Howard Kurtz considers how the press looks at the “midterm election.” Hmmm…there’s a curious term that accentuates, perhaps artificially so, the importance of the executive branch over the legislative branch. Kurtz first considers the simplistic dichotomy created by asking if Bush will be “the issue” in the 2002 election: Bush the commander-in-chief or Bush the leader of a sagging economy? Note how these images follow party lines and party strategy. Then Kurtz says:
“Journalists, of course, love to reduce midterm elections to a simple, sound-bite theme. We love the idea of a presidential referendum, even though we don’t have a parliamentary system.”
Politics, more often than not, is profoundly local. Yes, one image of Bush or another could play an important role in some Senate and House races. It is far more likely, however, that local issues will decide most of the races. Humans are meaning-making animals; journalists will make meaning from the outcome. Because the president is the focal point of national politics, what meaning journalists make will create a referendum on the president’s performance where none exists in fact by institutional structure, i.e. a parliamentary system. This act of creation means that the 2002 election is indeed a referendum if citizens come to think of it that way.
UPDATE: Check out this AP article that says the 2002 election is a referendum on Bush. The writer claims that:
“Bush has been more active than most presidents in the midterm election cycle. He has personally recruited candidates, raised millions of dollars and traveled to dozens of states in an effort to help the GOP take control of the Senate and keep a narrow majority in the House.”
Too bad the writer does not quantify this claim using specific comparisions with Clinton, Bush Sr., and Reagan. Perhaps it’s true. But, as stated, this is an assertion of self-evident truth.