Thursday, December 06, 2007

Dumb politics

By now, it should be obvious to anyone with more than a passing interest in politics that the 2008 presidential horserace is comprised of a field of mostly mediocre and a few arguably, awful candidates. This may explain why much of the reporting coming from the mainstream has focused ostensibly on the horserace itself, rather than the issues. Or, maybe it doesn’t.

For anyone wanting in depth coverage that adheres to some traditional standards of journalism (if any still exist), there are a few places, mostly online, where the emphasis is placed on the side of journalism, rather than entertainment, in covering the candidates. Jay Rosen’s (What Are Journalist’s For?) project, Off the Bus, is one example. There are others.

Rosen characterizes the site as, “open platform campaign journalism,” and in fact, eschews taking a “horserace approach” to the coverage of the candidates.

There’s been an ongoing debate/concern about the role of television and how it has changed politics and campaigns. The late Neil Postman and others have argued that television, which emphasizes image, rather than substance, renders today’s politics more about selling a candidate, using emotion and evocative props and less about carefully crafted position papers. Of course, this is nothing new and was carefully detailed in Joe McGinnis’ book, The Selling of the President, about Richard Nixon’s 1968 campaign. Forty years later, things have only gotten worse.

It seems like new technology and gadgets get trotted out every four years. While it makes the media go “ga-ga,” rarely, if ever does it give voters a better sense of what the candidates stand for. Inevitably, it narrows discourse, which at this point, doesn’t seem like it could constrict any further, given the five-second sound bites that are the rage.

An example of new methods and technology would be the YouTube factor and specifically the recent YouTube/CNN debate. I ran across this letter to the editor in the Washington Post highlighting the issue and the writer closely captured my own sentiments about videos from snowmen and pro-gun questioners, “locking and loading” for effect.

Dumber and Dumber Discourse
Friday, November 30, 2007/The Washington Post

The dumbing-down of America continues, judging by the latest Republican presidential debate, presented by CNN/YouTube.

Candidates who surely have better things to do than to waste their time with trivia and nonsense fielded questions not from a knowledgeable, distinguished panel of journalists but from ill-dressed, offbeat, humor-focused "everyday" Americans who asked such "probing" questions as what type of guns the candidates own, whether they believe every word of the Bible and why Rudolph W. Giuliani rooted for the Boston Red Sox.

Although some of the questions were interesting, valuable and posed cleverly, many were pure fluff.

It is regrettable that the political process has degenerated not only into a perpetual cycle that is bound to disgust most people but into one that demeans and degrades the process and is an insult to the intelligent voter.

If YouTube and its "stars" are now to dominate the process, the process will have collapsed into slop.

Owen M. Spiegler
Upper St. Clair, PA

Speaking of technology, many of the candidates, at least on the Republican side, seem lost when it comes to discussing this subject. The Washington Post’s Garret M. Graff, had an article in Sunday’s Washing Post titled, “Don’t Know Their YouTube FromTheir Yahoo.”

The article highlighted the glaring deficiencies of Republican presidential hopefuls, when it came to understanding technology. Apparently, as we tunnel deeper into our technological bunker, our political candidates, all falling within a demographic, which tends to have phobias towards technology, are being left behind. Mitt Romney, who hails himself as “America’s leader” at every paid opportunity and who has a high-tech background (at least compared to other candidates), didn’t know the difference between YouTube (the fourth most popular site in the world) and MySpace (which is #6). Do you want this man making decisions at the presidential level?

In the rapidly changing world of the 21st century, which relies upon instant communication and whose economy is based upon technology, to have presidential candidates this ignorant of something as ubiquitous as technology is quite telling about where we are at, politically.

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