Got your attention, didn’t it?
Ah, presidential politics in the Age of Entertainment. By now, if you’ve read the paper or seen the chatter on the TV news, part of todays Big Story from the campaign trail was a flash of that alleged “Dean Rage” that partisans from the Democratic Insider Crowd and GOP Sen. Joe Lieberman have been sounding the alarm about.
This is big news, folks, and it’s good that we focus on it now, lest Dr. Dean become President, get exposed to some gamma radiation at the Pentagon, and end up turning into a menacing Dr. Hulk while conducting delicate negotiations with Congress or the Chinese. The Republic would be doomed in such a horrifying scenario.
Sound a bit silly? It is. Unfortunately this is what passes for “election journalism” these days.
I saw the alleged “incident” in its entirety today. Basically, a Bush supporter was flipping some midwest-style “‘tude” at Dean for being “too mean” to President Bush. After bitching at Dr. Dean for a while, Dean responded and got interrupted by the GOP partisan. His “flash of anger” was Dean asking the guy to let him respond, and why he felt Bush’s policies have been bad for America. He did so so not in warm, fuzzy, hippie-speak or the hushed tones of a big-city liberal – he fought back with force and conviction. The GOP partisan was booed out of the room by the crowd.
This is not how most Democrats, particularly those who have been exposed to the “Insider” virus, respond when attacked. When they get attacked for being Democrats, that’s their cue to get on their knees. Years of practices with the “on the knees” position ensures that nothing really changes, and that the donors they share with the GOP can stay happy.
It’s easy to see how Dean’s reaction could be seen as “rage” – he’s choosing to stand up for Democrats – not hide behind “triangulation” and accomodation. Definitely scary to entrenched interests.
Since Dean’s surge earlier this year, I can’t recall hearing much of anything from the John Edwards campaign about what this guy would do as president or why he’s qualified to even hold the job. In fact, it’s hard for me to even remember he’s still in the race or even what he LOOKS like, and I read about politics every day.
As far as I can tell, the only thing he has been saying is something about how he looks better on TV than Dean and how one-term Senators who haven’t even completed their term are still qualified to lead the most powerful nation on Earth. I do know he said something nasty about Dean – that got in the papers.
Same goes for John Kerry’s campaign. Much time is spent telling people that he’s the one that can beat President Bush and his resume (war hero, Senator, whatever) is pulled out at every opportunity and they’ve always got some zinger of the day to attack Dr. Dean (and now Gen. Clark).
However they don’t seem to be able to explain how it is that “unelectable Dean” has been able to kick Kerry way back in the polls – or how Kerry can be expected to beat Bush when he can’t even beat a small-town politician like Dr. Dean. I get all sorts of emails from the Kerry campaign with some sort of policy information, but it’s usually something I heard already from another campaign. All I really know is his latest anti-Dean and anti-Clark comments.
Richard Gephardt has grown as adept as attacking Dean as Karl Rove and has even spent money creating a whole website just attacking Dean (not unlike something Karl Rove would come up with). He has yet to be forced to explain how it is he can win a national election when the last several nation elections he was in charge of – trying to retake the House back from the GOP – failed miserably, resulting in him resigning his post as House Minority Leader after the disastrous 2002 elections.
Again, not a lot of information on what he’d do as President. I remember once hearing something about health care from Gephardt, but as I recall when we had Democrats running both houses of Congress AND the White House, a national health care plan got torpedoed – mostly by turncoat Democrats, something he reallyneeds to explain. But hey, he said something bad about Dean, and that’s all that matters, right?
Meanwhile I continue to learn more about the ideas and policies of Gov. Dean and Gen. Clark despite the noise (usually from blogs and websites) and while they Insiders keep lobbing flaming bags of dog poop at them, Dean and Clark continue to prove they’re not afraid to stand up to Bush in no uncertain terms.
It’s ironic that the only person that is unafraid to take on the President and call him on his policies aside from Dean and Clark is former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill. Then again, O’Neill doesn’t care what some PAC or corporation thinks about him, unlike someone who has to go to those folks to get re-elected.
Ultimately the problem isn’t the politicians – we expect them to misbehave nowadays – it’s the people covering the campaign. Reporters, especially those at the all-news cable outlets, aren’t really looking for information, they’re looking for a great story.
To most mainstream reporters, the goal in these situations is not really to report “news” or dig up “information”, it’s to find a “story” replete with elements of drama, intrigue, humor, or a combination of the three. The spin of the day fits the bill nicely, and we end up with the so-called “information” we get from our major news outlets.
This almost ensures that we really don’t know much about what these folks would do in office if we rely on traditional media for our news. This isn’t a conspiracy of the left or right (despite the protestations of my good friends on both sides) but rather a financial bias, coupled with a little laziness.
Big media companies need to make a LOT of money to stay afloat and to pay for their latest acquisitions, and they know that entertainment and drama sell well, even now. There’s no incentive for them to do otherwise, and risk taking in large organizations is not only discouraged, on a functional level it is impractical or even impossible. Plus it’s a lot easier and cheaper to do than dig around old files in Vermont or trudging around the country interviewing people and doing research.
Cynics on the left and culture warriors on the right both decry “average” Americans as too stupid to know or care what is “really” going on but they’re wrong. They aren’t stupid and they do care – when they have a WAY to find out what is “really” going on. Up until now, finding another source of news was difficult, if not impossible for most people.
Times and technology have changed all of that. Recent polling indicates that more and more Americans are now turning to alternative news sources (blogs, websites, smaller magazines, the Daily Show, etc.) to get their information about Campaign 2004, and this number is expected to continue to go up. Eventually as the ratings for TV news go down, and the readership of dailies and weeklies starts to take a dive, perhaps then Big Media’s executives will see the value of providing real journalism to their readers.
We’ll be better off in the long run if they do. Our politicians might get asked some real questions, and they might have to give some real answers. We’ll have more information than we’ll know what to do with, and that sounds good to me.
In the meantime, keep reading well-written and fascinating blogs with clever Teutonic-based names for all of your election information.
For a fun article covering this issue check out Salon Magazine and see what they have to say…
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