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One-click Tuesday roundup

For those of you who've said you prefer one morning column.

Wack Job Journalism

One candidate, who talked of privatizing Social Security, also declared that pregnant rape victims should make the "lemon situation into lemonade."

Another candidate says he has reservations about the 46-year-old Civil Rights Act.

Another candidate says unemployment benefits aren't authorized by the Constitution.

And the latest tea party favorite, among other things, defaulted on her mortgage, didn't take the college courses she claimed, and is on tape criticizing masturbation and blabbing about dabbling in witchcraft.

Much of the media are portraying the likes of Sharron Angle, Joe Miller, Rand Paul and now Christine O'Donnell as wacky extremists. That may prove to be unduly dismissive.
To be sure, journalists have every right to unearth past statements about retirement benefits and civil rights by Republican nominees who are now trying to fudge their records. And it's certainly fair to question, in O'Donnell's case, why she made $6,000 over the last year, sued her former employer for gender discrimination and who once said that "homosexuals' special rights groups can get away with so much more than nobody else can," including "perversion."

In a normal year, the accumulation of rhetoric and might be enough to send a candidate down to defeat. But this is not a normal year.

And here's the thing: the slightly mocking tone with which some journalists are portraying these tea party conservatives is probably helping them with the broad swath of voters who don't much trust the media. If some of these voters are fed up with the establishment, that would include the establishment press. O'Donnell, for one, has cleverly brushed aside questions about her checkered finances by saying that helps her identify with struggling workers.

I don't immediately associate having dabbled in witchcraft with senatorial service. But if see the 11-year-old Bill Maher clip one more time I'm going to feel like making my TV set disappear. The thing went so viral in 24 hours that it now looks like open mockery. Debra Saunders of the San Francisco Chronicle told me that the media were acting like the cool kids making O'Donnell the geek. Now that we're turning her into the witchy woman, I'm sure some voters will ask, what's this got to do with me?

The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder has a different thesis:

"Wackiness will always cut through the clutter. But the difference this cycle is that wackiness has been MAINSTREAMED. Hecklers and provocateurs have been mainstreamed...
"Look at our fascination with reality shows and pornography...

"But all the reality shows -- and the characters who have been mainstreamed and are now a part of our lives, people who we would otherwise encounter when we browsed the tabloids at the supermarket -- have conditioned us for 'wild and woolly' candidates. Culture bleeds into politics, and the other way around...

"But why do audiences accept them? I think that elite media derision, as it always has, helps to legitimize people for a large segment of the American public that believe themselves to be at odds with the establishment."

Reality shows? Well, GOP strategist Mark McKinnon notes that Wisconsin congressional candidate Sean Duffy is not only a world-class lumberjack but an MTV reality star:

"These conservative candidates are not professional politicians. They sometimes say the wrong thing. They often irritate the self-anointed because their pasts are not pedigreed. And they sometimes have 'real people' problems.

"While there may be a few fruitcakes among the bunch and some may be flawed--as if those already in D.C. aren't--they are real. And some of them are real interesting....

"Christine O'Donnell may want to put Chris Matthews and Charles Krauthammer on her payroll. Every time she is ridiculed, the cash register rings."

The conventional wisdom is that these are weaker November candidates--that, for instance, O'Donnell's win over moderate congressman Mike Castle has flipped Delaware from a sure GOP victory to a likely Democratic win. That could still prove to be true. Thirty thousand Republican primary votes, which is what O'Donnell got, is a far cry from carrying a state.

But after being wrong about Scott Brown, Bob Bennett and Lisa Murkowski, among others, I'm not sure the media really have a handle on the nature and magnitude of this Republican revolt. And if they're wrong, all the derision in the world may not stop Angle, Paul and O'Donnell from becoming United States senators.

President confronts the pain

It was a mismatch.

It's not that President Obama did badly at CNBC's town hall on the economy. To the contrary, he handled himself well.

But he was confronted with disillusioned people in pain -- and didn't have much to offer them beyond programmatic answers.

This isn't a critique of the president's demeanor. He was engaged and engaging. But the agonizing of the emotional audience members left the greater impression.
There was the black working mother who told Obama she is "exhausted" and "deeply disappointed" with his failure to improve the economy. "I'm waiting, sir," she said. "I don't feel it yet. ... Is this my new reality?"

Obama answered in the abstract, talking about college aid, credit card reforms and a health-care law that requires the coverage of preexisting conditions. All fair points, but of no immediately help to the woman.

The young man who said he can't pay off his loans, and can't even afford marriage, said the "inspiration" of Obama's election is fading. "It feels like the American dream is not attainable for a lot of us," he said.

Obama responded in part by talking about education reform.

Even a small-businessman who credited Obama with saving the auto industry ended by saying: "You're losing the war of sound bites, you're losing the media cycles."

His one successful bit of jujitsu came when a hedge-fund manager complained that he and his compatriots feel like a "piƱata" that has been "whacked with a stick." Obama responded that "most folks on Main Street feel like they got beat up on." But he resisted the temptation to assail Wall Street, saying he wants to be "practical." That is the Obama self-image -- a practical man -- and pragmatism doesn't stir passions.

The president also brushed off a question from moderator John Harwood about the need for a "course correction," other than saying he wants to improve the tone of Washington.

