November 25, 2002

Jourama or dramalism…

MSNBC, having no real news to report about Iraq, will simply make it up tonight at 10:00 p.m. ET. While they sell “Wargame: IRAQ” as an insider’s look at decision making, in reality this is simply drama, i.e. entertainment. (via Oliver Willis)

November 25, 2002

The medium is the message…

David Shaw interviews former San Jose Mercury News Publisher Jay Harris who is among the legion of journalists wringing their hands over the state of our democracy and the media’s role in its impending demise. Such hand-wringing is a necessary critical function in journalism today. So, for the most part, I applaud such efforts.

My consternation, however, is with the failure of many hand-wringers to distinguish the roles of newspapers, television, radio, and the internet in our current political environment. Too often it seems such critics treat these media as equal–all just a part of this thing we call the news media. I would remind the hand-wringers to revisit McLuhan and Postman. A medium is not just a conduit for information; it is also a separate way of thinking about the world, e.g. the world looks like a far different place through the medium of print versus the medium of television. Another way to say it: We experience the world in very different ways through print, television, and radio. And the internet? We don’t know enough about it yet, although I am very encouraged by the possibilities it may provide for invigorating democratic participation. For another take on the Harris’ interview, check out MediaMinded (always a great read).

November 25, 2002

Politics is a family affair…

Ronald Brownstein says Al Gore’s new books about the family are not like other political books written by prospective candidates. He writes:

Both camps might agree that this is unlike any book ever written by anyone thinking about running for president. It’s not a memoir; it’s not a call to arms; it’s not even much of a policy blueprint on issues affecting families. Gore had plenty of recommendations on that front from his 2000 campaign, but he passes over them lightly here.

Instead, the book is a combination of big-picture sociology on the changing economic and social role of family over time, and miniaturist portraits of 13 contemporary families diverse enough to form their own rainbow coalition. Along the way, the Gores offer tips for parents either from their own experience, or their take on the work of experts in the field. Large chunks might have been written by a friendlier Dr. Phil.

Still, in an era when political allegiance is so heavily driven by cultural attitudes, the book inevitably advances an underlying view of the social changes remaking American family life. And it’s a view likely to drive social conservatives nuts.

It’s far too early to tell, but I suggest that Gore may have hit upon exactly the right strategy for gaining the White House–if not in 2004 then, perhaps, in 2008. And, barring that, he may have hit upon a way to advance more liberal attitudes about government and society. I say this based I my belief that George Lakoff is essentially correct in his contention that much of “moral reasoning is metaphorical reasoning.” In regard to politics he states:

Deeply embedded in conservative and liberal politics are different models of the family…These two models…give rise to different moral systems and different discourse forms, that is, different choices of words and different modes of reasoning. 1

Lakoff further contends that liberals and conservatives apply their different metaphors of the family to politics and political experience. If the American family is moving rapidly away from the old Ozzie & Harriet model (if it were ever thus), then it’s quite possible Gore is tapping into a powerful political undercurrent that is waiting to break through into the national consciousness.

Again, it’s far to early to tell. And it is quite possible that any changes in political thought or shifts in political advantage that may occur because of the these books (and the media attention) may never accrue to Gore. I would say, however, that culture watchers should pay careful attention to these books and the public’s reaction to them.

1 Lakoff, George. Moral Politics. 2nd ed. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2002.

November 25, 2002

Workin’ it…

Gov. Howard Dean seems to be media savvy–that according to this profile by Howard Kurtz. Other recent coverage of Dean includes profiles in the Boston Globe and Rutland Herald. (via PoliticalWire)

November 25, 2002

The McCain bandwagon…

Sen. John Kerry says that he’ll run his presidential campaign in a fashion similar to John McCain’s, who you will recall lost his bid for the nomination. While I think there is much to be gained by crafting a so-called straight-talk campaign, I fail to see what Kerry gains by crediting his strategy to McCain before he’s even declared his candidacy.

November 25, 2002

Strident voices…

One person’s blow-hard is another’s cogent commentator. Howard Kurtz considers the popularity of NYT columnist and Princeton professor Paul Krugman.

November 25, 2002

Edwards’ education address…

My analysis of John Edwards’ education address, delivered last week, is now available on Presidential Campaign Rhetoric 2004. Be sure to check out the analyses of speeches by other prospective candidates and President Bush.

November 24, 2002

Return to civility will be long coming…

Mark Q. Rhoads believes American politics needs a rebirth of civility–the sort we experienced during the mid 20th century. I agree. One problem is that this apparent golden age of civility pre-dated television. The medium of TV demands drama and conflict of a sort that is at odds with civility.

November 22, 2002

Modern campaign reality…

Al Gore says that, if he runs for President in ’04, he’ll run a different kind of campaign–unscripted and “from the heart.” What this means is: He’ll run a campaign that’s scripted to appear to be unscripted and “from the heart.” From the New York Times article:

To hear Al Gore describe it, if he runs for president in 2004, it will be unlike the way any major candidate has ever run for the White House. He will speak from the heart rather than from a briefing book, leaving behind trappings like consultants, cookie-cutter rallies and the routine vetting of every speech with a pollster before taking it to the voters.

“I think there is virtue in just taking an unvarnished position as to what the best solution might be, and let the chips fall where they may,” Mr. Gore said in an interview here.

That would be a difficult task for any candidate in these days of precision polling and armies of focus groups.

Difficult task? (Rhetoricians call this litotes.) This is just plain impossible. I feel safe in asserting that no modern candidate can win the presidency without a well-scripted campaign designed to take advantage of the structural biases of the news media and modern polling. To believe otherwise is to misunderstand how campaigning works in the age of television. Gore knows this. What is he thinking?

November 22, 2002

The third way…

In politics, you can’t lead (govern) if you don’t win. That axiom is rather more complicated than it appears because “winning” doesn’t necessarily mean just winning elective office. A third party can win by making another party lose if that suits its goals. This is the situation that Howard Kurtz considers today. But I find his attitude troubling:

To the uninitiated, libertarians are just faux Repubs, another branch of the feuding conservative family. But that fails to capture the leave-me-alone, pox-on-both-houses ethos of those who flock to the libertarian banner.

Such a characterization fails in many more ways, too. For example, it’s snarky simplicity is unworthy of serious consideration. But this is a typical establishment attitude. It appears we may have entered an era of tight elections in which winning, for the establishment parties, means employing a strategy of discrediting third parties. Kurtz is helping that effort.

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