The presidential nominees for the election this fall are set. The battle lines are drawn and the legions of supporters for each side are increasingly engaged. It is shaping up to be a monumental struggle, reflective of the fact – as we are told often by the pundits – that this is the most important election in decades. But if that is so, then why are the media and the campaigns largely focused on some of the most trivial, irrelevant and inconsequential issues?
The public is yearning to hear serious discussion of such weighty matters as: the federal deficit and debt; the role and size of government; the level and nature of taxes; the size and posture of the military; how to restore and grow the economy; the ongoing relevance of American exceptionalism and the reality of the American Dream for the future; whether the inspiration for our nation should continue to come from the Founding Fathers or instead from late 19th/early 20th century European progressives; and which ideals America should pursue – liberty, opportunity and responsibility or equality, fairness and entitlement.
Instead we are treated to a diet of pathetic platitudes on peripheral problems of little import, which shed no light on the fundamental issues that do indeed make this the most consequential election since 1980, or perhaps since 1936, or maybe 1912, or 1860, could it be 1800, or conceivably ever.
The media coverage of the campaigns is saturated with ridiculous stories about: what the candidates did as adolescents; events in their parents’ or grandparents’ lives; whether their wives are admirable or not; how many bucks they’ve accumulated in their lives, and how; whom they hung around with in their past; how assiduously they pursue their religion; and various other personal minutiae, which, while interesting, is not at all what makes the selection between them of such great moment.
Of course, the answers to these questions tell us something about the character of the candidates, and that is important – but not absolutely critical. We’ve had scoundrels who were presidents of great consequence (Jefferson, FDR) as well as megalomaniacs who were flops (Nixon, LBJ) and others in between (Clinton). We’ve had paragons of virtue who succeeded spectacularly (Washington, Lincoln, Coolidge), failed miserably (Carter, Hoover) or landed somewhere in between (Ford, Truman). Let us grant that Obama and Romney are men of good character. Much more importantly, the people are desperate to understand where they truly stand on the grave issues that confront the nation, which policies they plan to implement to address those issues, and what qualities of leadership they possess that will enable them to do so successfully.
In fact, when the media does finally move from character matters to the issues, we are treated to:
- the “war on women”
- amnesty for the children of illegal immigrants
- gay marriage
- the availability of contraception
- fast and furious
- the Arab spring
- White House security leaks.
Again, these are interesting, but they do not strike at the essence of the existential choice that awaits us. The first four (of these seven) are imaginary issues, promoted by the left; the last three, while quite serious, are advanced by the right as a means to embarrass the Obama administration. The absolutely critical issues outlined in the opening paragraph receive scant attention, while the above seven of lesser – or no – importance get most of the ink. How does this come to pass?
The answer for the first group is simple. Obama has been revealed as the incompetent, inexperienced, hardcore leftist that he is. Rather than unite the country behind a post-partisan, pragmatic, problem solver as he advertised himself – and as far too many Americans naively assumed him to be; he has plunged the country into a statist, debt-ridden, economically stagnant, environmentally hysterical, energy-starved, militarily ambivalent funk that has endangered the nation, and especially its children. It is a record that must be ignored if he is to secure a second term. And his treacherous allies in the media are most happy to accommodate him. Thus they attempt to keep the focus of the campaign on peripheral issues that can be twisted to Obama’s advantage.
The accidental complicity of the right in this dreadful game is more surprising. The media strategy outlined above keeps them off balance. Instead of concentrating on the main issues that would galvanize the voters’ attention, they waste time and resources addressing the trivia that the media tosses at them. Perhaps more out of pique than planning, the right doesn’t counter with a bold treatment of the crucial issues, but instead it lobs bombs of its own (like the above three) designed to make Obama look bad. Even if these gain some traction with the voters, it distracts them from the critical issues that should decide the election.