Lame Political Discourse: Stupid Criticism

Politicians must have thick skin. The very nature of their profession exposes all politicians to ridicule, confrontation, and scrutiny on a daily basis. If you take offense to every single barb thrown your way, you won't survive the campaign trail and the media circuit. However, there comes a point when criticism becomes so petty, unfounded, or downright stupid that the criticizers end up aiding their targets.

Last week, Barack Obama took a break from the campaign trail and spent a week in Hawaii. In addition to taking a break from his presidential campaign, he wanted to take care of his ailing grandmother who lives there. And even though Chicago may be Obama's political home base, Hawaii is his true home, as he was born in Honolulu.

Nevertheless, political analysts dissected his vacation destination. ABC's Cokie Roberts criticized Obama's Hawaii vacation as "foreign" and "exotic."

"[G]oing off this week to a vacation in Hawaii does not make any sense whatsoever. I know his grandmother lives in Hawaii and I know Hawaii is a state, but it has the look of him going off to some sort of foreign, exotic place. He should be in Myrtle Beach [South Carolina]...if he's going to take a vacation at this time."
(Hat tip: Political Realm)

At some point, pundits and critics cease making legitimate arguments and start criticizing for the sake of criticizing. This does everyone a great disservice and is a true indictment of the irresponsibility of the media.

Over the course of this campaign, Barack Obama has been attacked for his middle name, the fact that he's thin, his favorite foods, and the way he greets his wife. Now his birthplace is apparently a liability.

These kinds of lame attacks are not new. John Kerry's campaign provided the precursors to the current attacks on Obama. Kerry was maligned for windsurfing and "looking French." Of course, the goal of these attacks is to portray a politician as out of touch. "Regular people" don't windsurf. "Regular people" don't eat arugula. And now "regular people" don't take vacations in Hawaii, even if they were born there and have families there.

But there's a difference between a politician or surrogate making these attacks and an actual media professional doing so. What does it say about a politician, surrogate, pundit, or journalist who spends more time talking about the food a politician eats than how the politician plans to deal with the very real issues of taxes, illegal immigration, Iraq, the economy, and Supreme Court appointments? Is criticizing a politician for going home to be with his family what passes for political analysis these days?

However, these criticisms may ironically be improving Obama's electoral chances. We all know Barack Obama is a youthful, liberal Democrat. He already has the youth vote, the liberal vote, and most of the Democratic vote already locked up. However, if these kinds of banal attacks continue, he may also attract the support of voters who disagree with his politics, but view him as a means by which they can repudiate this kind of nonsense that emanates from the media and the punditry.

A John McCain victory may serve as a tacit endorsement or validation of this so-called "analysis" and ensure that it persists long after November. This is discouraging to voters who seek a bit more substance, logic, and depth in their political analysis. And the more the media throw out nonsense like Cokie Roberts' criticism of Hawaii, the greater the desire may become for something new. Barack Obama may provide them with a chance to achieve it.

5 comment(s):

S.W. Anderson said...

Some people have grown cynical about and disaffected with government, politics and politicians, in the belief they're going to do what they're going to do no matter what John Q. Citizen wants or doesn't want.

I'm fast coming to the belief the above gripe is far more true of the media than of government workers, officials and politicians.

I don't think criticism, refutation or rebuke registers with today's media; they just keep on keeping on. Maybe a nationwide boycott going on for months would get through to them. Unfortunately, a nationwide boycott against the media isn't going to happen, no matter how lame, shallow and slanted they are.

What's more, I'm sick and tired of media pro's dismissing any such criticism by saying, "Well, we get plenty of flak from people who think we're being too easy on liberals, and about an equal amount from people who say we're giving conservatives a pass, so we must be doing it about right."

That was mostly true 20 to 30 years ago, but not any more, especially regarding broadcast/cable media. Now, that comeback ranks up there with "the check's in the mail" and "we've got to have fair trade and an even playing field."

Yeah, sure.

Thomas said...

I think the importance of the traditional media is dwindling quickly. (For example, we are seeking informed quality commentary on Anthony's blog.) The media is desperate and knows that being kind of weird with their criticisms will rile up that candidate's supporters against them.

And we all know that there is no such thing as bad publicity.

DB said...

All the pointless attacks are starting to become embarrassing as well. Here we are, the lighthouse of democracy and our media is criticizing the name, age, or look of the future leader of the free world rather than the issues they take. I live in Japan where our locals have access to CNN and Foxnews (on base during the work day) and they always ask if these are the important questions to be asking of our future leader. I try and explain the whole concept of multiple networks with 24 hour coverage vying for viewership, but it just doesn't make sense to them.

S.W. Anderson said...

Alas, DB, I'm reminded of that old line that goes, "There's no good reason for it, it's just our policy."

Anthony Palmer said...

I think sensationalism and entertainment have distorted the view of political discourse. The cable news channels used to be mainly news stations, but have become a lot more opinionated. These opinionated shows exist because there's a market there for them. O'Reilly, H&C, Lou Dobbs, and Countdown are popular for a reason. I've gained a newfound respect for CNN's Election Center with Campbell Brown as of late because at least people aren't shouting at each other and it seems to be the most balanced of the shows on during prime time.



When we talk about increasing our influence around the world and spreading democracy, a lot of people abroad may look at our electoral system and media and say "no thanks." It certainly does seem to be getting worse.


Oh, and Thomas:

Thanks for the compliment.

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