. . . Monday February 23, 2004

Race about the Race

John Edwards likes to implore his adoring stump speech crowds to talk about race anywhere and everywhere (then as it turns out, he doesn’t say much else about the topic). But the race issue most people and pundits talk about is the political race. I trace some of this back to when Jeff Greenfield, a former campaign spinmaster, was hired by ABC News. He changed the story from what the candidates said to what they were trying to accomplish politically and above all what strategies were being employed. Back then, this angle proved to be a useful addition to ongoing political dialogues and debates.

But now there is almost nothing left. Even with an issues as divisive as Gay marriage or the entrance of a third party candidate, the story is all about how it will affect the race; how the parties will have to strategize their way through the media obstacle course. Nader’s ideas are left undiscussed while the focus is exclusively on his decision to run and who it will hurt or help in the race.

So where does this leave us? In a place where mincing the candidate’s words and tactics surrounding their own Iraq positions eclipses, say, a discussion about the doctrine of pre-emption and the details of what’s really going on in Iraq today. And in a place where voters have an increasingly difficult time digesting any political rhetoric without the help of a spoon-feeding pundit to tell them who just won the latest exchange (in my own defense, I almost always use a fork). And it spreads beyond politics. My wife and I can no longer resolve even the most minor dispute without the analysis of Howard Fineman and the polling work of Frank Luntz. Ultimately this trend leads us to a place where a guy yells the names of a few states in Iowa and it’s viewed as the most important moment of a campaign.

Joe Klein touches on this trend in his latest column: “The 2004 Democratic primary campaign has produced one of the more depressing political phenomena in memory: the rise of the citizen pundit. With Howard Dean gone from the race, the last traces of passion – and, I fear, conviction – have been leached from the electorate. Instead of voters, we have handicappers.” [Coming soon on CNN: Analysts from both sides of the aisle teach you how to put the passion and conviction back into your politics...]

I’m not sure if I totally agree with Klein’s take. I may have to wait and see what some other pundits have to say about his column.

Concentration is important!