Sunday, February 24, 2008

It's Not As Much Fun As Making Up Racist Remarks

In a piece in the Outlook section of The Washington Post, former adviser to John Edwards' Presidential campaign Michael Signer writes an impassioned plea for reporters covering the campaigns to do some serious stories in the national press on the foreign policy proposals of the candidates. In his plea he asks not very rhetorically why it is these reporters don't cover this kind of thing. He cites several substantive speeched by Edwards, Obama, and Clinton that received almost no coverage in the major press. Indeed he even relates a discussion with a reporter who claimed the candidates haven't "said anything" about foreign policy.

In response to Signer's question, I would offer a couple explanation, the weight of each dependent upon one's view of the press. In the first instance, I believe the reporters don't cover them because they honestly believe the American people don't care about foreign policy all that much. Never mind that we've got American troops engaged in combat in two countries in Asia; never mind the endless declarations that we are a nation "at war"; never mind we are reminded every day that war is with, depending on who's talking and what they're saying, "Islam", "Terror", or "Evil-doers". Indeed, never mind that there are other threats and promises abroad of far greater importance, that the candidates have spoken to these issues, and the press has given a collective "ho hum" to it all.

I also think campaign reporters are far less interested in issues than in the campaign itself - who's ahead, who's behind, who's in, who's out. That kind of thing is far more interesting, as well as riveting, than abstruse policy proposals that will only matter is the candidate wins. The day-to-day intrigue and positioning of candidates and their staffs, that's the stuff that really matters.

In line with these two things is the persistence of nonsense stories - the playing of the race card; the role of Bill Clinton in his wife's campaign; remarks by Barack Obama's wife; Edwards' infamous haircut and house; McCain's relationship with a female lobbyist - that dominate our discourse. It isn't that stories on policy aren't done. They are drowned out in the chorus of crap that swells to fortissimo every time something trivial comes down the wires. That much of this trivia is also wrong, false, or misconstrued misses the point. This is the way, for better or worse, politics is played in this country, and to pretend that we do better when we focus on issues misses the point that we rarely have done so. Whether it's a photo of Michael Dukakis sitting in a tank, or Bill Clinton blowing a saxophone (God, I used the word "blow" in a sentence with Bill Clinton again without thinking), or Al Gore inventing the internet, this kind of stuff - regardless of its veracity or importance - weighs far more in the minds of those who shape the way campaigns are run than any question of policy.

It's so much more fun to wonder about Obama's patriotism than it is to wonder how he will deal with a rising Russia.

Virtual Tin Cup

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