October 1, 2007
Voting With the Weekly ReaderBy Clarice Feldman
I am not the political scientist Jay Cost or Michael Barone are, but I do have some thoughts about why not to waste much time reading anything any of the other pundits say about the candidates or the election. The pundits are getting paid to write what the paid candidate staffers tell them, and they know less about elections than the kids who read the Weekly Reader.
I first glommed onto how accurate these kids are when in October 2004, against a lot of expectations, they predicted President Bush would be re-elected. The press release read:
Now, I suppose that there are many possible explanations for this incredible record, but I have my own thoughts.
The voters in that survey have more in common with adult voters than pundits do. Instinctively they pay less attention to the paid messages and messengers and concentrate more on the character and personality of the candidates. And they do so with the clear-eyed perspective of youth.
They probably pay no attention to the debates. No one should much. As Fred Thompson described them, the candidates are lined up onstage like a row of seals waiting to be thrown some fish. For the most part, Democratic candidates will be served mostly sushi; Republicans mostly will be blindsided with fish guts.
You know the drill: No matter how urgent the other matters of the day, the vast majority of them will be pressed endlessly on social issues. The game is an effort to get them to offend either what the media moderators perceive to be the socially conservative "base" or the socially moderate voters.
But media bias aside, the format stinks. So many candidates are in the kick line that meaningful follow up questions are rare. These are no more than events in which to get the candidates' names, faces and scripted tap dance before the public for free as far as the candidates are concerned. Tap dance it is, of course, because each party knows that its primary voters are far more partisan than the general electorate, and while reaching out to the former they must carefully couch their words so they won't be quoted back against them in the general election.
In turn, the moderators are often far less interested in anything except scoring some "gotcha" point on any candidate who might inadvertently forget what his handlers told him to say and step in the trap.
Even assuming a candidate had some interesting points on a relevant and genuine issue (and elementary school curricula-- another favorite of moderators -- is no part of the President's duties) he'd hardly have time to develop them. Most of his time is spent gathering up millions of dollars to pay them out to thousands of staffers to spin to friendly pundits.
This is why I do not care if Fred Thompson has worked out his staffing issues yet. Or whether he has raised the millions of dollars the others already have thrown away on campaign stickers, posters, ads and statements that are too thin to be bothered with.
The man can communicate. Himself. And he connects with people.
His YouTube response to Michael Moore was written by Fred! What a concept! And it cost virtually nothing. And people really liked it. And it got his point across better than an army of consultants, all of whom knew exactly where they were on the staff chart, could do.
When my son was little, he kept pestering me for toys he'd seen advertised on TV. Finally I decided I'd had enough. I asked him to show me the ad for the toy he said he had to have that week. It was a remote control helicopter. I got out a huge sheet of paper and asked him to draw it, making it the size he thought it was from the ad. Then I asked him to write underneath it all the things he thought it could do from the representations in the ad. I folded and saved the paper. When the toy was delivered, he saw for his own eyes how much smaller it was than he had thought. He saw it couldn't do any of the things the ad suggested it could do.
He never asked for one of those advertised toys again.
The voters have plenty of experiences with ad hypes, too. My generation learned that we drank all that ovaltine to get a decoder ring that actually was not the Rosetta stone to anything really all that interesting.
Like Weekly Reader sophisticates, we grown ups are bored with the ads, bored with the debates, bored with the punditocracy. And we are ignoring them.
If you want to find out how the election is going, take a kid to lunch next October.
Clarice Feldman is an attorney in Washington, DC.