Sunday, February 9, 2014

Sunday Reading

Losing the Plot — Jay Rosen on why political journalism sucks.

Nobody knows exactly when it happened. But at some point between Teddy White’s The Making of the President, 1960 and the Willie Horton ads in 1988, political journalism in this country lost the plot. When it got overly interested in the inside game, it turned you and me and everyone who has to go into the voting booth and make a decision into an object of technique, which it then tried to assess. We became the people on whom the masters of politics practiced their craft. Then political journalism tried to recover an audience from the people it had turned into poll numbers and respondents to packaged stimuli. Tricky maneuver.

This is what led to the cult of the savvy, my term for the ideology and political style that journalists like Chris Cillizza and Mark Halperin spread through their work. The savvy severs any lingering solidarity between journalists as the providers of information, and voters as decision-makers in need of it. The savvy sets up — so it can speak to and cultivate — a third group between these two: close followers of the game. The most common term for them is “political junkies.” The site that Cillizza runs was created by that term. It’s called The Fix because that’s what political junkies need: their fix of inside-the-game news.

Junkies are not normal, but they accept their deformed status because it comes with compensations. They get to feel superior to ordinary voters, who are the objects of technique and of the savvy analyst’s smart read on what is likely to work in the next election. For while the junkies can hope to understand the game and how it operates, the voters are merely operated on. Not only does the savvy sever any solidarity between political journalists and the public they were once supposed to inform, it also draws a portion of the attentive public into emotional alliance with the ad makers, poll takers, claim fakers and buck rakers within the political class— the people who, as Max Weber put it in his famous essay “Politics as a Vocation,” live off politics.

But we’re not done. The savvy sets up a fifth group. (The first four: savvy journalists, political junkies, masters of the game, and an abstraction, The Voters.) These are the people who, as Weber put it, live for politics. They are involved as determined participants, not just occasional voters. Whereas the junkies can hope for admission to the secrets of the game (by taking cues from Chris Cillizza and Mark Halperin and the guys at Politico) the activists are hopelessly deluded, always placing their own ideology before the cold hard facts.

HT to dread pirate mistermix.

No, Liberals Don’t Control the Democratic Party — So says Molly Ball at The Atlantic.

The misimpression that the liberals have taken the reins of the party has become widespread. To take just one representative example: “The mainstream of the party has now veered back toward its more populist and pacifist instincts,” Yahoo News‘ Matt Bai wrote Thursday, characterized by “outright contempt for the wealthy and for conservatives generally.” Like others who embrace this analysis, Bai draws the conclusion that this will be an obstacle to the presidential prospects of Hillary Clinton, who is perceived as hawkish, establishmentarian, and friendly to corporate interests.

Many Democratic insiders minimize the party’s divide. They note that there’s broad ideological agreement on social and cultural issues, from abortion and gay marriage to gun control and immigration. National-security and foreign-policy questions have the power to divide but are no longer litmus tests. Even on economic issues, the party generally speaks with one voice: in favor of universal healthcare, against reducing safety-net programs, for progressive taxation and government-driven economic stimulus. Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, told me in an email that the Democratic Party just doesn’t get hung up on internecine battles these days. “I believe that it’s a big-tent party that can and should accommodate centrists and liberals,” Tanden said. “That ideological purity has not been a winning strategy for the other side.”

But this high-altitude view elides real differences, such as disagreement over how much to raise taxes and on whom, how much to regulate industry, and whether to press not just to preserve but to expand those safety-net programs. (In addition to the Cuomo-de Blasio feud, Warren’s signature proposal would increase Social Security benefits, and Obama’s push for new free-trade agreements has run into resistance from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.) And the divide isn’t so much about issues as tone and tactics. The Warrenites harp on the gap between rich and poor and inveigh against big business; the centrists assure their big corporate donors that Democrats can be business-friendly.

Putin on the Titz — Andy Borowitz chronicles the latest atrocity from Sochi.

SOCHI (The Borowitz Report)—With the Olympics underway, hundreds of visitors to Sochi are complaining that they checked into expensive hotel rooms only to find them decorated with seminude portraits of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The portraits, showing Mr. Putin shirtless and riding a variety of mammals, adorn the walls of virtually every hotel room constructed especially for the Olympics and were created at a cost of over two million dollars, Olympic officials said.

Tracy Klugian, who travelled from Ohio with his wife to attend the Sochi Games, said that he was appalled to find his hotel room dominated by a gigantic portrait of a shirtless Putin riding what appears to be a bear.

Said Mr. Klugian, “I did not travel thousands of miles just to be grossed out.”

For his part, President Putin has been dismissive of the complaints, today calling the hotel guests “babies who cry.”

“These people who are complaining about what is on their walls should be grateful,” he said. “At least they got one of the hotel rooms with walls.”

Doonesbury — Good news.