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March 08, 2011


Nice post, Brendan. You make several important points:

1. The media tend to choose a narrative and fit their reporting to the narrative.

2. The media's chosen narrative can be a trivial aspect of a candidate or even entirely false.

3. Media bias can have a significant effect on an election.

4. Barack Obama got a pass in this process.

I would quibble with a couple of points. To say Gore's underperformance of the Bread and Peace model was "puzzling" is really a way of saying that the model was deficient in not including media bias as a potential factor.

In my lifetime the media have generally given a boost to the Dems, starting with Eisenhower supposedly being dumber than Stevenson and underplaying Kennedy's limited experience. How many voters knew about Reagan's expertise in policy matters? Presidential election models fitted to past results have built into them the assumption that the media will lean left. However, in 2000 the media were equally unfair to both candidates. When the media is balanced, the models will be off.

Kudos to Brendan for acknowledging the media's kind treatment of Mr. Obama. However, I don't think that the reason was that he didn't face a competitive race in 2004. Conservative media had no trouble finding evidence that Obama's record was far-left, contradicting his claim to be a centrist. I think the media "fell in love" with Obama. IMHO Obama will continue to get favorable media treatment, which is one reason why he's likely to be re-elected.

IMHO Romney resembles Gore in making issues sound complex. They're right: most issues are complex. Dealing with that complexity shows people that Romney and Gore smart and knowledgable. However, most voters cannot follow their reasoning. By comparison, Reagan, G. W. Bush, and Eisenhower, simplified (or oversimplified) issues. That approach made them sound more authentic and made them two-term Presidents.

Romney can wear jeans and shop at Walmart, but IMHO he won't connect with voters until he starts explaining things in ways voters can understand (or think they understand.) Unfortunately, Romney seems not to realize that he needs to make this change.

An example is his op-ed yesterday on the Misery Index. Romney wrote:

When Ronald Reagan ran for president in 1980, he hung the Misery Index around Jimmy Carter’s neck. It consisted of the sum total of unemployment and inflation. Today, we have a different set of ailments. Instead of unemployment coupled with inflation, we have a toxic blend of unemployment, debt, home foreclosures, and bankruptcies. Their sum total is what we can call the Obama Misery Index. It is at a record high; indeed, it makes even the malaise of the Carter years look like a boom. Unemployment has fallen, but it’s fallen to a level that is still, by any historical marker, a national disaster. To suggest it as an achievement is to engage in what Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously called “defining deviancy down.”

Romney totally missed the point of Reagan's Misery Index: it was an actual number that one could calculate and verify how much it has risen. Romney's Misery Index isn't a index at all. One cannot add figures for unemployment, debt, foreclosures and bankruptcies, nor does Romney attempt to do so.

Instead Romney refers to Daniel Patrick Moynihan's phrase “defining deviancy down.” That phrase may be familiar to us superannuated political junkies, but I suspect it has little resonance to most voters.

Brendan, I thought Obama had to change some of his positions, like once being in favor of a single-payer health care system and then opposing it when he ran for president. If I'm not mistaken, the Clinton campaign ran a video clip of him making these comments to a local union supportive of his Senate run.

Second, doesn't this article kind of fly in the face of previous arguments you've made about fundamentals? If the economy was doing so well, why didn't Gore blow Bush away in the general election? Aren't you pinning Gore's loss somewhat on the media then, and not on the man himself?

Obama did have to change some positions. I think most of those transitions took place during the Senate run under relatively little scrutiny, but I suppose it's an empirical question. As for Gore, the 2000 race is clearly an anomaly. One explanation is the way the media covered him, but probably the most important is that Gore didn't take credit for the economy effectively in his campaign, which resulted in him underperforming the fundamentals.

Obama has flip-flopped on gay marriage, heatlh care, Guantanamo, and more. He gets a pass. Mitt Romney has flip-flopped on abortion. That's it.

Don't fret, Obama's uniform during the campaign consisted of Navy Blue suit, crisp white shirt, nice tie.....I noticed he's mingling more neutral basic colors like gray, brown, and black, along with the occasional pinstripe suit. I'm sure he'll get a lot of press about it any day now.

Obama hasn't flip-flopped on Gitmo, the Congress simply denied funding for closure and purchase of a prison in the US. NIMBY won. Also, a great new law that authorizes Congress ONLY to move prisoners to a new location. He can't fund the closure.

Nor gay marriage, he's still "struggling" with that. He said during the campaign that DOMA was unfair and should be repealed.

Gore changed his position on abortion early in his career, but that was long before his 2000 presidential campaign.
But note that Gore did not switch from pro-life to pro-choice as it is often misstated. He changed his position on the public funding of abortion (from opposition to support in some cases; there is one vote that is sometimes considered to be definitively pro-life, but that's not how it was viewed or described at the time).

Really, overall it's remarkable how constant Gore has been in his positions, more than most major pols. That said, while it's certainly not at War on Gore levels, I agree with your argument that Romney probably gets more grief than he deserves.

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