Tuesday, April 22, 2008

U.S. Media Update

Couldn't resist one more post. Hillary just won Pennsylvania but not by enough.

Meanwhile this American Prospect post by Paul Waldman (courtesy of Ezra Klein) about the American media should not be missed. A sample:

"We may not like it," wrote The New York Times' David Brooks, rising to the defense of Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos after last Wednesday's Democratic debate, "but issues like Jeremiah Wright, flag lapels and the Tuzla airport will be important in the fall." Brooks' fellow members of the media elite's innermost circle could not be blamed, he wanted you to know, for they were merely doing their jobs, forcing the candidates to answer the questions they'll have no choice but to confront in the general election.

But don't let him fool you -- Brooks likes it just fine. He and his compatriots would find nothing more boring than a campaign consumed by discussions of individual mandates and redeployment plans, some kind of dreadfully tedious policy wonk-fest where issues of "culture" take only a supporting role. How then would he mine the red state-blue state pop sociology that took him from a mildly interesting writer for a conservative magazine to a prince of "serious" mass media, with gigs at The New York Times, PBS, and NPR? Where would he find the opportunities to explicate the contrast between riding mowers and Wal-Mart (virtuous and authentic) and lattes and Whole Foods (elitist and phony)?

Brooks' justification of the ABC personalities' shark-jumping performance was emblematic of the press' self-conception, the exaltation of the passive voice. "Issues" like flag pins "will be important." And how will this happen? From whence will this importance come? Will the heavens open, trumpets blare, and God himself command in a booming voice that reporters shall write about flag pins, no matter what their better natures and their obligations to the public might dictate?

Of course not. Reporters will choose to write about flag pins. They will choose to write about whether some catastrophic, heretofore hidden character flaw has been revealed by a comment a candidate made, or by a comment somebody who knows the candidate made. They are not merely conduits for the campaign's discourse, they create the campaign's discourse, as much as the candidates themselves.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Canadian and U.S. Politics - And TC's Summer Off

TC will make two brief observations about Canadian and U.S. politics and then plans to sign off for the summer. An overseas trip in May will put TC out of touch, and other pressures later on will preclude summer blogging - although an election in Canada could change this.

And a June election does seem a possibility. The Liberals, many of whom have been chafing at the negative media about sustaining the Harper government, are likely feeling tempted to force an election by a couple of polls out in the last few weeks, Nanos and Decima, that have produced good results for the party in Ontario. It is difficult to say why, but TC is in no doubt that Jim Flaherty's attacks on Dalton McGuinty have not helped the federal Conservatives.

The Nanos poll put the Liberals at 50% in Ontario, likely for the first time since Chr├ętien was prime minister (in Decima the Liberals were at 42% in Ontario). Translated into seats the Nanos numbers would actually mean a strong Liberal minority government. The real lesson though is that the poll numbers are fluid, and the coming election has many different potential outcomes.

For U.S. politics it is a key week with the Pennsylvania primary coming but the latest numbers suggest Hillary Clinton will fall well short of what she would need to have a realistic chance of overcoming Obama's lead.

The most interesting story of the week was the ABC News debate and the firestorm of controversy that erupted about the behaviour of its moderators. There is an excellent summary in today's column by Frank Rich in the New York Times:

I can’t remember a debate in which the only memorable moment was the audience’s heckling of a moderator. Then again, I can’t remember a debate that became such an instant national gag, earning reviews more appropriate to a slasher movie like “Prom Night” than a civic event held in Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center:

“Shoddy, despicable!” — The Washington Post

“A tawdry affair!” — The Boston Globe

“A televised train wreck!” — The Philadelphia Daily News

And those were the polite ones. Let’s not even go to the blogosphere.

Much of that debate was focused on the so-called "Bittergate affair". Rich is also good on that topic:

For all the racket about “Bittergate” — and breathless intimations of imminent poll swings and superdelegate stampedes — the earth did not move. The polls hardly budged, and superdelegates continued to migrate mainly in Mr. Obama’s direction.

Thus did another overhyped 2008 story line go embarrassingly bust, like such predecessors as the death of the John McCain campaign and the organizational and financial invincibility of the Clinton political machine against a rookie senator from Illinois. Not the least of the reasons that the Beltway has gotten so much wrong this year is that it believes that 2008 is still 1988. It sees the country in its own image — static — instead of as a dynamic society whose culture and demographics are changing by the day.

TC's view is that this continues to look like a big Democratic year. And Rich is right to think the media has the delusion that this is 1988.