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July 21, 2008

Welcome to Silly Season 

The New Yorker cartoon. The “controversial comments” by Jesse Jackson, as well as those of Phil Gramm, Wesley Clark and numerous others. A “joke” about “ape rape” that John McCain supposedly told years ago.


All have been major stories in the presidential campaign in recent weeks. And none, absolutely none, will have the slightest effect on who becomes president.


Welcome to Silly Season. With the candidates chosen and the general election match-up set, the presidential campaign has entered a lull of several months in which there is no voting and no other official events. With the Democratic campaign extending into June, for months and months there were debates, primaries, caucuses, or more than one of the above just about every week. Now, there's nothing.
To use a sports analogy, imagine if the NFL played the regular season, then had the playoffs, and then followed that with a six-month break before the Super Bowl. The sports media is already notorious for reaching for storylines in the time before the Super Bowl, and that’s only two weeks. If you expand the break to six months, imagine the garbage that floats to the surface. And that's what's happened in the political media since the primaries ended. 


Therefore, just about all campaign coverage, whether on cable news, blogs or op-ed pages, is about one of a handful of things, none of which are particularly important to who wins: Stupid, gaffe-related controversies, vice-presidential speculation, premature and wildly contradictory polling data, the constant hunt for flip-flops, position changes and minute shifts to the left, right or center, questions about Hillary Clinton’s role, or breathless analysis of the electoral map.


Why do you think Barack Obama’s trip to Europe and the Middle East is being accompanied by a large media entourage, including all three network news anchors? They need to somehow try to find some news.


I’m not saying the media is horrible for concentrating on these things – I’ve certainly written my fair share about them myself. Clearly, there is unprecedented interest in this election campaign, and political junkies have quite an appetite for any and all news – and TV programmers and editors have time and space to fill. But commentators on the election could stand to concentrate more on the things that actually matter, especially the issues.


So what of these silly controversies? Barry Blitt’s New Yorker cover, featuring Barack Obama dressed in Islamic garb and Michelle Obama as a machine gun-toting Angela Davis, was a brilliant piece of satire that, like many of its kind, was misunderstood by an alarmingly large amount of people. 


Liberals reacted embarrassingly – led by the uncharacteristically tone-deaf Obama campaign response – while conservatives didn’t act much better. When the loony web site World Net Daily polled its readers on their opinion of the cover, 59 percent answered “the image isn't too far from the dangerous truth about the Obama family,” while another 12 percent said “funny, because there's some truth in it.”


As for the Jackson comments, I don’t see how the civil rights leader insulting Obama is going to convince anyone whether to vote for or against the candidate. I’m just wondering how Jackson could be boneheaded enough to say something so incendiary in front of cameras in a Fox News studio and not expect the videotape to surface.

As for the Clark and Gramm controversies, I’m just surprised that has-been failed presidential candidates like Clark and Gramm should have anything to do with who becomes the next president. And McCain’s “rape” joke, which won’t be repeated here? It’s not so much offensive as it is proof that the GOP candidate has an incredibly unwieldy sense of humor.


As for the “lurching” by candidates, Obama was accused by New York Times columnist Bob Herbert as “lurching right when it suits him,” and by conservative blogger and radio host Hugh Hewitt of undertaking a series of “flip flops and lurches left." Exactly how much lurching can one man do?
Luckily, actual events will resume next month, with the conventions and veep picks taking place, followed by debates, followed by the election itself. Do I trust the pundits to report and analyze those with fairness and sharpness? Not necessarily, but at least what they’re talking about will be actual news.


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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