Monday, June 18, 2012

It's No Sport

I’m a fan of MSNBC, mostly.

I don’t care for Chris Matthews. He seems to be happy only when he can point to Democrats not doing what he believes will be a winning strategy. I used to be a fan of Chuck Todd. The commercial the station is running right now has set me off Todd. “Politics is a sport,” he proclaims. It’s a sentiment that I think Matthews would echo.

But he recognizes, or whoever wrote the copy recognizes, that this is a bad metaphor. Therefore he immediately issues a disclaimer (a cognitive disclaimer) “but it’s a sport that could mean live or death . . . “ Something like that. In other words, it isn’t a sport at all, at least not sport as we allow sport in this country.

Politics is often treated as a sport by the chattering classes. They think it gives them a measure of objectivity – I’m not advocating for either side on this, but just reporting on who’s ahead. That is not objective reporting, neither is it fair and balanced. It’s easy reporting, leading to empty speculation about what campaign x or y must do to gain advantage.

Sometimes this is called the “horserace.” Reporting on the horserace is simply a matter of reading the polls and then watching for anything that might move the polling – such as a candidate who says “The private sector is fine . . .” Which, in the context of 27 months of continuous growth is a relatively accurate statement. Or wait for a candidate to say “I’m not worried about the poor, there’s a safety net . . .” Which, given the overall vision of the party isn’t a gaffe, but a vision of how we treat the poor. But those statements can move the needle on the polling meter, so there’s reason to play up the statements, out of context, as a way of gauging the horserace.

What this does is make for a cynical electorate (among those who are paying attention) or a disengaged electorate (those who’ve tried to pay attention, but don’t care for political box scores). What this does not do is give us the information (boring) that we need to make a basic decision.

Which economic plan will actually do what it claims to do?

Why should we, or should we not, extend some methods of becoming citizens to those who’ve come without documents?

Is there are way to increase revenue, or is the idea of taxing the most wealthy a fools dream, because the wealthy will just avoid paying the taxes?

And while we’re on it – what happened to Greece’s money, to Spain’s money, to Ireland’s money? These countries didn’t go bankrupt by paying benefits – otherwise they would have been bankrupt long ago. So what actually happened? Rachel Maddow had a story about this several months ago. Was she right that the same greedy bastards who crashed the U.S. economy also crashed Greece’s economy? Where did that money go? Who got rich while Greece got poor? Do we Americans have any culpability for this?

Those are the kinds of stories I want to hear about. They aren’t sport. They require a whole lot more legwork and reporting skills than covering the current political standoff as if it were a horserace or a baseball game or a boxing match.

Find a new metaphor, Chuck Todd! This one isn’t at all helpful.

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