April 4, 2007

Brownstein Waxes Nostalgic

I had to read Ronald Brownstein twice today to make sure the Los Angeles Times had not started a new satire section. The Times' political analyst writes an entire column decrying the lack of intimacy in the 2008 Presidential primary race, and blames ... well, everybody:

And yet the size, scope and speed of the 2008 race are transforming the process of picking the president in discouraging ways. Intimate events aren't extinct; Democratic contender Barack Obama, who has drawn the largest crowds, heard impassioned and sometimes wrenching pleas for a single-payer healthcare system at a forum limited to 100 people in Portsmouth on Tuesday afternoon.

But even in Iowa and New Hampshire, the traditional citadels of person-to-person politics, such opportunities for close encounters with a candidate are diminishing. Just as important, the top candidates are losing the chance to spend quiet time listening to the problems and concerns of voters in rooms smaller than an auditorium.

The enormous expansion of media devoted to the race is widening this disconnect. Cable television networks, radio talk shows, on-line political tout sheets, blogs on the left and right — to say nothing of the mainstream media — have converged into a mammoth machine for inciting controversies, collecting gossip, pursuing scandal and measuring the candidates' viability on a daily, if not hourly, basis. The media are stoking the race's breathless tempo yet acquiescing as most candidates move slowly to unveil their policies (with Edwards a prominent exception).

This week, the political world pored over the presidential candidates' first-quarter fundraising totals as if they were evidence in a murder trial that would decide who would live and who would die. Fundraising genuinely matters, but some of the commentary suggested that the insiders are determined to decide these candidates' fate long before voters get a chance. "It feels like nobody wants to let this thing happen," complained Tom Rath, a veteran New Hampshire Republican activist. "Everybody wants to be smarter than the other guy and know the answer before the game is played."

Well, let's try to work backwards and see how this national catastrophe began. Blogs on the left and right (including CQ) started discussing Q1 fundraising totals because analysts on television and radio had already done so. They chewed over the details because the national media made them front-page news. And they did that because the campaigns themselves spent their entire day flacking the results.

So who's to blame for the overwhelming coverage that Brownstein laments? Primarily, the candidates themselves. They want to build buzz and momentum, and they are leveraging the media to do it -- and that means all of the media, New and Establishment alike. People like Ed Morrissey, Jonathan Singer ... and Ronald Brownstein.

And why does the media respond with so much coverage? Because people are engaged in the process like never before. People want to know about Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. They want to hear what the candidates have to say on policy. What's wrong with that?

I agree that the primary season has become too extended this year, but that isn't the fault of the media. The candidates themselves decided to kick off exploratory committees and start holding town halls, both real and virtual, to get themselves into the papers. If they burn out their supporters during this marathon primary, they have no one to blame but themselves - not the media, and not "big money".

Brownstein waxes nostalgic for the initimate events of bygone years, mostly in New Hampshire and Iowa. This reminds me of men who have a irrational obsession with virginity in their dating life; they value it so that they can be the ones to end it. So it also seems for this supposed value of intimacy in the early primaries. What did that do for candidates? Supposedly it allowed them to define themselves outside the pressure of massive appearances, and allowed voters to connect personally to them as well. However, even if it did that, it only worked for a handful of voters in two states that hardly represent the nation as a whole. And what good did it do to define oneself when only 100 people were around to see it?

This looks much more like a whine from a political reporter who has seen the "intimate" access of the press disappear from the early campaigns. It cannot be a bad thing to have the candidates speaking to the broadest possible audiences, except for those reporters who were accustomed to having the power to shape the candidates' messages for that broader audience early in the process.


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Comments (2)

Posted by Lew [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 4, 2007 9:43 AM

I think you might well be right Captain. Poor little reporter Brownstein is feeling neglected because nobody wants to get "intimate" with him. Its hard to maintain your self-image as a king-maker if the king won't even acknowledge your presence in the room.

Poor baby!

Posted by Mr. Michael [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 4, 2007 7:37 PM

It must be tough when you lose your status and power that comes with being part of the elite. Brownstein feels like... just another person! He laments that more people are affecting the candidates and their campaigns. Poor guy...

In a better world the 'good' people would have more of a say in things than the dirty ol' general public. The Best and the Brightest would guide our leaders into responsive and responsible stands on the issues, whether that candidate held them or not. The parties would be more fun, the people would be more... beautiful. :sigh: What a world we are missing out on!

And then the telephone rings, and Brownstein wakes up. I mean, can't a guy catch a break?