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Nov 18 2013

Deciphering the language of political coverage

Matt Taibbi writes that coverage of the 2016 presidential election has already begun. He says that this is inevitable but what depresses him is the way it is covered. He explains how there has now evolved a standard lens through which all politicians are viewed and that results in a particular narrative form. He looks in particular at the way the senator Elizabeth Warren’s potential candidacy (which is not at all clear will happen but he favors if it does) is described.

Thanks in part to a Beltway gossip network that loves chattering about the Clintons and just can’t wait until 2016, and thanks in part to a punditocracy that is perennially covering the same story, regardless of year (i.e. the next presidential election), the groundwork is already being laid for the moronic typecasting that always goes on at the outset of the Big Race.

Political writers over the decades have developed a whole specialized vocabulary to quickly contextualize politicians in sound-bite form. Ideological geography is just left-right, a single horizontal line apparently representing our whole universe of beliefs, but people buy it. Then, in a nod to sports coverage, we shorthand the political standings by talking about “presumptive frontrunners,” “fringe candidates” and “insurgents.”

The latest linguistic fad is to describe a candidate as being prone to making “populist appeals,” a concept nearly as nuts as that ostensible single horizontal line of all possible beliefs. Only in the Beltway do they have to come up with a special term to describe the inexplicable (to them) phenomenon of a politician who advocates for his actual constituents, instead of just whoring along the usual career track like everyone else.

Washington leaders and the pundits they hang out with have been living for so long in a world where elected officials don’t make decisions based upon what’s right for the public that they now automatically assume that any politician who does is either up to something, or has some kind of deep-seated character flaw/mental defect.

Nothing irritates political pundits more than politicians who think telling the public the truth is enough to win elections. Don’t they know you have to win the “Candidate you most want to have a beer with?” contest first? That you’ve gotta clear the all-important “likeability” hurdle?

Again, I like Elizabeth Warren, and I’d love to see her in the White House, but this isn’t about that. It’s just frustrating that we’re three years out from the next election, and this nonsense is already starting. Do we have to play this game every time? Can’t we ever let these elections happen without reporters telling us ahead of time who’s supposed to win?

No, we cannot. Because readers and viewers of political news have got addicted to ‘analyses’ that consist of certain phrases strung together leading to predictions about who is going to win the next election that are entirely valueless, and don’t seem to care if the prognosticators are almost always wrong.

11 comments

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  1. 1
    colnago80

    Hey, the Beltway scribblers and blowhards have to write about something. For those bemused by the anointing of Hillary Clinton as president in 2016, recall that she was anointed president in 2006 by the same clowns.

  2. 2
    wtfwhateverd00d

    I was surprised last month to realize Hillary Clinton already had the nomination, and while I really like Taibbi I can see this piece, at least the excerpted part as not a repudiation of this sort of way too early running, but just yet another piece pushing a name, in this case Senator Warren’s.

    What has Senator Warren done that indicates she has Presidential qualifications??

    Has not the Barack Obama experience taught us anything about electing the young and inexperienced just for the sake of breaking boundaries?

  3. 3
    hyphenman

    TAKE THE PLEDGE…!

    I hereby swear that I will not write or blog about presidential politics nor read any such articles or blog posts before 2016.

    In the tradition of Arlo Guthrie:

    One person, just one person does it they may think he’s really sick and
    They won’t take him. And if two people, two people do it, in harmony,
    They may think they’re both faggots and they won’t take either of them.
    And three people do it, three, can you imagine, three people walking in
    singin a bar of Alice’s Restaurant and walking out. They may think it’s an
    Organization. And can you, can you imagine fifty people a day, I said
    Fifty people a day walking in singin a bar of Alice’s Restaurant and
    Walking out. And friends they may thinks it’s a movement.

    The movement starts here…

  4. 4
    thewhollynone

    Senator Warren is neither young nor inexperienced, but she would break a boundary that has long needed crashing.

    It’s a movement.

  5. 5
    Henry David Thoreau

    She’s been a senator less than a year. No, she’s not young and inexperienced, and yes, it’s much more important to boost her to Presidency because we need a vagina in the office, that’s what’s important, than anyone who has demonstrated experience in a similar position.

    Similarly, because Freshman Senator Barack Obama led had a really hotshit website, he was clearly qualified to lead the country and strip of us civil liberties and appoint a Geithner and Summers who would not fund infrastructure projects or fund the economy to the tune demanded.

    Thanks for your comment favoring your vagenda.

  6. 6
    wtfwhateverd00d

    Sorry about that, that wasn’t Henry David Thoreau who I used on the drone post, but me. wtfwhateverd00d.

  7. 7
    lpetrich

    I think that Sen. Warren ought to stay in the Senate and build up her career there. When the Republicans and movement conservatives start grumbling about excessively powerful committee chairpeople, she will have succeeded. I say that because they have recently distinguished themselves as VERY sore losers.

  8. 8
    Jared A

    Are you a sock puppet?

  9. 9
    trucreep

    I’m sure there are some people that want her to run because of the reasons you just laid out, but for the most part, the hype surrounding her is due to her aggressiveness towards Wall St. I don’t know if she’s the most vocal or most aggressive, but she is certainly the highest profile to fight against the unbelievable bullshit that’s going on.

    While I think your enthusiasm to strike down the low-hanging fruit of wanting a woman as president because she’s a woman is causing you to misunderstand the actual reasons for someone wanting her as president, you are absolutely right that we need to learn a lesson from Obama’s election.

    Yes, there were definitely people that focused on the “young” and “unknown” aspect of Obama, a lot of people were caught by his message. That is definitely what made me vote for him; how he talked of restoring America’s image, protecting whistleblowers, respecting privacy, science standards, etc.

    We know now, obviously, that these were lies. That is why we should be cautious of a Warren presidency. Because she may very well become an ally of Wall St.

  10. 10
    wtfwhateverd00d

    there’s a difference between an “alt” and a sockpuppet, and sockpuppets do not announce when they are sockpuppeting.

    in the “eccentric small town” thread on privacy, it was very relevant to add a quote by Henry David Thoreau and if so, why not cite that to Henry David Thoreau” in the name field? Professor Singham could verify the email address was the same fake email address I use as wtfwhateverd00d.

    So no.

  11. 11
    Jared A

    I still think it would have been funnier if you had said “yes”

  1. 12
    JOIN ME IN TAKING THE PLEDGE… | Have Coffee Will Write

    […] Mano Singham laments, […]

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