Thursday, June 07, 2012
Editorial: Going off message isn't a bad thing
Today we call them "gaffes," but once they were independent thought.
From the RoundTable blog
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Political empathy, a precious lubricant that once allowed elected officials and all Americans to see that the other side had a reasoned viewpoint even if they disagreed with it, is gone. Only fealty remains.
Lethargic media report easy stories. Bloggers' passions tolerate no exception. Party enforcers swoop in on people who deviate from the official line to straighten them out. Talking heads who must fill 24-hour news cycles harp on insignificant differences of opinion. The Hegelian dialectic of thesis, antithesis, synthesis has been replaced by thesis, thesis, go to hell.
Just in the last few weeks, the presidential campaigns have turned not on interesting policy discussions but on the alleged gaffes of surrogates.
Bill Clinton and Newark Mayor Corey Booker said some nice things about private equity firms like Mitt Romney's former company Bain Capital. They were quickly slammed for going off message. Commentators questioned how they had hurt President Barack Obama's re-election bid.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell over the weekend came under fire for saying something nice about the president. He admitted that the commonwealth had benefited from national stimulus spending. Obama's programs had helped Virginia weather the worst of recession. McDonnell quickly pirouetted to the absurd notion that they had no long-term positive benefit, but the damage was done. Commentators wondered if the off-message remark had hurt his chance to be Romney's running mate.
The political class seems interested only in message discipline — who can adhere to the campaigns' talking points? The merits are secondary. The slightest deviation brands one a rogue who harms the message and hence the candidate.
In a better world, politicians would be allowed and even encouraged to have thoughtful, nuanced positions. Someone could disagree with his party's presidential candidate on one point but still support his election. Diversity of opinion is a strength.
American politics 2012 is not that world. If one concedes any agreement with one's political rivals, it might actually humanize them. The party machines won't stand for it.