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INDIANAPOLIS — Two members of Indiana’s congressional delegation made national news during the federal government shutdown.
Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., and Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Ind., didn’t exactly cover themselves or the state with glory.
Let’s start with Rokita.
During an interview with CNN’s Carol Costello, Rokita blamed the media for helping to create the government shutdown. Costello responded by saying that Rokita’s attempt to blame someone else was “too easy.”
That’s when Rokita apparently decided that trying to be flirtatious would be a good communications tactic.
“Carol, you’re beautiful, but you have to be honest as well,” Rokita said to Costello, who quickly ended the interview.
I’m trying to think of a better word than smarmy to describe Rokita’s performance, but one’s not coming to mind.
Then there’s Stutzman, who decided to recite lines from street gang movies when he was asked by the Washington Examiner about the GOP’s position on the shutdown.
“We’re not going to be disrespected,” Stutzman said. “We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”
Stutzman’s solo turn may lack the musicality and lyricism of “West Side Story” — not to mention the spiffy choreography — but he certainly nailed the essential pointlessness of the fighting between the Sharks and the Jets.
Stutzman’s remarks made him the poster boy President Barack Obama and Democrats all over the nation now use to illustrate what they see as the clueless intransigence of the Republican Party’s most conservative wing.
Both Rokita and Stutzman apologized. Sort of.
Rokita issued a statement that said: “At the end of a spirited and very important debate, I was simply keeping it from unnecessarily ending in an unfriendly or contentious way. I meant no offense to Ms. Costello.”
Costello responded by saying that Rokita had tried to use flattery to avoid questions and that it wasn’t “appropriate” for a congressman to do so with any journalist.
Rokita, one hopes, resisted the temptation to send flowers as a way of making it up to her.
Stutzman’s apology was more abject than Rokita’s and may have come after a visit to the woodshed belonging to U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
“Yesterday, I carelessly misrepresented the ongoing budget debate and Speaker Boehner’s work on behalf of the American people. Despite my remarks, it’s clear that the American people want both parties to come to the table to reopen the government, tackle this nation’s debt crisis and stop ObamaCare’s pain, “ Stutzman’s statement read.
The thing is, I’m not sure Stutzman did misrepresent the ongoing budget debate.
It’s hard to know what Republicans want out of this fight, other than a nullification of Barack Obama’s presidency, which they aren’t going to get.
In most political disputes, numbers and facts carry some weight, but not in this one.
The fact that much of the business community is imploring Stutzman and his fellow Republicans to return to work and, given the GOP’s threats to hold the debt limits hostage next, not push the federal government into default and the U.S. economy into chaos doesn’t seem to have much impact. The business community, apparently, doesn’t have the clout with the national GOP that it once did.
And then there are the numbers surrounding the roll-out of Obamacare, the presumed trigger for this dispute. So many people tried to access and use the health care insurance exchanges during the first days for enrollment that they crashed the system, which undercuts the conservative argument that the people will hate the health care reforms so much that they won’t use them.
Now, it appears that the conservatives’ nightmare may be coming true. The federal government isn’t working, but Obamacare is; and Republicans have few cards left to play.
Worse, because they’ve backed themselves into a corner by demanding changes to Obamacare that they won’t get, they’re left desperately searching for some path out of the predicament in which they’ve put themselves. They need something to show for their efforts, even if they don’t know what that is.
And that’s why Republicans like Stutzman and Rokita are left with little to do but mugging for reporters in “careless” misrepresentations and flirting inappropriately on TV.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 FM Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.
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