Today’s Courier Herald Column:
There are five weeks remaining in this election cycle. That seems like a relatively small amount of time, given the length of our campaigns – now an almost permanent fixture on our cable infotainment channels. The election stands relatively close at this point, with the President having the usual advantage of incumbency. It’s looking more and more likely that there will be no change in the leadership of the U.S. House or Senate.
We’re now solidly in the area where undecided voters begin to make up their mind. As such, it should be a time when real issues are discussed. Contrasts must be made. Solutions should be on the table. Instead…more infotainment.
Political coverage since the convention has been largely lacking in substance. We’re rapidly approaching the point where most cable news programs need to be considered semi-scripted reality television programs. There was a time when people openly debated whether or not professional wrestling was real. Too often now there are times when what passes for punditry makes the WWE look authentic.
From the right, we have circular firing squads where talking heads and print writers are arguing over who is trying to carry Mitt Romney over the finish line versus who is trying to save their own skin. A blistering exchange occurred this week between Matt Lewis of The Daily Caller and syndicated columnist Michele Malkin over Lewis’ assertion that a Malkin and others were participating in acts that were a schtick.
Too many on the conservative side are trying to secure their seat at the right hand of Mitt Romney or distance themselves to be able to soon say “I told you so”. Not enough are helping to frame the issues that will matter to undecided voters over the next five weeks.
From those on the left, we do not have enough intellectual curiosity. We have a situation in Libya that appears to have been a planned terrorist attack, an official explanation that appears to be fabricated, the public scapegoating of a filmmaker that increasingly looks unrelated to the incident, and the left spent the week mostly talking about…replacement refs for the NFL. I cannot recall in my lifetime watching such a feckless press corps complicity whistle past a graveyard.
The net sum of the two weeks says a lot about where these campaigns are going into the home stretch. The President is currently winning, despite hopes on the right that the polls are closer than they appear. The media that backs the President are confident and on message. Those that back Romney are fighting among themselves.
The loser in this isn’t as much Romney as it is us. When the pundit class of press spends the week either naval gazing or ignoring significant world events, issues are not being framed and solutions are not being discussed.
Between the election and inauguration day, issues that have gone unsolved will be addressed. Presumably, one party or the other will be expecting a mandate from this election. The extension of income and payroll tax cuts (or not), military spending sequestration, an extension of the farm bill, and an increase in the debt ceiling all will be on Congress’ desk when they return in mid-November. Should this election remain with the status quo, exactly what message does that send to Congress on these stop gap measures, much less how to plan for permanent fixes to the economy?
Furthermore, events this week in foreign policy from the Middle East and from the U.N. have highlighted that it’s not just the economy, no matter how many times “stupid” is added to that phrase. Our direct involvement in the Middle East is likely not nearing an end, but about to enter a brand new chapter. Our country needs a serious and direct conversation about who our allies are, what our interests are, and what we are committed to do to support them. It’s neither an easy or pleasant discussion, but one that deserves the seriousness of debate.
And it is in the debates, four over the next four weeks, that perhaps, just perhaps, we can finally get serious dialogue going over where we really want to move this country. Thus far we’ve lacked substance from both sides. We all should demand better.