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Monday, February 18, 2008

Remember when Barack Obama wasn't 'Black Enough?'

One thing that's gotten me about news coverage of this election season is the focus on intangibles. Intangibles are those immeasurable qualities that are supposed to make the difference to voters. The King of the focus on intangibles has been MSNBC's Chris Matthews. Anyone who's read my stuff for a while knows that I don't put a lot of faith in Chris's punditry powers. In fact, I've called him a "freakin' loudmouth who spends almost as much time interviewing people on his show as he does with sentences that begin 'I think...'."

I wouldn't have as much of a problem with what he thinks if I thought it was worth something. But Matthews seems obsessed with intangibles; those things which, if we get right down to it, are trivial crap that some jerk on TV is telling you you're supposed to care about, but has probably never even occurred to you. Of course, Matthews isn't the only one who does this; it's a 24/7 news network staple. I've said it before, but talking heads talk -- even when they really don't have anything to say. Dead air is bad TV, so during a lull, a TV pundit's greatest skill is pulling crap out of his ass.

Let's take a little trip back to about this time last year. The big question then was, "Is Barack Obama black enough?" In fact, run a Google search for that question and it returns 106,000 hits. Sure looks like a stupid question now, doesn't it?

And that's because it was a stupid question then. But the question got so big that the Obama campaign was forced to address it.


Michelle Obama, wife of Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama, Friday called questions early in the campaign about whether her biracial husband was "black enough" to appeal to African-American voters "silly."

"It's silliness and it's about part of the silliness of our culture," she said.

A Harvard-educated attorney and vice president at the University of Chicago, Michelle Obama, 44, said the question -- raised most famously in a New York Times article -- wasn't hurtful to her.

With almost nothing substantial to talk about at that point, the media glommed onto that NYT piece and ran with it. That was what the campaign was going to be all about -- identity politics. Suddenly, black voters had been transformed into people who'd only vote for black candidates. Likewise, Hillary Clinton was assumed to have a lock on women. The larger issue isn't that the punditry just makes up these issues. The issue is why they make up these issues. And that reason is that they think you're a freakin' moron.

They think you care that John Edwards' and Mitt Romney's hair is too perfect. Faced with issues of war, economy, foreign policy, and health care, they think that sort of thing is what the clincher for you is going to be. To get back to Chris Matthews, he's the master of this crap. "Does he have sex appeal?" Chris asked about Fred Thompson. "Can you smell the English leather on this guy, the Aqua Velva, the sort of mature man's shaving cream, or whatever, you know, after he shaved? Do you smell that sort of, a little bit of cigar smoke?"

Do you believe anyone gives a crap, Chris? The way Thompson's campaign panned out showed that Matthews was the only one who thought Fred Thompson -- who reminds me most of Clayface from Batman comics -- was sexy enough to be president. The rest of us didn't care.

In fact, when you look at polls, the American people care about stuff that actually matters. A USA Today/Gallup poll shows that the top priorities of voters are Economy/Jobs (38%) and Iraq (21%). Call me crazy, but I think maybe these are the sort of things that people will use to make their decisions.

In the last presidential election, the big question was "who would you rather have a beer with?" Do you know anyone who used that criteria in making their decision? Anyone at all?

I guess what's really getting to me is that there's no reason for all these pundits to pull this stuff out of their butts. If you want to know what we think, don't try to read our freakin' minds -- ask us!

There's this crazy new idea out there called "polling." It exists so that people don't have to rely on speculative crap to determine what issues people care most about. You don't have to guess, you don't have to break out the tarot cards, you can just ask us.

It's my opinion that, if you don't have even anecdotal evidence for something, it's not a scientific assessment and it isn't worth jack. It doesn't mean anything if you "get the feeling" that voters won't like Candidate X because they wear the wrong colored suits. We don't care if Fred Thompson looks like someone who'd wear English Leather. We don't care that you could crack walnuts on Mitt Romney's hair. That much has become obvious.

As things are now, the punditry is useless. Reading tea leaves doesn't tell you jack -- it's just as pointless figuratively as it is literally. I don't need someone to tell me what to care about. And I especially don't need someone to tell me that I care about trivia.

This sort of thing is simplistic and stupid because the mainstream media thinks that's all you're capable of. If you don't find that insulting, you should.


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