Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Presidential campaigns and the freak show

Peter Berkowitz reviews The Way to Win, by Mark Halperin and John F. Harris. According to Berkowitz, they contend that in large part the New Media (talk radio, the internet, and cable television) have transformed civilized campaigning into "the Freak Show," "a new carnival-style environment of shouting, mockery, character assassination, and extreme partisanship" (Berkowitz’s summary).

Berkowitz doesn’t agree, reminding us that partisanship (even the extreme variety) has a lusty heritage in America and that the role of the new media has often been to advance debates, consider issues, and examine questions that the old media wasn’t willing to touch. He further argues that on their own terms Halperin and Harris don’t succeed in demonstrating that the fundamentals of politics and campaigning have changed. We’re left with the impression that their disquiet has more to do with the pre-2006 results and with the old media’s loss of an information monopoly than with anything else.

While all of this might seem to suggest that Berkowitz wishes he hadn’t read the book, but he does credit the authors with being good reporters when they’re not riding their hobby horse.

And reflecting on the 2006 results Berkowitz himself makes an observation worth chewing over:

In the aftermath of election 2006,...it’s worth underscoring that the system is working: The public remains closely but not deeply divided; a significant segment of the electorate is capable of voting for a Democrat or a Republican depending on the qualities of the candidate and the priorities of the moment; and any presidential candidate who neglects the center will put his or her election 2008 prospects very much at risk.

What say you, gentle readers?

Hat tip: Power Line.

Discussions - 4 Comments

I wonder how what we should probably call the "money primary" changes this? I take it that the reason that candidates have been declaring so early now is what folks learned especially from 2000, where Bush captured so much of the GOP money base that he practically starved the rest of the field out (along with a few, uh, sharp elbows to McCain in South Carolina and Michigan, if I remember correctly). But especially for the Dems, if the money’s not to the center - and I think it’s not, at least on social issues - will that draw the eventual nominee so far to the left that they can’t make it back for the general campaign? And if the GOP nominates a weak candidate, will they need to?

I think the primary system as it’s being reconstructed in the front-loaded direction--combined with media old and new--could very easily produce a screwy result. We’ll see if the system works. And don’t neglect the center is pretty vague as advice. It’s opposite, I guess, is energize the base. Gotta do both, as Bush senior would say. And the question of what exactly "the center" is remains. Centrists like Bush sr., Bob Dole, Jimmy Carter, and John Kerry didn’t do so well with the voters, overall. And Bill Clinton didn’t win because he was a centrist, but because he’s a fine campaigner and the country was in good enough shape economically etc. in 1996.

As much as I hate to admit it, the great center is "emotive" rather than "philosophical." Both the bases operate on a worldview...squish, diverse worldviews, but worldviews nonetheless. The center...well, the center is probably more pragmatic and a bit near-sighted. How am I doing today? How do I feel about the direction of the country? Etc...you get the idea. The center is fickle, which is why the country has never settled into either a liberal or conservative pattern of long-term governance. That might be a good thing (all ideologies have pitfalls), but its truly hell on foreign policy.

Old media was, and is, about the horse race and nothing more. The center is the glue holding it together, vacilating as it may be.

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