Notes on an AP Politics Roundup

Thursday, April 26, 2007

On the heels of answering a comment from someone who wants me to break up my roundup posts, I find myself in the amusing position of posting a non-roundup post -- on someone else's roundup!

On my morning visit to the Drudge Report, I found the first two stories in this collection of three on politics rather thought-provoking. Both show in their own way that substantive political change cannot occur outside the context of a broader cultural change, which in turn can only come from the introduction of better philosophical ideas.

Dean and "Sound Bites"

First, we have Howard Dean blaming capitalism and telling us what the media would do if he were king.

"The media has been reduced to info-tainment," Dean said. "Info-tainment sells, the problem is they reach the lowest common denominator instead of forcing a little education down our throats, which we are probably in need of from time to time." [bold added]
While it is true that our news media make more money as fertilizer merchants than as purveyors of quality, this is not the fault of capitalism. On the contrary, I see two related factors at work.

First, the altruistic moral ideals and the pragmatic, anti-intellectual approach to political debate that permeate our culture leaves a politician practically no other alternative but to speak in terms of sound-bites. (Myrhaf recently blogged on the entertainment aspect of how the culture affects what can be commercially successful in talk radio.) Practically nobody wants to hear someone question the assumption that we all exist to serve our fellow man, and few have the patience to sit through an actual argument. What else will a market composed of people like this pay to hear? (And, come to think of it, who else would they elect?)

Second, there is no debate about whether there will be a welfare state, just squabbling over which pressure groups will get which favors. Consequently, everything a politician says has to be made as non-offensive and non-threatening as possible to a huge array of factions whose wishes often contradict each other. Again, what else could a politician do but avoid saying very much?

Dean's proposal -- to bar the media from the candidates' political "debates" and other appearances -- amounts only to making it easier for a politician to be all things to all people. Without those pesky media around, for example, one can yell one's brains out around college kids one day, promise more and greater handouts to the underclass the next, and offer a five-year plan to promote a better business climate the following day.

As it is, the media still manage at times -- even through sound bites -- to alert us to which candidate might favor the worst groups or to expose the potentially disastrous character and personality flaws of one candidate or another, as it did with Howard Dean. The article suggested as much by mentioning "The Scream", but did not elaborate enough.

This leaves only one question. Exactly what would Howard Dean have the media "force down our throats"?


The next story discusses plans for a reality show which will attempt to select a presidential candidate.
The online social networking site MySpace and reality TV producer Mark Burnett are teaming to launch the search for an independent presidential candidate.

The political reality show "Independent" comes with a $1 million cash prize and a catch: the winner can't keep the money.

The prize can be used to finance a run for the White House or can be given to a political action committee or political cause.
I have only two things to say about this insipid idea.

(1) Just watch. The Libertarians and everyone else who harbors the fantasy that all our problems would simply evaporate if we could bypass the Democrat-Republican "duopoly" when we selected a candidate for President will latch on to this. Stand by for Glenn Reynolds to announce it any day now.

(2) Given the ideas and concerns prevalent among the general culture (as noted above), the candidate selected by such a show will hardly represent "none of the above". Rather, expect "more of the same", but with a twist: he'll be unelectable because he is not "qualified" (i.e., experienced in the arts of deception and pull-peddling that constitute politics today). Otherwise, why didn't we already know about him?

Sounds like must-miss TV to me.

-- CAV


: Added sentence on need for cultural change before political change will occur.

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