Friday, January 30, 2004

The Great Kerry Debate, Round 3. Jon Keller and I continue to slog it out over John Kerry at the New Republic website. I've weighed in twice, and Keller once; he's supposed to come back at me this afternoon.

Quote of the day. "Other presidents would have liked to bully the C.I.A., stonewall investigations and give huge contracts to their friends without oversight. They knew, however, that they couldn't. What has gone wrong with our country that allows this president to get away with such things?" - Paul Krugman, in today's New York Times.

So old it's new again. John Ellis was way too quick to award his "Dean as Dot.Com" metaphor prize to political consultant Craig Crawford. Logically, shouldn't the award go to the last person to use what has become a mindless cliché? If so, how about Andrés Martinez in today's Times? "Howard Dean's implosion calls to mind the fate of too many high-flying dot-com companies in the wake of the 2000-2001 crash," Martinez "informs" us.

Actually, not only is the metaphor lame, but it's wrong. I recall seeing an exit poll from Iowa (Media Log is too lazy to look it up) showing that, of caucus-goers who made up their minds by researching the candidates' websites, Kerry won. It's as though Jeff Bezos's nightmare finally came true: that Barnes & Noble had come up with a website that kicked's ass.

The Dean campaign isn't a dot-com that went bust. It's a dot-com that fell asleep while its biggest bricks-and-mortar rival figured out a way to beat it at its own game. It's - no! enough! I don't want Ellis to make fun of me, too.

Tuning in., running on fumes not all that many months ago, is doing all kinds of cool stuff these days that Media Log has not had time to keep up with. Anyway, pay a visit. And read this piece by Timothy Karr on the media's obsession with the horse race over substance.

And now, for an opposing view. In theory, we should all be rapturously in favor of a focus on "the issues." In fact, it's not quite that simple. Yes, we should know that Howard Dean, Dennis Kucinich, and Al Sharpton opposed the war and that John Kerry, John Edwards, and Joe Lieberman were in favor. (God only knows what Wesley Clark really thinks. And by all means, insert your own 500 words' worth of Kerry caveats here.)

But let's take one of the more nebulous issues Karr cites: health care. The media could, I imagine, dwell at great length and in great detail on how Kerry's plan differs from Dean's, and how Dean's, in turn, differs from the single-payer system favored by Kucinich and Sharpton. But is that really what the media ought to be focusing on?

The fact is that all of the Democratic candidates have serious plans to do something significant about the 43 million Americans who are uninsured. I have no doubt that some plans are better than others. I also have no doubt that, if one of them is fortunate enough to become president, he will start rewriting his plan as soon as he moves into the White House. I don't care. I just want to be assured that the person I vote for is serious about solving the problem.

Where the media fall down is in giving a pass to candidates who aren't serious. In the 2000 debates, for example, the wretched moderator, Jim Lehrer, cut off a discussion of prescription-drug benefits by telling Al Gore and George W. Bush that, since each had a plan to deal with the issue, it was time to move on. As Jack Beatty observed on the Atlantic Monthly's website (sorry; can't find the link), Lehrer completely missed the fact that Gore had an actual plan, whereas Bush had nothing but a few patched-together talking points so that he could bluff his way through. We saw that last year, when Bush finally put together a bill that had more to do with further enriching Big Pharma than with helping any actual elderly people. Lehrer gave Bush exactly the pass he was looking for.

But does anyone seriously doubt that the Democratic presidential candidates intend to address the health-care crisis? Of course they do. The eye-glazing details can wait.

New in this week's Phoenix. John Kerry has staged one of the most impressive comebacks in modern politics. Can he sustain the momentum through the South? (Yes! More horse-race coverage!)

Also, CBS caves - again - to its benefactors in the White House over its refusal to air the ad.

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