Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Mainstream Reporting On The Dean Campaign - Where's The Beef?

Andrew Cline, who has an excellent blog, Rhetorica Network, focusing on rhetoric and politics, asks how voters are supposed to make up their mind who the best candidate is...on the substance and issues, and not insider political perceptions, which seem to be the obsession of the media.
"I cannot find a single sentence in this long article that is politically useful for voters, i.e. any statement that helps voters make a political choice based on civic concerns. This article represents what political coverage has become: entertainment. The job, then, of a political reporter is to chronicle the inside action of a campaign for the entertainment of readers who watch politics as a sport.

For example, [Washington Post reporter] Balz writes:
The questions surrounding Dean's candidacy include his experience and temperament, whether he has political appeal beyond the core of party activists, whether he can win votes in the South, his ability to handle tough scrutiny and whether he can bring together Democrats after what is turning into a tough battle with his rivals.

If we're talking political coverage as entertainment, this outlines the central narrative of the Dean campaign as political insiders see it, or as political insiders want the public to see it. But notice that with the exception of questions about Dean's experience, none of these insider questions are politically useful. What does Dean's ability to win votes in the South have to do with the cost of health care, problems in education, security at home and abroad, or the environment?

Exactly what information are voters using to make up their minds?

Lester: Well, Edna, who ya gonna vote fer in the primary?
Edna: Well, I 'spect I'll be votin' fer Howard Dean.
Lester: How come?
Edna: 'Cuz the newspaper sez he appeals to core party activists.
Lester: Uh-huh.

I'm sure Lester and Edna find it difficult to participate in politics when it is portrayed as so far removed from their lives. The rhetoric of political journalism tells them that their role is spectator, not participant.

What if it were the job of a reporter to report on political experience, past performance (i.e. governance), issues of character, and (especially!) specifics of proposed policies? What if it were the job of a political reporter to be aware of voters' concerns and put such questions to candidates so that these concerns are addressed?"

I'm wondering the same thing. But the obsession with Dean's "electability", independent of the issues, seems to be the going "entertainment".