Thursday, September 30, 2004


The Cult of Personality

Does anyone care about "the issues" in a presidential race?

[Politics & Media]

Every presidential election year, our First Amendment watchdogs in the media and the punditry pay lip service to the great need to talk about "the issues." They decry negative campaigning and demand that the candidates "define their positions." But do they really care about the issues?

Let’s take the dean of all media outlets, The New York Times. This year they chastised Kerry several times in their editorial pages for his supposed vagueness on the issues. Then, you will recall, in early September they took a poll in which they asked voters if they would like to hear more from the candidates if they would to hear more from candidates about the issues. The poll respondents naturally said "yes." Let’s hold to one side the journalistic ethics of pushing a poll to support your own editorial page position. The fact is that The New York Times has only a very slight interest in reporting the candidates actual positions on "the issues." Instead, the typical Times story, rather than focusing on, say, the candidates’ respective views on issues affecting women – health care, AFDC, the appointment of pro-choice or anti-abortion judges – will run stories like "Kerry in a Struggle for a Democratic Base: Women" (NYT, 9/22/04)

For many election cycles now, the Times has been far more interested in opining on the campaigns’ strategy rather than the issues themselves. Lesser media outlets are even less interested in "the issues" than the Times.

It’s much, much worse in blog land. Althouse writes, in a 9/27 post called "What we’re not talking about,"

It's been a strange election season. Though it's gone on way too long, a huge
amount of energy has been wasted on matters unrelated to the next four years,
chiefly the sickly obsession with Vietnam. The talk about Vietnam perhaps
occupies the space that would otherwise be devoted to more general blather about

Though there’s nothing "strange" about it – it’s completely typical of election seasons to get distracted about issues regarding the personality of presidential candidates – I couldn’t agree more. The focus on the Vietnam records of the candidates did indeed filling the same space as other character blather.

So what issues are the Kerry-hating bloggers talking about these days?

Why "Kerry’s New Tan," of course. See, for example, Drudge report ("Kerry on Orange Alert"), Always Right ("Kerry Getting Ready for Halloween") and even Althouse ("Going Orange for the Debate") .

More talk about "issues" after the debate. Let’s see if anyone in the entire media talks about actual policy differences between the two candidates. My guess is the focus will be on the deep and revealing question, "who won?"

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