Conventional wisdom has it that this past week marked two milestones in U.S. electoral politics. The first, Republican Scott Brown's upset victory over Democratic "favorite" Martha Coakley in the Massachusetts special election to fill Ted Kennedy's vacant senate seat; the second, the one-year anniversary of President Barack Obama's inauguration.
Each of these events gave politicians and TV talking heads plenty to chew on. But when the two stories merged into a singular media narrative on the future of the Obama presidency, it became an infotainment spectacular. One with all the hyperbole and punditry associated with that other midwinter entertainment extravaganza: the Super Bowl. Instead of picking winners and losers in the big game, this week's media circus was all about handicapping Obama.
For Republicans, Brown's victory was nothing short of a referendum on the Obama administration. Not only was Obama's health care reform initiative dead in the water, the president's entire agenda has been derailed by this single election.
No matter that Democrats are still in the majority in both houses of Congress: without the filibuster-proof majority, Obama might just as well call it quits.
"For Republicans, Brown's victory was nothing short of a referendum on the Obama administration."
For Democrats, the sky is falling. The people of Massachusetts have spoken -- for the entire country it seems -- and if they want to avoid further embarrassment come November, the Democrats had better come to their senses and stop following Obama's lead.
The lesson Democratic politicians and strategists took from Tuesday's Mass-kicking is clear: moderation in all things.
Take Senator Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) speaking to ABC News the other night: "The only way we are able to govern successfully in this country is by liberals and progressives making common cause with independents and moderates."
And here, I thought, this was how we got such mediocre health reform legislation in the first place.
As if he were speaking from a parallel universe where a left-wing cabal is transforming American social and political life, Bayh continued: "Whenever you have just the furthest left elements of the Democratic Party attempting to impose their will on the rest of the country -- that's not going to work too well."
Exactly how this squares with the fact that single-payer -- a policy supported by those very same "furthest left elements" Bayh alludes to -- was "off the table" from the very start of the health care "debate" is anyone's guess. No matter, the corporate media dutifully records Bayh's sage advice and looks for comment across the aisle.
"The lesson Democratic politicians and strategists took from Tuesday's Mass-kicking is clear: moderation in all things."
Not to be outdone by Bayh's Republican-lite sound bites, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) asserted that the GOP victory in Massachusetts demonstrates that the American people "don't want the government taking over health care."
How either the House or the Senate bill amounts to a government take over of health care, McConnell isn't saying. Without even the semblance of a public option -- a lousy half measure by "furthest left elements" standards -- current health reform legislation does little more than consolidate the economic power (and political influence) of the health industry.
For corporate media, these little details can't get in the way of a blockbuster political story line: health care reform is finished, and you might just as well put a folk in Obama, 'cause he's done too.
So there's consensus after all. At least among Republicans, centrist Democrats, like Joe Lieberman and Evan Bayh, and the corporate media: Were it not for Brown's stunning victory in Massachusetts, Obama's radical agenda for change might have succeeded.
Whew!! That was close.
Kevin Howley is associate professor of media studies at DePauw University. He is editor of Understanding Community Media (Sage, 2010). He writes regularly on media, culture and politics at e-chreia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.