Fulcrum Ruminations

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Smokescreen

The Sunday talk shows today were all abuzz with the apparent dead heat between the campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. At the moment, I'm still thinking Obama is going to take the nomination and the general election in November, but let's put that aside for now.


Interspersed throughout the commentary from various analysts and talking heads regarding what the Democrats are going to do to sort out their primary season before the convention, or indeed if they even can sort it out and avoid a convention battle, the name of John McCain was mentioned once or twice. The Republicans have of course already settled pretty conclusively on their nominee, and so the close match on the Democrat side is drawing all the press, since that's where the story is. One commentator even mentioned as a passing joke something along the lines of "Remember McCain? You know, the Republican candidate?"


And that's the point. Since there is such a close race between Clinton and Obama, and since there is so much fascinating stuff happening in that contest with the outcome not decided (and looking like it won't be decided until the convention), the Democrats are by default getting a huge share of media attention this year. Now, this could be a problem, but to be fair the story on the Democrat side is much more intriguing than on the Republican side. We've got the first serious woman candidate for President, and the first serious black candidate for the same office. Turnout in the primaries and caucuses so far has reportedly been extremely heavy. The Republicans are running their ten trillionth variant of "old white guy" for office, so even if McCain is a solid choice, he's - let's face it - boring. He's not really news, at least not at this point.


The question in my mind is whether this situation is serving the greater public interest. Is the intense interest in the contest on the Democratic side generating extra "push" among voters to go that direction come November? In other words, is the simple fact that the battle between Clinton and Obama is both amazingly historical and intensely interesting tilting the national playing field towards the Democrats in general?


Or is this simply an artifact of the mainstream press and its well-known bias towards the Left? The chattering class and its various offshoots are, in general, much more likely to vote Democratic than Republican, and so naturally lean towards talking about the Democratic race more than the Republican one. Eight years of George Bush following eight years of Bill Clinton seems to have drastically polarized the country, due not in small measure to the emergence of twenty-four-hour cable news, talk radio, and the blogosphere during that same sixteen-year period. True? The possibility that this is not actually the case, and is a smokescreen unconsciously thrown up by the patterns of the media elites, seems real to me. The media no longer just report the news, in many cases they make the news, and if they bend to the left, the reporting will follow. Things that are barely visible in "flyover country" assume an aspect of huge importance in the media because the media is driven by a small group of interrelated interests who mostly share some common political biases.


American news coverage seems to have fallen into a subtle trap. The elites are concentrated on the coasts and in a couple of other (mostly urban) areas. In this self-created echo chamber, they constantly hear their own beliefs and opinions reinforced by those around them, leading to the conclusion that that's how everyone must feel. The "silent majority" in that dismissed-with-a-wave "flyover country" are viewed as misinformed at best and dangerously naive at worst, and also thought to be a much smaller percentage of the population than they actually are.


I don't know where the truth falls in all this. Media coverage of the Democratic race is heavy because the Democratic race is heavily interesting this time. But the biases of the press are known, documented, and actually rather obvious. Will this impact the general election in the fall? Is "media momentum" going to translate into votes? I don't even know if this can be teased out of the tremendous mass of statistical data generated by all the polling associated with an election. Especially if no-one is looking for it.


I do know that voting is still the single most important responsibility we bear as citizens. So whatever your beliefs, whoever your candidate, make sure to exercise that responsibility, gentle reader. Find the fulcrum on which your personal choice tilts and make your decision.

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