It probably helps Obama to be seen as listening to the people. But he didn't make much news because he didn't have much new to say. The president conducted an intelligent discussion of the tradeoffs among spending, taxes and deficits, with a swipe at the tea party. But in the current environment, that is not enough.

Should Obama look to Alaska?

The chattering classes now wonder what Christine O'Donnell is going to say about dabbling in witchcraft.

The rest of the country is not worried about witchcraft and doesn't know who O'Donnell is.

You might think that O'Donnell capturing the GOP Senate nomination for Joe Biden's old seat would give the Democrats a boost: Not just in terms of winning Delaware, but in painting tea party candidates as kinda eccentric--you know, more worried about opposing masturbation than mainstream issues.

That won't work, no matter how many clips of O'Donnell that Bill Maher releases. She's not a big enough target. Most voters are more worried about the economy. And it would take a sorcerer's spell to get them to stop blaming the Obama administration for our current doldrums.

What's a president to do? Atlantic's Marc Ambinder says Obama needs a new target:
"That person is Sarah Palin."
"All that's required is for the president to utter her name a couple of times. The Fox-Rush-Redstate nexus would explode. Palin would bask in the attention and respond. And respond. And respond.

"The press would cover the story and ask why the president would elevate Sarah Palin? David Broder might write a column bemoaning the fact that the President chose politics over the institution of the presidency, which is supposed to respect the dignity of all Americans.

"Elevate Sarah Palin? How much higher can she go? Everyone knows her. Some of Obama's advisers have argued in the past that the attention paid to Palin by Americans in the last stages of the 2008 campaign is one reason why Obama was able to win so cleanly...

"Yes, the election is about control of Congress. But at a larger level, it's about competing visions of the world. John Boehner v. the Democratic agenda is a boring contrast. Many Democrats couldn't tell a Boehner from a Cantor. But everyone knows who Sarah Palin is."

It would certainly be a better story line for the media. But I'm not convinced it would work.

Palin, whatever her future plans, isn't on the ballot for 2010. She can just sit back in Wasilla and jab away through her Facebook page, with the media panting over every status update. Obama will seem mired in the muck of politics, swinging at Sarah Barracuda instead of the unemployment rate. And I don't see how that helps rank-and-file Democratic candidates.

Sure be fun to cover, though.

In a story that's very much related, the NYT reports:

"President Obama's political advisers, looking for ways to help Democrats and alter the course of the midterm elections in the final weeks, are considering a national advertising campaign that would cast the Republican Party as all but taken over by Tea Party extremists, people involved in the discussion said."

Something like Tea Can Be Hazardous To Your Health?

By Howard Kurtz  | September 20, 2010; 10:00 PM ET
Categories:  Latest stories  
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There is nothing less insightful than journalistic navel gazing. Not matter how little they get right about current events, their self examination is far worse.

Posted by: BurfordHolly | September 20, 2010 11:01 PM | Report abuse

Screw you Howard. We are voting against the media this time too.

Where was the media when all the kooks who have influenced obama were needing to be publicized before the 08 election? I'll tell you - they were conspiring in their little journolist groups to bury the stories.

Posted by: standard_guy | September 21, 2010 12:03 AM | Report abuse

Howard, appreciate your one click format. Maybe you can switch back for 2 or 3 days a week. Glad that you are listening.

Posted by: JNiebs | September 21, 2010 8:18 AM | Report abuse

Thank you for the roundup column. Many of us who look forward to your observations read this at work. A single column makes it much easier for us. Also, the firewall at work prevents video, so that's a non-starter for me and many others.

Posted by: phil93 | September 21, 2010 9:19 AM | Report abuse

Agree with the above comments; single-click format much appreciated!

Posted by: jbwood | September 21, 2010 9:30 AM | Report abuse

howie, so now that a TPer is taking pot-shots from the media you speak up? Where were you when conservative media campaigned against the Dixie Chicks so hard that they received death threats? where were you when the media supported Bush43 in the run-up to the Iraq invasion? where were you when wapo had a popularity poll about Tiger Woods on the front page? oh yeah right, when I questioned you about it on a chat, you defended the highschoolish stunt because "Tiger was a big story". even you have pushed the results of polls as written in stone, another thing I called you on in a chat. I think what happened to the DC's and Plame because of the media was alot more serious, indeed life-threatening then absurd old coverage of a candidate nattering on about a date she had in her teens. But her you defend? and insult the media?

Posted by: katem1 | September 21, 2010 10:27 AM | Report abuse

to katem1:

You have obviously never read Howard Kurtz before - or - your ideological blinders are on so tight that you have lost the ability to think rationally.

I often disagree with Kurtz, but he asks good questions and analyzes media coverage in way that few others do.

Posted by: pilsener | September 21, 2010 11:38 AM | Report abuse

IMO this election cycle is less about personality than about party/policies. This election has been nationalized and attacks on individual candidates won't resonate in many races.

The issue is jobs/economy/deficits - all of the polling indicates that a majority believes the Democrats have gone in a dangerous direction on the economy. Christine O'Donnell, win or lose, is a mere sideshow to the bigger issue.

L E T ' S...V O T E !

Posted by: pilsener | September 21, 2010 11:46 AM | Report abuse

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