Too weird for words…

Without properly criticizing the practice, Howard Kurtz considers the psychoanalyzing that passes for some political reporting. He even tacitly validates it by quoting University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato who says: “Anyone who is going to run for president has to be weird.”

The journalistic goal, as Kurtz characterizes it, is to ask the question: “Who is this guy who thinks he’s good enough to lead the country”?

Who indeed. The “who” here is complicated. It is the person, but how shall we define that? Personality? Goals? Desires? The “who” is also the policies and the history of actions and words. All of these and more combine to create a person. I would think something more complicated should combine to make an answer Kurtz’ question.

Journalism–especially its doppelganger on TV–feeds on human drama. All the detritus that makes up a candidate’s personal history becomes plot in the very human drama of running for office.

I think that offers us a glimpse why Professor Sabato’s flip remark (my assumption based on a lack of context) is unwarranted. We are creatures of drama (re: Kenneth Burke) and desires. There’s nothing weird about the desire to lead or to hold power. There’s nothing weird about the very real desire to serve.

There is, however, something quite weird about the assumption that service is always the secondary or illusory desire–the assumption at the base of much political reporting. It is this assumption, combined with the structural biases of journalism, that cause some reporters to care more about digging up personal dirt–the weird product of pop-psycho-journalism–than digging into the complications of policy and governance.