When I first started writing at Grist, in 2004 and 2005, the Bush administration was in charge and Republicans had majorities in both houses of Congress. Every day -- and I mean, really, almost every single day -- brought some new outrage, some bit of mendacity or corruption or plutocratic greed or just terrible policy.
I realized quickly that there's no way for a healthy human being to maintain the level of outrage warranted by the situation. When offenses to decency follow one after another after another after another, it's difficult to pay attention to each one, much less work up righteous umbrage anew each morning. It's mentally and physically exhausting.
I was convinced at the time, and remain convinced, that this was a deliberate strategy on the part of conservatives: flood the zone and overwhelm the ability of the press, public, and political opposition to react. When you have power, use it to help your friends and secure future power; do not hesitate; do not ask permission.
Obama, whatever you think of his strategies or policies, has led a remarkably scandal-free presidency. That's why, when something like the IRS (non-)scandal comes along, everyone jumps on it and it stays in the news for weeks. It's a singular event, a marker, a symbol around which we arrange our perceptions and arguments. Under Bush, the IRS thing would simply have blurred into a parade of far worse transgressions. It's no accident that "cocaine-fueled sex romp" is a mere fourth on our list of Bush Era WTFs. You just couldn't keep up. It was numbing and profoundly disempowering -- which, again, was the point.
I've been thinking about this ever since Republicans won the House of Representatives and an historic number of state legislatures in 2010, which they promptly used to gerrymander themselves a decade-long death grip on the House. The minute they took charge, they started doing insane things. Lots of these things became news -- threats to tank the American economy, forty-eleven votes to repeal Obamacare, stripping food stamps out of the farm subsidy bill -- but many, perhaps most, did not, because crazy bills that passed the House were doomed in the Senate. "House passes crazy bill in futile gesture" is a story political journalists tire of writing.