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November 25, 2007

No Excuses

Posted in: 2008 Election,Media

noexcuses.jpgEmptywheel dissects the excuse-o-rama that is Mark Halperin this morning:

Mark Halperin has a hysterical op-ed in the NYT today, designed to be a mea culpa for the failures of presidential campaign journalism. Halperin reveals the reason behind the press corps’ obsession with horse race politics–they all read Ben Cramer’s What It Takes–and then admits that success in a political horse race does not necessarily equip someone to run the country.

For most of my time covering presidential elections, I shared the view that there was a direct correlation between the skills needed to be a great candidate and a great president. The chaotic and demanding requirements of running for president, I felt, were a perfect test for the toughest job in the world.

But now I think I was wrong. The “campaigner equals leader” formula that inspired me and so many others in the news media is flawed.

Wow, Mark, that’s one doozy of an insight. You mean all this horse race campaign journalism is counter-productive to choosing a good president? Who could have imagined that?!?!?!…

See where I’m going with this? Halperin claims that a guy who presided over tremendous economic growth, some innovative policy solutions (many of which I dislike, but admire for their pragmatism), and real success in foreign policy, had a failed presidency. He claims that a guy whose approval ratings stayed high during a trumped up impeachment “ran into trouble.” Halperin clings to the Village’s caricature of the Clinton presidency all so he can claim both Clinton and Bush failed. And in the process, he ignores a great deal of hard work and policy wonkiness that, in fact, made Clinton a successful president. Precisely the kind of characteristics you’d want good presidential journalism to cover–a candidate’s comfort with the complexity of policy issues that translates into competent governance.

You see, Halperin tries hard to explain away his failures of judgment and discernment as failures of process. But in the process, he only emphasizes those failures of judgment. If Halperin really believes that Clinton and Bush experienced the same level of failure in office; if he remains ignorant of Clinton’s considerable discipline (in all matters not involving his penis) and hard work and policy acumen, then he has proved his own failures of basic observation, not a failure to cover the right topics….

I especially like the part where Halperin discusses George Bush’s problems as his reality not living up to his sales pitch on the campaign trail.  Well….duh…his campaign trail persona was a facade wholly fabricated out of the minds of Rove, Hughes and Allbaugh, designed to sell the American public on a fantasy of their making — but anyone who looked at the reality of Bush’s prior actions knew it was all fluff.  Where was Halperin and the rest of the Village on that little nest of reality?

Isn’t it high time we all walked away from the 8th grade class president popularity contest model of analysis? Honestly, the world is a dangerous place, and we should be treating the evaluation of presidential candidates as something more than whose personality is more chummy in their faux public put-on persona. But hey, who could have ever predicted that substance and issues and things that matter in the real world would be more important than fluff. Oh, wait…

Here’s a thought:  if the “wise elders of the Village” see a problem in what they are doing, how about doing their jobs better instead of just wallowing around in the descriptive and diagnostic phase?  How about going out there and doing the jobs that the Fourth Estate used to do well — digging into the substance, the facts, the original sources on speeches and actions and legislation and such and doing some down and dirty real world comparisons on actions speaking louder than words?  Now THAT would be something worth paying attention to — and it would be useful for all of us, wouldn’t it?

UPDATE:  Oh, hell.  Just go read Krugman…  (H/T to Joe Klein’s conscience for the link.)

(Photo via vandys.)


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