Sunday, February 21, 2010

Loving Politics

Matt Yglesias has a great catch today:
One ad for Chuck Todd’s show features Todd saying: “I love politics; I wish every day was Election Day.”
I think that’s probably true, and that Todd’s probably not the only person involved in high-profile coverage of politics who feels that way, and that that explains a lot of what’s wrong with our media. I recall back during the 2008 primary campaign when every Tuesday brought a new Obama-Clinton result that Todd’s coverage was vital—breaking down the mechanics of the different primaries and caucuses, telling us about the demographic and geographical splits, running through the whole thing. It was great stuff. But obviously it’s not Election Day every day. There’s all this governing that happens and that’s important mostly because of its impact on the lives of ordinary people who themselves are probably fairly indifferent to politics. 
Absolutely true.   Governing stories are underplayed, and electoral stories are overplayed.  It's worth pointing out, however, that governing stories are political stories, too.  Often, they're fascinating political stories -- certainly the health care reform bill has been a great political story.  The single best political story in the last decade might be the Ashcroft/Comey/Card hospital room confrontation; that was a governing story.  The Obama administration decisions on Afghanistan was another terrifically interesting political story, also about governing.  The stories told in the 9/11 Commission report, or the stories that Bob Woodward told about the Bush Administration in three books, or Robert Caro's examination of how Robert Moses ran New York -- all great political stories, all governing stories.  Speaking of Al Haig -- the story of how the American government dealt with the near-death of President Reagan is such a great political story that they made a (lousy) movie about it.  People seem to have liked The West Wing, which was quite often about governing; the best TV show about governing was almost certainly Yes, Minister, and that's all about how political governing is.

Electoral politics is only a subsection of politics, properly understood.  And as much fun as election season is, it's too bad that more reporters aren't equally fascinated by the rest of American political life.  Not only because of it's effects (which is, to be sure, a good reason), but just because there are great political stories to be told.


  1. I cannot agree with you more. And I actually cringe every time I watch/hear that ad for Chuck Todd's show when he says, "I wish every day was Election Day". I think the problem goes further than the media's concern with electoral politics, as many politicians concern themselves too much with re-election, and not the governing aspect. That's my take. Fabulous post. Great blog!

  2. I fear that the overplaying of electoral stories is only getting worse. The remarkable Clinton/Obama primary was so riveting that it seemed to tip the balance even further away from governing stories. I remember last summer thinking that I couldn't believe the number of stories I was reading about the 2010 midterms. At the time, it startled me how much the political media was invested in an election that was 18 months away.


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