic grapefruit in the face,” she said. “We’re Jimmy Cagney and we had a grapefruit, and the establishment is at the table, and we smushed the grapefruit in the face of the establishment.”

I hope it was a pink grapefruit. They’re tastier. It’s a great image, from the old James Cagney gangster movie, one of utter, sneering contempt. It’s the kind of thing that frightens establishment Republicans. And it’s about time they’re frightened.

Lugar was out of touch. He had sold his Indiana home decades ago, and had become more a creature of the Washington establishment than a native son. That cost him in Tuesday’s primary.

And although Mourdock has won, he’s been demonized by the national media. The tea party has been vilified since its members began gathering to fight growing debt and runaway government. The Republican establishment loathes them. The Democratic establishment mocks them.

And what is their sin, exactly? That they look to the Constitution for guidance? Did you ever think that the Constitution would be considered a radical manifesto?

“Lugar defeat fits Obama campaign narrative on GOP,” said a headline in the Los Angeles Times, a headline that should by rights have been written by President Barack Obama’s media merlin, David Axelrod.

The story went on to tell us that although Obama was saddened by Lugar’s defeat, and so was Vice President Joseph Biden, Lugar’s loss basically helps the Democrats in November.

The New York Times also slapped Mourdock for sticking to principle rather than bending like a moderate Republican, with the headline “Many Pursuits, but Bipartisanship Isn’t One of Them.”

The story went on to remind us that Mourdock often gets so emotional talking about policy that he’s apt to shed tears, a la House Speaker John Boehner.

You could fill volumes with such examples. Conservatives are rigid and inflexible, and wed to ideology by unrealistic passion. But Republican moderates who’ve spent years going along with big spending by Republican and Democratic White Houses, and doing little about entitlements that will surely drown young Americans in debt, are considered reasonable and pragmatic. And so the high priests define the terms.

It would be too easy to buy into the old rant about the so-called liberal media. Let’s leave that to Republican media cheerleaders. Are there more liberal journalists than conservative ones? Of course. You’d have to be a moron to think otherwise.

But that’s too easy. I don’t think it’s a question of liberal or conservative as much as it is about maintaining the status quo. Despite what conservative talk radio hosts tell you, journalists are human. The odd thing about human beings is that many are uneasy about change, preferring, like most humans, the status quo.

And what is the status quo in Washington? Maintaining the government as a federal feed bag, even though it’s obvious that the ones who’ll have to fill it are the young people, who’ll ultimately get stuck with the bill.

But anything that threatens the present state of affairs — and nothing threatens it more than the tea party folks brandishing the Constitution — is worrisome.

There’s no better place to witness journalists wiggly with celebrating the status quo than at two amazing gatherings: the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner and, even worse, the Gridiron Club dinner, in which reporters perform musical numbers for the Washington political establishment.

The correspondents’ dinner is about guest status. The media outlet whose table includes a new chief justice or the eye candy on the arm of George Clooney is considered a smashing success.

The Gridiron is about singing and dancing on stage, and the president applauds as the journalists put on a musical show. They wear costumes, and the lyrics of their songs are replete with witty inside jokes.

What these rituals accomplish is to wed journalists to the establishment. And so the high priests go forth, offering political epistles, declaring some politicians to be reasonable and others to be dangerous and heretical.

And those folks who actually believe the Constitution is a sacred document? They’re not included.

They’re kept outside, where they wait, grapefruits in their hands.

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