Wednesday, July 16, 2008

On Storylines and Flip Flops

Now that most of the outrage is dying down over the New Yorker's cover, we can set our sights again on foreign polict and the nature of flip flopping.

For those paying close attention, in the middle of a speech calling Obama naive and defeatist in his approach to our various wars in the world, McCain actually adopted a large part of Obama's plan, namely that we should increase our troop presence in Afghanistan if we want to win there. Of course, McCain's comments don't come until the 10th paragraph of the story I just linked and even then there's no analysis to point out that Obama has been making essentially the same point (in different terms) for about a year now.

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo has been doing a good job covering how McCain is assuming Obama's position and how the mainstream press isn't calling him on it! This is something we've been seeing a lot. Obama has been lurching to the center while McCain claims to be taking the same course he already has, even as his positions on issues careen all over the political map. In the above link you Josh points out that he changed his position on Afghanistan the same day. So what gives? Why is Obama flip flopping and McCain not?

I think the answer is pretty simple and fits into the theory of the Tom Cruise Effect. Namely, McCain has a reputation as the Straight Talk Express with lots of policy experience. He's the expert and it doesn't fit into his story line to have him flopping all over the place. Meanwhile, Obama is the fresh-faced newcomer with rhetoric that made it difficult to understand exactly what his positions were during the primary. (You have to laugh at the irony that after months of coverage in the press about how Obama wasn't really laying out any policy proposals he's now being accused of switching positions on proposals he apparently didn't lay out the first time.) So the new guy flops while the Straight Talk Express keeps on going straight - never mind that lately the Straight Talk has been just as crooked as the flopper.

The fact is that the press simply doesn't do a good job covering the substance of presidential campaigns. There's lots of focus on minor gaffes and controversies but little analysis on what's actually being said and what it will actually mean for the country. The reporters get their storylines and stick with them, regardless of the facts that run to the contrary. It's not a hopeless situaton, but it is disappointing to run into it over and over again.

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