The Perfect Soundbite of Analysis for Last Night’s Debate, Which Of Course Went Unsaid   1 comment

Over the course of these four recent debates, the scope of the failure of the national media to adequately inform the public cannot possibly be conveyed in a blog post or magazine article.  (Maybe the only way to do it would be through an epic poem, recited over a fortnight by campfire, in a remote and dangerous piece of wilderness).  But tracing a specific example of mediocrity on its route to the Sea of Failure would be instructive, I think.

Trying to gauge a future administration’s performance based on Presidential debates is a mug’s game, especially on foreign policy.  Statements in debates are spun by a limited public attention span and lack of accountability mechanisms into the thinnest gossamer anyway, and the event-driven reactive nature of foreign policy means that the fluid terrain in which a president has to conduct the nation’s affairs makes pinning a campaign statement or two on one a strained exercise.

. . . You would expect media folk to understand that, right?  And not peddle obfuscatory bullshit that ignores the above and treats each new campaign turn as the candidate assuming her true form?  You’d be wrong, right, Joe Scarborough?

The former Massachusetts governor’s tone was nearly perfect and he abandoned the hard neoconservative line that had concerned more traditional conservatives like myself. Call it flip flopping if you like. I actually believe that realist approach fits Romney better and will be his governing philosophy if he ever becomes commander-in-chief. It’s hard to imagine a man so driven by data being swept up in a Wilsonian worldview. Unlike George W. Bush, I seriously doubt President Romney would promise the end of tyranny across the globe anymore than he would vow to stop the rising of the oceans.

Funny that he would invoke Dubya.

(Here’s three more minutes of him making various campaign and debate statements which do not exactly indicate a plan to, for example, eradicate Iraqi society)

And it’s not as if events beyond his control forced Bush into invading Mesopotamia.  His foreign policy team made that a deliberate goal; within a day of the towers going down Rumsfeld was drawing up plans to amass troops on the Kuwaiti border.

Even though foreign policy is the area in which advisors have the most influence and a vote for a candidate is most truly a vote for that candidate’s team, this analysis works well for domestic policy areas too.  Candidate Obama’s ’08 advisors were Tim Geithner, Larry Summers, and other charter members of the fat cat banister gang, and any hope that the concerns of main street would not be trampled by those of wall street was an audacious one indeed.  Bush’s environmental advisors in 2000 were oil men (and a prominent oil woman).

The advisors don’t lie.  Well, they do.  You know what I mean.

GIVEN THESE broad facts about how the US system works, and the recent history which is remarkably on point about this stuff, the obvious thing to look at are candidates’ campaign advisors and probable appointees to a future administration.  Even a president with a black belt in bureaucratic in-fighting is only one person and will rely on staff to shape most of an administration’s policy; and if she isn’t, if she’s a neophyte with no real views or experience in managing a foreign policy team, that wider group will have even more power.

So, Mitt Romney’s campaign advisors and future administration staff: cool-headed moderates with reputations for calm and reasoned analysis?  Oh Charlie Pierce, take me away:

And nowhere in his campaign was Romney firmer in his resolve than he was to a modernized version of the neoconservative agenda that so thrilled the world under the leadership of C-Plus Augustus. A full 17 of his 25 primary foreign-policy advisers had been deckhands on that particular plague ship, Sailing Master Bolton chief among them.

(If you like reading political analysis and you’re not reading Pierce, ur doin it wrong, as the kids say).  Seventeen out of twenty-five is sixty-eight percent, in case you’re playing along at home.

The Bolton referred to is John, the mustached terror whose career before being a Bush caporegime spans hiding documents during the Iran-Contra scandal to helping form the Project for a New American Century, a think tank formed in the ’90s with the purpose of encouraging regime change in Iraq.

Other highlights of the Bush-Romney murderers row include the architect of Bush’s torture regime, Cofer Black; the original warrantless wiretapper, Michael Hayden; and Dan Senor, who’s just an all-around dick.

GIVEN THAT a Romney administration will have more foreign policy advisors from Bush’s first term than Bush’s second term did, and as a result his foreign policy will likely look very different than the screen he threw up in the last debate, and while this is a fairly easy piece of analysis to make it’s also fairly powerful: is there a single reason on Oprah’s green earth that national media outlets wouldn’t include this in their post-debate analysis?  Isn’t this the bare minimum of due diligence to perform when a candidate flips from the flops he’s already flipped on once and is now embracing a foreign policy framework he’s literally never articulated before?

You’d think so.  And yet,

Did NBC talk about it? No.
PBS? No.
ABC? No.
CNN? No.

Worse, there was more white-washing than a Tom Sawyer punishment:

Mark Shields, PBS: “”There’s nothing neocon about [Romney], he’s not talking about going to war.”

David Gergen, CNN: “By coming at Obama occasionally from his left, he avoided that trap of being painted as the war-monger.”

Alex Castellanos, CNN: “Mitt Romney was making change safe, being a reasonable Republican.”

George F. Will, ABC: “Both candidates understand that the foreign policy most Americans want involve far fewer troops overseas. . . Tonight we saw two men who don’t really disagree all that much.”

Christiane Amanpour, ABC: “On all the huge issues, there doesn’t seem to be a difference.”

Jonathan Karl, ABC: “There was a little George McGovern coming out of Romney tonight that I recognized from my time covering him way back when.”

On and on and on.

SO EVEN IN THIS BASIC INSTANCE, the national media proves its incompetence.  There is the clearest contrast there could possibly be between a candidate’s statements and his probable actions.  It’s expressible in a soundbite, and it’s easy to understand: “Romney’s words tonight do not match up with the foreign policy team he will install as President, and so does not match up with what his foreign policy would look like.”  It’s in the public’s interest to know.  Desperately so.

And yet: not just silence, which is bad enough.  White-washed obfuscation.  So it goes.

There are signs that the long arc of media political coverage is bending towards being barely acceptable.  Romney’s most recent turnaround in his worldview was at least marked as such.  Perhaps with a few more election cycles, and ever increasing consumption of non-traditional media, media coverage of politics will no longer read as if written by sociopaths.  But before then, it’s pretty bleak out there, and about the best we can do is to gather around small circles of light and tell ourselves they’ll outlast the immense gloom that surrounds them.

Posted October 23, 2012 by Ben in Uncategorized

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One response to “The Perfect Soundbite of Analysis for Last Night’s Debate, Which Of Course Went Unsaid

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  1. Pingback: Partial Admission of Centrist Media Sins of Omission and Commission « The Ann Arbor Review of Books

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