Working in Washington, for a company that specializes in its coverage of American politics, it’s been easy for me to believe that absolutely no one, anywhere, has anything really new to say about this election. Which is why it was so refreshing to read this piece by David Runiman in the London Review of Books. It’s worth taking a look at just to be reminded how…I won’t say weird, different, maybe, our election process looks when it’s viewed across the pond.
I don’t agree with everything Runciman has to say, but I thought his best observation was this: there is more and better writing being done about this election than in any previous contest, especially by non-traditional media outlets, but none of that argument seems to be swinging voting patterns in the way an endorsement from an influential newspaper might have in the past. He writes:
The BBC, whose coverage of British politics looks increasingly lame, has been hopeless at Obama v. Clinton. It’s not enough any longer for a correspondent to paint some local colour about the weather or the quirks of the voting system before asking a seasoned observer from the New York Times or Washington Post to explain to a British audience what it all means. The seasoned observers no longer have even the appearance of a monopoly on wisdom. They are just shouting to be heard like everyone else….
At the start of the campaigning season, the hope was widely voiced that the 2008 election offered an opportunity to reflect on what had gone wrong in the United States, and to think seriously about how things might be different. Much of the increasingly regretful comment that is being passed on how things have turned out reflects the fact that this opportunity has not been taken. Each side blames the other, for dwelling on race, or gender, or youth, or age, or hope, or fear, or the future, or the past, and imagines some alternative campaign in which the real issues would be debated in serious and open-ended terms….But in truth, it is absurd for anyone to claim to offer a plausible alternative to the way this election has been conducted. For all the elegance, intelligence and wit on display in the many tens of thousands of words I have read over the past few months, nothing that’s been said appears to have made any real difference to how most people see the candidates.
He tends to attribute that to the simple din produced by the number of new media outlets. But I wonder if it’s more likely that, as the blogosphere matures and grows, it tends to reflect public opinion, much as a poll improves with a larger sample size, rather than to guide it. And I don’t think that’s necessarily a loss, if what the blogosphere pushes the media as a whole to produce is more informed debate rather than a public swayed to one particular outcome.