February 20, 2008

Elections are not the Superbowl

The most frustrating thing about the manner in which the mainstream media cover politics is the misconception about what I as a viewer find useful.

I am not looking for the mainstream media to provide me with an election handicapping service. I will not be gambling on the outcome of the democratic primaries.

90% of political coverage is geared towards helping me pick winners rather than understand issues.

Candidate A makes proposes policy A

Candidate B proposes policy B

What I voter or spectator care about.

What are the merits of the two proposals?

What do experts in the relevant fields think about the effectiveness of the each proposal?

What downsides or unintended consequences can they forsee in each case?

Do proposals A and B involve different sets of tradeoffs?

Which sections of society are likely to pay the highest cost and which sections are likely to reap the greatest benefits from Proposal A as opposed to Proposal B

What are the associated price tags of proposals A and B? Are they the same?

What I as a voter or spectator don't give a damn about

How Candidate A is polling with hispanic women with household incomes
under $40,000

Which candidate has gained 6 points in the latest poll.

Pretty much any strategic considerations affecting the political positioning in the two camps.

Identity politics related voting patterns

Now if I was a campaign manager then I would undoubtedly care deeply about these issues.

If I was running for office and wanted to win I would also have to care about these issues as a matter of pragmatism.

But as a spectator or voter ALL I care about is the reasonableness of the policy proposals and my subjective impression of the candidates making them.

The only questions I want the media to help me answer are;

Given the different sets of policy position espoused by the available candidates, which do I think is most desirable/least harmful for myself, my family and the larger community?

Do these people have track records that suggests they are fairly competent and rational?

What the hell do the poll responses of hispanic single mothers have to do with that?


Politics is covered like sports.

I understand tactical analysis in sports programming.

Beyond who is likely to win their is nothing to discuss. Most of the fun of watching sports is getting to be an armchair quarterback and second guessing players coaches and the front office. I get why people like to second guess say Brian Cashman's free agent signings for the Yankees, or Tom Coughlin's play calling for the Giants. Heck I can even understand why a Wall Street Journal subscriber would enjoy second guessing the CEO of General Motors.

What I can not for the life of me understand is why someone would want to do the same thing with the Democratic primary. Do people actually enjoy identifying with the decisions of campaign managers? Are there people that go. "Damn, we need to get that hispanic single mother demographic locked down in time for the California primary" the way they talk about their favorite basketball team needing to draft a new point guard?

Perhaps there are... But do these armchair party political tacticians constitute the majority of the voting public? You would think so from examining the tone of the media coverage.

So far, I haven't even touched on why this style of coverage is morally problematic. The basic assumption behind all this Xs and Os chalkboard analysis of the political playbook is that winning and election is a valid end in and of itself.

In this cynical view policy formulations are merely a means to an end, just like sports plays. Staking out different positions on, say healthcare or social security is just like deciding between man to man defense or zone coverage.

Needless to say this perspective is morally bankrupt. Political decisions have practical consequences that for good or ill, will effect the lives (and livelihoods) of millions of people.

Now I am convinced that many politicians do indeed think like this. But it is the job of the media to hold them to account, not cheerfully endorse their ethically vacuous Power Uber Alles cynicism as valid game strategy. That they choose the latter course is a total abdication of their responsibility.

Incidentally even if I were so morally indifferent that all I cared about was correctly predicting the outcome of elections rather than informing myself about the issues being debated; watching demographic pie charts, poll results and debate on CNN would be a waste of my time. All the information has already been incorporated into the betting odds posted on gambling sites for anyone who cares to look. The betting market is pretty efficient Using all this data to get a jump on the election outcome is as futile as trying to use an article in last months Forbes to get ahead of the professionals in the the stock market.

No comments: