Part 3—Major pundits are starting to notice: Inquiring pundits are starting to notice the dumbness of this campaign.
One such pundit is David Brooks. In Tuesday’s column, his headline called the current race the “Dullest Campaign Ever.” As he continued, he presented the first of nine reasons for this sad state of affairs:
BROOKS (7/31/12): Dullest Campaign EverWhy is this campaign so dull? For his first reason, Brooks listed “intellectual stagnation.” His second reason was from the same family: “Lack of any hint of intellectual innovation.”
A few weeks ago, Peggy Noonan wrote a column in The Wall Street Journal that perfectly captures my attitude toward this presidential campaign: It’s incredibly consequential and incredibly boring all at the same time.
Since then, I’ve come up with a number of reasons for why it is so dull. First, intellectual stagnation. This race is the latest iteration of the same debate we’ve been having since 1964. Mitt Romney is calling President Obama a big-government liberal who wants to crush business. Obama is calling Romney a corporate tool who wants to take away grandma’s health care.
Brooks didn’t ask if Obama was right—if Romney would take away grandma’s health care (or some significant portion thereof). But he did mention the brain-numbing gaffes which have dominated this dumbest campaign. “Candidates don’t even have to rehearse the arguments anymore; they just find the gaffes that will help them pin their opponent to the standard bogyman clichés,” Brooks correctly wrote.
Brooks described an extremely dumb campaign. But then, so did Ruth Marcus, in a column in yesterday’s Washington Post.
According to Marcus, the focus on gaffes has taken the place of substance. It’s hard to say she’s wrong:
MARCUS (8/1/12): A gaffe a day keeps the substance awayMarcus noted that these alleged gaffes are often examples of the “faux gaffe,” in which a candidate “is skewered, generally out of context, for saying something that he clearly did not mean but that the other side finds immensely useful to misrepresent.” Quite correctly, she cited examples of faux gaffes which have been ascribed to each candidate—to Obama and to Romney.
The 2012 presidential campaign has become a festival of gaffe-hopping.
The candidates skitter along on the surface of politics, issuing vague pronouncements or taking predictable shots at each other. But these seem like increasingly brief interludes, mere campaign busywork as each side awaits and—abetted by an attention-deficit-disordered media—pounces on the opponents’ next gaffe.
Marcus gets credit for noting that our “attention-deficit-disordered media” are partial architects of this disorder. Playing a more traditional game, Brooks listed nine causes of the dumbness without suggesting, even once, that his own press corps might be part of the mess.
In Brooks’ column, only the candidates were at fault. As our pundits have done for many years now, he disappeared the gruesome performance of his own brain-dead elite.
That said, Brooks and Marcus both noticed the dumbness of the unfolding campaign. In that, these major pundits were right. Surely, this is the dumbest White House campaign of the modern era. This campaign has been so dumb that it raises an obvious question: Does a modern nation this dumb have any real chance to survive?
How dumb is the current campaign? Compare it to an earlier, disgracefully stupid campaign, the campaign which got its start in March 1999.
That Bush-Gore campaign was disgracefully stupid, mainly because of the press corps. Marcus even tells the truth (slowly) about that campaign, noting that “some alleged gaffes” from that campaign—“Vice President Al Gore supposedly asserting that he invented the Internet or discovered Love Canal, for example—have always had a questionable provenance.”
That is Marcus’ euphemized way of saying that her guild invented a long string of phony “gaffes” and pounded Gore with them for two years. Marcus euphemizes this obvious fact to the point where it can barely be found in her prose—and yet, given the rank dishonesty of her guild, her statement is one of the frankest admissions the press corps had ever made about this inexcusable conduct.
(Every step of the way, your “liberal leaders” have agreed to take part in this rolling deception.)
Campaign 2000 was monumentally stupid, largely because of the press corps. But even within that noxious framework, the candidates proposed and debated major policy ideas:
Candidate Bush proposed his now-famous tax cuts in late November 1999, almost a full year before the election. He proposed partial privatization of Social Security in May 2000, with six full months left to go.
Those proposals were discussed and debated all through the long campaign. (Conservative and mainstream pundits strongly supported Candidate Bush’s privatization ideas.) Meanwhile, Gore and Bradley conducted a long debate about health care in the Democratic primaries.
The press corps dissembled endlessly about Bradley’s health care proposal, attempting to prop up their floundering favorite. That said, the debate did occur.
Even in that disgraceful campaign, real proposals were advanced and debated. By August 2000, clear policy differences were on the table between Candidates Bush and Gore.
As became clear at the end of that month, major journalists still couldn’t explain what Bush had proposed in his tax cut plan. But Bush had made some major proposals, and Gore was pushing back hard.
Very little resembling that state of affairsexists in the current campaign. As Marcus correctly says, the string of brain-dead gaffe alerts has almost wholly replaced discussions of substance.
Last Sunday, the public editor for the New York Times pondered this miserable state of affairs. He asked his newspaper’s politics editor how the Times should react to this mess (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/30/12).
It’s very, very late in the game for such questions to be asked. Tomorrow, we’ll look at the answer the public editor got.
What should the New York Times do to rescue this dumbest of all campaigns? What kind of service can it provide for its “sophisticated readers?”
Do any such readers really exist? Or is that an elite delusion?
Tomorrow, we’ll review the proposal which emerged from within the Times, which may be our dumbest newspaper.
Tomorrow: Blog posts!