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Substance Matters: Presidential Politics In The Age Of Gloss

Yesterday, Jay Rosen left a comment late in the presidential coverage and corporate interests thread that brought up a point that I wanted to amplify today.   From Jay:

I have [a] different name for what you described as “what it would be like to live in a well-functioning democracy full of concerned citizens who educate themselves instead of being led around like a bunch of idiotic sheep….” I’ve called it the “idea race,” as in who’s ahead in addressing the major issues that confront us as a nation and that will confront the next president?

Here’s what I wrote about it back in June. As far as I can tell it had zero effect; however the DLC did create an “ideas primary” blog, and that phrase made it into Time’s Swampland once.

This was my stab at a workable compromise with “who’s ahead?” The Idea Race— but with live rankings. Today ingenuity, leg work and good judgment are required to say who’s doing the best in meeting the test of presidential seriousness around the health care mess. (And who’s in second place.) Persistence is required to maintain and revise the grid as new information comes in….

In idea race coverage [you would] focus on what the candidates are doing, saying and suggesting about, say, poverty (rural and urban, domestic and global) regardless of whether they and their consultants plan to focus on it. Then you rank them 1-12 and explain how you did it in an FAQ. If the campaigns squawk there will be another ranking in a month. Keep improving the way you come up with the rankings and you got yourselves a little election-year franchise.

I still think the idea race could work as a pattern shifter for the mainstream press precisely because it is not a big departure but a marginal improvement in the old master narrative— an incremental fix, which may be all the legacy media can handle at the moment.

But the horse race goes on.

As I have said any number of times, going back to the original source material — original writings, Congressional record, testimonial records, and such — and comparing that record to both deeds and words is a great way to test the viability of political candidate rhetoric and mettle.

That the above clip from Charlie Savage stands out as a moment of media clarity for me from this year is telling of a lot of things, not the least of which why Charlie was so deserving of his reporting awards. The questions that Dan Froomkin has posed over and over again for media consideration are concise and substantive — and, I fear, will not be asked in this age of surface and glossy political pageantry.

Jamison Foser covers some of this glossy veneer at Media Matters, and it isn’t pretty.   Even though substantive discussion is precisely what all of us need — and what so many of us hunger for as we switch off our teevees and cast aside our papers in search of something more valuable — we aren’t getting it nearly enough. 

It is up to all of us to raise the important questions at the various town halls and public venues, and I’d love to hear how that is going in Iowa, in New Hampshire and beyond.  Who has a story they’d like to share?

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Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com