Tuesday, April 21, 2015

by Reed Galen

Days Until Iowa Caucus: 286

Officially Declared Candidates:

·      Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)

·      Sec. Hillary Clinton (D-NY)

·      Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)

·      Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)

·      Dr. Ben Carson (R-MD)

·      Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA)

Quote of the Week:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Welcome to the American Singularity.

Why the Singularity?

·      The presidential nominating process is one in which everything, large and small, is sucked into its gravitational maw, allowing nothing to escape its grasp as events pass through the campaign cycle’s event horizon.

·      There is no more singular political experience on the planet than electing the President of the United States.

·      The United States is still the most free, most prosperous and brightest beacon of hope to billions around the world.

Every action and reaction feeds into this black hole of press coverage, donor reactions, voter sentiment and activist opinions. Nothing goes unnoticed and nothing is forgotten. Legions of reporters, bloggers, opposition researchers, trackers, social media monitoring services, vacuum up every last syllable.

Every week we’ll take a look at the campaign as it unfolds, and how events reflect the campaigns, the issues of the day and the country at large. Have a tip, piece of advice or something to add? Email me – reed@jedburghs.com

This Week: Short Attention Span (Political) Theater

Yesterday, Derek Thompson penned an article in The Atlantic titled “Statler and Waldorf on the Campaign Trail.” In his piece, Thompson posits that “when political journalists play theater critic, they miss the real drama of elections.” His point is in many ways true. News never stops, and the ability to take a longer, more thoughtful view of events, or candidates, is typically reserved for books penned by those same reporters banging out three posts a day – after the election is over.

Hyper-tactical reporting is caused by the binary and symbiotic relationship between campaigns and the media that covers them. However, unlike symbiosis found in nature – the relationship between politicians is rarely simple and often adversarial

The Campaigns

Since James Carville and George Stephanopolous invented “The War Room” during Bill Clinton’s 1992 successful run for the White House, the external affairs of campaigns has become increasingly time and resource consuming. No attack can go unanswered. No negative Tweet ignored. Whenever Mark Halperin posts a less than flattering “Report Card” of a candidate’s performance, the press goons ensure they’ve put together 10 quotes refuting the opinion.

  Courtesy Mark Halperin/Bloomberg Politics


Courtesy Mark Halperin/Bloomberg Politics

First, Do No Harm

Campaigns and their consultants now practice the Hippocratic ethos enough to make doctors proud (only when it comes to their own candidates of course – the rest are fair game.) On any given day, campaigns are risk averse. They put the candidate behind the podium because they have to. They allow gadfly early state activists to ask the same crazy questions cycle after cycle, because it’s expected. Every event has the opportunity for disaster.

The last month of Gov. Scott Walker’s effort is a prime example. After reports of a slew of gaffes, flip flops and other generally poor press coverage, Walker went into hiding for the last month. But as Dylan Byers writes in Politico, “It's a frustration for reporters, but hardly a news item.”

When campaigns actually want to make news, they do so with all the care and sterility of a surgeon in the operating room. To the extent possible, pro-active news making has been reduced to its barest usable essence; and the campaigns are frustrated when the press sniffs at the generally marginal value a given change in policy or new idea might actually bring.

Proxy Issues

As we saw with last weekend’s “First in the Nation” cattle call, more than a dozen politicians stood before the assembled Granite Staters and regaled them with the misdeeds of Barack Obama and the further malfeasance a second President Clinton would bring to America.

When not discussing Democrats, most of the candidates hew to very similar ways of speaking:

·      ISIS – Bad

·      Iran – Bad

·      Obama Foreign Policy – Bad

·      Economy – Should Be Better

·      Taxes – Too High

·      Government – Too Big

·      Jobs – Good

·      American – Exceptional!

·      Common Core – Bad! (Except for Jeb Bush)

·      Gay Marriage – Next Question! (Except for Rick Santorum)

While The Atlantic’s Thompson may lament Halperin’s report cards, when the substance is all but identical, style takes on a greater share of the grade, whether intentional or not. After all, a wonderful message poorly delivered, won’t connect. And soaring oratory devoid of true vision – well that gets us the last six years.

For the candidates, the people in the room are more important than the big foot reporters sitting on the riser. The neighborhood aldermen and activist leaders will help create the winning campaign in New Hampshire for one lucky candidate. The beauty pageant may indeed feel shallow while watching on C-SPAN, but each campaign must ensure that the proxy issues about which activists’ enthusiasm rises and falls are repeated time and again.

Content, Content, Content

Follow any of the presidential beat reporters on social media, and you’ll find that they don’t stop posting from sun up to sundown. If they are pushing out their own content – Tweets, posts, or full-blown stories, they’re Re-Tweeting that of the other Boys and Girls on the Bus, as it were

Scribblers only have one deadline – now. As soon as they can bang out 700 words on their Mac Book Airs they ship it back to their editors. If a television correspondent has already done their live shot before an event, they’re now more often standing on the riser, next to $10,000 video cameras, holding up their $400 iPhones to stream live video through Meerkat or Periscope so the Twittersphere can watch from its desk.

Short Attention Span Theater

This post, minus the weekly introduction, will clock in somewhere near 800 words. That’s probably about as long as an editor would have me write. Any longer, folks don’t get all the way to the bottom. Reporters face the same dilemma – every day. Given the amount of content they must produce, in relatively short clips, there is only so much depth they can achieve. As the campaign progresses and smaller campaigns begin to drop off, the longer, more in-depth pieces will come back to the fore, and help shape and document the ‘drama’ of the race. But that is months away. For now, drink your espresso and read this column for the five minutes I’ve got you.

Author’s Note: This series is not in any way related to Harold Hyman’s American Singularity – The 1787 Northwest Ordinance, 1862 Homestead and Morrill Acts and the 1944 GI Bill.