any unit of cultural information, such as a practice or idea, that is transmitted verbally or by repeated action from one mind to another.
The GOP machine operated by Karl Rove and George W. Bush has been astonishingly expert at churning out durable memes. One of the earliest examples involved alleged vandalism of the White House by fleeing Clintonistas. Trough-side reporters gorged themselves silly with tasty tidbits -- phone lines cut! locks glued shut! obscenities scrawled on walls! Months later, the government issued a report saying "the condition of the real property was consistent with what we would expect to encounter when tenants vacate office space after an extended occupancy." No vandalism. No obscene graffiti.
No matter. The machine was creating new memes that made reporters forget about the previous lies. Like dogs, the media panted when they saw and heard something new. Fresh scraps of flesh on a new bone is the best way to make watchdogs forget about old, buried bones.
Saddam loves Osama. Mushroom cloud. Weapons of mass destruction. Iraq will be a cakewalk. No domestic spying. Terror alerts. Heckuva job, Brownie. Lies and bilge water, all, but no matter because new memes are deployed to defend and dismiss any fallout. Everyone thought so. It's not illegal. You are in grave danger from terrorists. Even in their waning days, Bush and Rove are masters of the twist. Reality is putty in their practiced hands.
But the meme machine's new operators work for Sen. John McCain, and they are rancid amateurs compared to Team Bush, confident but not clever, with clumsy chunks of ham in place of hands.
They laid their mitts on the flywheel and gave it a mighty spin in response to a New York Times piece on McCain's ties to a lobbyist who happens to be a glam woman much younger than the senator, and whose omnipresence forced McCain's people to chase her into the shadows.
A lighter touch would have done it. Dismiss the Times report as picayune, ancient history. Toss off a few jokes about the NYT being the toilet paper of choice for Vice President Dick Cheney. Exit stage right into the waiting arms of Brit Hume, the man to see when you're a Republican in trouble. The story would have died with a murmur.
But McCain and his mechanics went ape with the machine, grinding gears as they cranked it up to extreme scream meme level. Even Rove was never so foolish or twisted, and that's saying a lot, given his history of using memes to peddle lies for political gain.
McCain issued an unequivocal denial of everything in the Times report:
"It’s not true ... At no time have I ever done anything that would betray the public trust or make a decision which in any way would not be in the public interest or would favor anyone or organization.”
Because now people will start to come forward and contradict McCain -- people like Lowell "Bud" Paxson, a broadcaster who wanted McCain to use his muscle in Paxson's tussle with the FCC.
Paxson had a lobbyist -- Vicki Iseman, the woman linked to McCain in the Times' report. McCain's no-wiggle denial was that "no representative" of Paxson (or his lobbyist's firm) personally asked him to send a letter to the FCC.
Paxson says McCain is wrong; we met, the broadcaster says. He also says Iseman, the lobbyist, was probably at the meeting. A few weeks later, McCain wrote the FCC on Paxson's behalf.
McCain's lawyer, Bob Bennett, has joined McCain in the dark land of insanity and denial:
"We understood that he [McCain] did not speak directly with him [Paxson]. Now it appears he did speak to him. What is the difference?"
There is great danger ahead for John McCain and he knows it. He cannot spin his way into the sunlight. The media love scandals driven by absolutes. Party labels don't matter -- those crying "liberal media" at the Times report have convenient amnesia when it comes to the newspaper's starring role in trying to inflate Whitewater into Watergate. Ideology doesn't matter when there's blood mist in the nostrils and a politician says he can't smell a thing.