Political Commentators and the Background Scenery in the Flintstones
There are some very good political commentators. Listen to them analyze elections and candidates and you know they understand how it all works. But somehow that doesn't prevent some serious flaws in the overall coverage of politics and government.
One of the biggest weaknesses is the tendency to report regular cyclical trends as if they are new. It’s sort of like being surprised that it’s hotter and lighter at noon than it was at midnight. If every president starts out popular and gets less so as he fights for his legislative agenda, should we still regularly produce the analysis depicting a presidency in decline? If Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and Bush all generated high levels of partisan backlash, isn't that worth mentioning when discussing the angry opposition to Barack Obama? If the modern primary process always creates some hard feelings among the supporters of the losing candidates, and those voters almost always rally to the cause of their party in November, should we still act like it might not happen?
I’m not suggesting the press stop reporting on the ups and downs of a presidency, or the intra-partisan divisions after the primary process, but it’s a story that should be told firmly in the context of historical trends. Some reporters note this in passing, and the good ones stress it, but many of the stories still read like we haven’t seen the same narrative play out the same way over and over again. I know that Sunday talk show commentators can’t make a living by draining the drama out of events, but we should at least cut down on the breathless analysis of predictable trends. Hint: If President Obama is re-elected you will hear how his administration is losing energy in Year Seven. If Mitt Romney is wins, you will hear complaints from Congressional Republicans about his working relationship with The Hill.
Of course, there are lots of unknowns in politics that aren't foretold by regular trends: Senator Obama beats Senator Clinton, McCain’s 2008 campaign comes back from the dead to win the nomination, Bill Clinton isn't toppled by Gennifer Flowers. No one would have bet the mortgage on any of that. The same is true of the debate this week -- will Romney be like John Kerry, who on all the debates but lost the election, or is it a genuine new opening for him? But a lot of news is not as newsworthy as it's made out to be. Like watching Fred or Wilma run, it's a background we've seen before.
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