Each time I think of climbing out of the swamp of shrillness and putting the Economist back on my must-read list, Paul Krugman pulls me back in:
How will the campaign be covered?: The Democratic nomination fight has been hog heaven for the celebrity-journalism style of campaign reporting: with two candidates not too different on the issues (despite the health care divide), plus a special dispensation (under the Clinton rules) to invent scandals when needed, it was all personalities — make that all personas, because the way politicians are portrayed generally has little or nothing to do with what they’re really like.... But now the general election begins, and there are stark differences.... I’m not optimistic. After all, 8 years ago the press managed to portray an election in which there were large policy differences as one in which nothing much was at stake. Here’s a sample from the time, [Susan Page of USA Today]:
George W. Bush and Al Gore have been campaigning for months, spotlighting the differences they offer voters. But when it comes to the policies they believe will keep Americans employed and the nation prosperous, they could just as well be running on the same ticket.... "This election reminds me of the elections in the late 19th century when nobody remembers who those candidates were and who those presidents were, when the parties looked more alike than they were different," says presidential historian Robert Dallek, author of Hail to the Chief: The Making and Unmaking of American Presidents. "Of course, it’s vastly different given the kind of global involvements the United States has and the enormous power of this country. But for all that, there are echoes of that time."
Part of this came from a remarkable willingness of pundits to dismiss the obviously irresponsible parts of Bush’s plan as stuff that he wouldn’t really do. Thus the Economist, in endorsing Bush , said this:
Mr Bush’s proposal of a huge tax cut might look reckless (which it is), but either voters are happy with recklessness that gives them their money back, or they don’t take seriously a plan that could be changed as quickly as the White House curtains.
Heh-heh: never mind those crazy policy proposals, he doesn’t really mean it.
So what will be the playbook this year? Will we really have a discussion of health care, the budget, and other substantive stuff?
I have to use all my willpower to keep myself from publicly calling for the immediate transfer of Robert Dallek, Susan Page, and the entire staff of the Economist to new jobs in cosmetics research, replacing animal subjects in testing labs...