Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Republicans debate future of the US, journalist sees boring wrestling match

The headline story on National Journal's website this morning was Staying in Vegas? The Hermanator Doesn't Make the Grade by Beth Reinhard 10/18/2011. It is a great example of the superficial kind of horse-race coverage to which our press corps is addicted.

Does Herman Cain's 9-9-9 tax plan do what he claims? Is what the candidates are saying about immigration true or reasonable? One of these Republican candidates has a high chance of becoming President in January 2013. They will be making decision about wars and lesser military interventions in various places of the world. They will be setting major economic policies. Their will be affecting the lives of, you know, hundreds of millions of Americans from women's rights to the concentration of wealth to health care to Social Security and Medicare.

But what matters to our political press? Reinhard:

Faced with making a giant leap from novelty act to political statesman -- in Las Vegas, of all places -- surging Republican candidate Herman Cain predictably fell short in Tuesday’s debate.

The corporate executive who has charmed his way to the top of the polls with a broad smile and a penchant for fiery oratory failed to defend his “9-9-9” tax plan amid a barrage of attacks from his Republican presidential rivals. The best he could do was to dismiss criticisms as “simply not true," accuse critics of “talking apples and oranges," and direct voters them to an “analysis performed by fiscal associates" on his campaign website.

"I'm not afraid to try to sell it to the American people," said the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, who clearly understands the power of repetition in advertising but doesn’t want consumers to bother with the fine print. Asked in a survey by The Washington Post and Pew Research Center to come up with a single word to describe him, most people said “9-9-9,’’ referring to his plan to replace the current federal tax code with a 9 percent income tax, a 9 percent corporate tax and a 9 percent national sales tax.

Cain also refused to clarify his conflicting remarks about whether he was joking when he called for an electrified border fence. [my emphasis]
Does it make good practical, moral or legal sense to electrify the US-Mexican border? Is it an appeal to the most gutter instincts of the xenophobia lizard brain? Who cares?! What's important is that the guy who's proposing it failed "to clarify his conflicting remarks" about it!

Cain's 9-9-9 plan has high poll recognition but Cain "doesn’t want consumers to bother with the fine print" on it. Apparently it didn't even occur to Reinhard to read "the fine print" on 9-9-9; or at least she certainly didn't bother to share it with her readers. Does 9-9-9 make jack for sense? Who cares?!

Our political press corps doesn't like to soil their fingers or clothes by digging into the boorrr-ing fine print of policies that will affect people's lives. Shoot, they don't even want to mention it unless it fits into their theater criticism nicely.

Reinhard scarcely bothers to pretend that she intended to do anything but the political press' sad version of theater criticism. Notice that she says that Cain "predictably fell short" in the debate. Since everybody assumes that there's no way that today Republican Party would nominate a black candidate for President, even one like Herman Cain that talks trash talk about killin' immigrants and denying that white racism is a problem worth worrying about, it is predictable that his poll ratings are going to fall. But how was it predictable that Cain would not score well in the press corps' estimation on Tuesday? Because that's how the press script for the Republican primary runs. Cain has to fade, and the press isn't going to say that it's because too many white Republican voters just don't much like black people regardless of how well they debate. And there is no shortage of concern trolls like the Daily Howler to scold any of us naughty bloggers who suggest such an uncivil notion.

Reinhard even describes her script for Tuesday night's debate:

It was classic Cain, playing the card of a political outsider whose ideas are beyond reproach simply because he doesn’t run in the usual circles.

Cain wasn’t the only candidate who took on a familiar role after running a gauntlet of five nationally televised debates in roughly six weeks. It goes like this: Rick Perry loses focus; Mitt Romney lacerates anyone who gets in his way;and Michele Bachmann says something of questionable accuracy.

And this: Ron Paul renounces a pillar of the U.S. government; Rick Santorum lectures about the importance of family; and Newt Gingrich lectures about everything else.

The only thing missing that close watchers of the race have come to expect was an awkward crack by Jon Huntsman, who boycotted the debate in Nevada because of the state’s interference with the presidential primary calendar. [me emphasis]
It's also instructive to see what Reinhard and the National Journal think you have to say on the Republican side to be out of the famous David Broder/Tom Friedman sacred center of American politics:

At times, the Republican field stepped out of the political mainstream, setting back the party’s efforts to win over the moderate, independent voters who will decide whether Obama serves a second term. Perry proposed defunding the United Nations. Paul declared that that the U.S. should do away with foreign aid altogether. Bachmann lobbed this grenade: that Obama "really has a problem with illegal immigration" because he has undocumented relatives living in the U.S.
For an actual journalistic account of the debate, see David Lightman and Steven Thomma, Sparks fly on taxes, immigration as GOP presidential candidates debate McClatchy Newspapers 10/18/2011. They actually provide some information about the 9-9-9 tax plan and give some background on Rick Perry's and Mitt Romney's animated exchange over immigration.

AP also provides a fact check on the debate.

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