Editor's Letter: Doing damage control

Gov. Rick Perry and Bob Dylan found themselves in trouble this week, and their reaction to their plight couldn't have been more different.

“A campaign is like an MRI of the soul,” said President Obama’s campaign chief, David Axelrod. If so, then Gov. Rick Perry should be charged a co-pay for the examination he received this week, when The Washington Post turned up the fact that a hunting camp his family leased was once named with a racial slur (see News at a glance). A rock that once had the word “Niggerhead’’ painted on it suddenly took center stage in Perry’s faltering campaign. His rivals pounced, demanding an explanation. The governor, insisting the rock had been painted over long ago, said the slur “has no place in the modern world.” But with Perry busy doing damage control, Herman Cain blew by him in the polls.

How does it feel? Bob Dylan might have asked, if the reclusive songwriter were inclined to public utterances. For 50 years, Dylan’s every word and deed has been scrutinized with Talmudic fervor. This week, Dylan found himself being attacked like a politician, after bloggers revealed that the folk hero’s paintings were mostly copied from vintage photos (see Talking points). This brought a great “aha!’’ from the Dylanologists, who would gladly slide him into an MRI machine if they could. In the 1960s, A.J. Weberman, dubbed by Rolling Stone “the king of all Dylan nuts,’’ spent weeks going through Dylan’s garbage. To his hard-core followers, the charge of copying other people’s work isn’t so much a crime as a clue. “He copies with a wink and a smile,” says Johanna Parker, a moderator for the Dylan fan page ExpectingRain.com. “He knows he will be found out.” When he is, he never explains. Maybe politicians ought to try that strategy next time something embarrassing shows up.

Robert Love

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