Thursday, March 27, 2008

Let's focus on the issues

Barack Obama delivered a major speech on economic policy this morning. (I understand Senator Clinton also spoke this morning, but I was otherwise occupied at the time and can't speak to that here. The same analysis may well apply--this is not an anti-Hillary posting).

As is typical, the various cable news networks hyped and hyperventilated in advance of the speech, which they assured us they would cover live--stay tuned, coming soon, coming up any moment. When Obama arrived, both CNN and MSNBC were there live. (I'm told there may be a third cable network as well, but I'm fairly unbalanced on that topic.) Obama embarked on another of his efforts to talk to his Cooper Union (scene of one of Lincoln's famous speeches) audience as if they were serious and thoughtful adults, invoking Hamilton and Jefferson and debates about the proper role of government in regulating the economy and promoting the common prosperity in the early Republic. He wove together an intricate tapestry, recognizing the importance both of market incentives and of an intelligently guided, visible hand of government in promoting fair competition, transparency, and public trust. He recognized the limits of New Deal-era regulatory approaches in keeping up with a dynamic and globalizing economy and the complex instruments of contemporary finance and capital markets. Having established these themes, he began to move to the specifics...and CNN cut away. Switch to MSNBC (I may have these reversed). Another moment of speech, then another cutaway. To what? A bunch of dimwits, blathering on with insipid commentary, doubting that anything much new had been said, with an inaudible half screen of Obama moving his lips as the dolts continued their voice-overs.
These are, of course, what pass for our main sources of live information--the self-proclaimed best political teams, blah blah. The ones that devote interminable periods to highly self-important but transient and largely content- free nonsense on the horse-race and decontextualized clips from sensationalistic utterings of tertiary campaign figures. One of these networks, indeed, cut way from Obama's live speech on the American economic mess to show us--yes, can it be--yet another in the endless looping replays from the Rev. Wright's collected wit and wisdom. Unbelievable.

It has become fashionable, in these days of cant and mudslinging, to urge that candidates debate the issues. To be honest, I haven't discerned enormous differences on the wonky policy details between Obama and Clinton, and what differences there are cut in opposing directions, at least by my lights. There are differences in personality aplenty, in governing style, in political character (and I'm not referring here to sexual habits). Different Americans will reach differing conclusions on whom they would prefer to listen to over the coming four or eight years.

There has been little enough serious, substantive discussion of many of the difficult, and politically fraught and potentially perilous issues facing our nation and the world--in this campaign or in the several previous ones. Those who have chosen to address some of these issues--folks like Dennis Kucinich and Ralph Nader, for example--have been on the margins (I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader to assess the direction of causality in that relationship).

On those rare occasions when mainstream politicians do venture into serious discussions of real issues--as Obama (and perhaps Clinton) did today, it is a scandal that the so-called news networks cut away for drivel and pap. We as the public generally get what we deserve. It is time we demand better from our journalists, and express our dismay when we do not get it.

I'll try to drown today's sorrows in a repeat of the Daily Show, which is perhaps unique in making this point, day after day. Bravo, Jon Stewart!

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