Listen to any esteemed political pundit analyze a debate, and you will likely hear an assessment not of the policies put forth by the candidates, but the style in which they were presented. That is because discussing the ramifications of one candidate’s tax proposal or another’s foreign policy prescriptions would require critical thinking, and perhaps some research. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that Americans would be interested in such tedious issues, especially when much of their time is consumed keeping up with the Kardashians and watching overweight people hit the gym.
Thus, when analyzing debates, the talking heads tend to shun substantive political discussion, while amplifying whatever surface tensions exist among candidates. While the public’s level of interest in economic policy may be debated, their propensity for conflict and fighting cannot. Hence the media’s endless use of boxing terminology to describe this spectacle: “Ron Paul responds to Santorum's jab.” “Gingrich pulls some punches.” “Could Romney score an early knockout?”
It is true that one of the functions of the media is to act as a scorekeeper of sorts (to keep up the boxing metaphor), keeping tabs on who is polling where as the election draws nearer. But what happens when our most visible and “respected” political analysts are nothing more than glorified poll-watching, cliché-spouting, hindsight-viewing empty suits and skirts? If I watch a boxing match from start to finish, I generally do not need an “expert” to come on the air afterwards to tell me who won the match or how he won it. Granted, after a political debate, all of the candidates are still standing (unfortunately), but if you’ve been paying attention, you can certainly get a sense of who “won” the debate, or at the very least, who did not.
However, the scorekeeping function would now seem to constitute the preponderance of political coverage. Candidates are not examined with an eye toward their ideas, but through a never-ending parsing of their tactics and personae. The surprising, albeit brief frontrunner status of the gregarious Herman Cain is a case in point. His 9-9-9 plan, if implemented, would have resulted in a double tax hike on most Americans, because it called for the imposition of a new 9% federal sales tax, and a 9% federal income flat tax, which would mean an income tax hike since most Americans pay less than 9%. And, yet, paradoxically Cain was outpolling his Republican opponents, particularly among the T(axed) E(nough) A(lready) crowd. Either the media was doing a poor job in conveying to the public the implications of Cain’s plan, or a plurality of Republican voters wanted their taxes raised. I leave it to you to ascertain the more likely scenario.
Truth be told, the media is hardly interested in delving too deep into the reasons why the country is in rough shape; for this would undermine the very system from which it benefits. Investigating the root causes of income inequality, explaining how the Federal Reserves favors Wall Street speculators over savers, and assuming a non-nationalistic position with respect to foreign policy are not good for business. There are of course exceptions, but the bulk of political “controversies” revolve around superficial stories, such as testy debate exchanges, verbal gaffes, sex scandals, and other items that have little or no effect on the lives of most people. If the media ever does get around to covering the issues that matter in any real depth, by then the American public just might be down for the count.
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