Political Animal


June 01, 2012 4:31 PM Sauce for Gander

By Ed Kilgore

At TAP, Paul Waldman focuses on a specific Glenn Thrush Politico piece suggesting an indie backlash against Obama’s “negative” criticisms of Romney as a classic example of meme-driven, fact-free campaign coverage:

Let’s examine the claim here: Some months ago, Obama held a lead of six points over Romney, and in the latest average of polls, that lead is 1.6 points. Thrush acknowledges that Republicans are coalescing behind Romney, but then sets that aside for the real reason: a backlash among independents, who are angry at Obama for criticizing Mitt Romney. So here comes the evidence for the independents’ negativity backlash!
Or … not. Over the ensuing 1,500 words of the story, Thrush does not offer a single piece of evidence that 1) independents are turning away from Obama, or 2) they’re turning away because he’s criticizing Romney. What he gives us are some state polls showing the race has tightened, and a bunch of comments from people about how there might be a backlash, or there really is a backlash, or no way is there a backlash, and also a bunch of other stuff about what people think Obama and Romney each need to do to win. In other words, he wrote a 1,700-word story attempting to demonstrate a very specific empirical claim—independents are turned off by Obama criticizing Romney and are moving away from him because of it—without a single piece of evidence to support it.

Waldman’s argument was so effective and fair-minded that even Thrush tweeted it made him think.

But it gained additional salience today in connection with the competing meme (which I wrote about earlier today) that Mitt Romney’s over-the-top nastiness was a strategic masterstroke keeping his party “base” happy without offering any substantive concessions to wingnuttery.

Obama “goes negative” (or more often, just comparative) and he’s alienating the very voters he needs. Mitt goes Breitbartian, Drudgian, Rushian, Malkian negative, and he’s cleverly signalling to swing voters that he’s the “fighting moderate” who can be trusted to keep the crazy people in his party at bay while he pursues a wise, centrist policy course. Sauce for the goose, it seems, is poison for the gander.

Both of these memes really can’t be right. There’s every reason to think they are both wrong. But it would make me a lot happier if media coverage stopped focusing on the style of either candidate’s campaigning and paid just a little more attention to what they and their parties are saying they would do if elected.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • jjm on June 01, 2012 4:53 PM:

    How self-serving of the right wing.

    Obama's alienating no one with his strong stands. It's the right wing GOP lackeys who are trying to stop this at all costs, trying to surmise him to silence? STUPID.

  • 2Manchu on June 01, 2012 4:56 PM:

    Shorter Thrush: Obama needs to stop sounding so uppity.

  • hells littlest angel on June 01, 2012 4:59 PM:

    What gobsmacks me is the attempt to turn Romney's gross dishonesty into a fucking virtue.

  • Ron Byers on June 01, 2012 5:16 PM:

    This isn't an election. It is a very, very long horse race. The commentariat has to report the status of the very, very long horse race every single hour. They have to sound like they know something even when they don't (which is most of the time.) Members of the chattering class like Trush are paid to make stuff up that sounds good to the readers of Politico and similar beltway denizens.

  • Marc McKenzie on June 01, 2012 5:18 PM:

    @ hells littlest angel: Well, that approach worked for George W. Bush....

  • cathymac on June 01, 2012 5:27 PM:

    You forgot Trumpian.

  • Quaker in a Basement on June 01, 2012 5:46 PM:

    if media coverage stopped focusing on the style of either candidate’s campaigning and paid just a little more attention to what they and their parties are saying they would do if elected.

    I don't get it. Where's the horse race angle in that?

  • TCinLA on June 01, 2012 6:43 PM:

    Waldman’s argument was so effective and fair-minded that even Thrush tweeted it made him think.

    Impossible. There is no available evidence that Glenn Thrush is capable of "thought," since he lacks the basic equipment - a brain - evidenced by his employment at the far right disinformation project, "Politico."

  • dweb on June 01, 2012 8:28 PM:

    Anybody out there asking just what the GOP plan is for:

    The Economy
    Regulating Wall Street
    The environment
    Global Warming

    You listen to Mitt and the one word you hear that makes up about 20% of all the words pouring out of his mouth is "freedom".

    Not quite clear how that translates into jobs, education, dealing the the mounting problems we face as a nation.

    Election day will roll around and only then will people start learning just what they voted for.....they could be surprised if Mitt gets away with it...and he well might.

  • Doug on June 01, 2012 9:44 PM:

    What is laughingly called "political journalism" today is caught between the need to maintain the "horse race" aspect while rigorously and completely avoiding the actual differences in the contenders positions are and THAT maight affect the "race". The end result is crap like Thrush's.
    The bright side is that there's a very small number of people who, whether they believe it or not, actually read this type of "political" reporting in a June of an election year.
    The down side is that there's way too many people who don't read ANY type of political reporting, whether they believe it or not, as late as an October of an election year...

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