A couple of things we can count on during any presidential election are partisan orators assuring us that “this is the most important election of our lifetimes” and media critics complaining that nobody’s paying enough attention to the issues. I’ve been one of those critics myself a time or two, though a half-hearted one, as I don’t honestly believe anyone ever lost the White House because voters didn’t hear enough about his trade policy.
This year’s different. The issues everyone’s talking and writing about this time run along the lines of:
Is she honest enough or corrupt?
Is he just narcissistic or also going senile?
And on a more cosmic level:
Who are these people?
Will America choose hope or fear?
Are we finished as a democracy?
Is the country falling apart?
These are big issues one and all, and no one’s overlooking them. They preoccupy our most important pundits, and they should. After all, this actually might be the most important election of our lifetimes.
And yet sprinkled among the population are those who wouldn’t mind a word or two about trade policy. Or climate change. Or rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure. We actually do know a thing or two about Donald Trump’s programs, because they’re part and parcel of the case that he’s unhinged. He wants to build that wall. He wants to make NATO pay to play. He wants to protect the Second Amendment (if I follow him correctly) by putting it in the Constitution he intends to read, eventually.
But what about Hillary Clinton? I got an e-mail the other day from a longtime reader who believes the media are giving her a raw deal.
“We are experiencing a presidential election which is about assassination threats and. . . the slandering of a decorated American officer,” he marveled. “The press is not to BLAME, but they are far from innocent.
“There is another candidate out there, and she has spent a fair share of her speech time talking about her proposals. You couldn’t tell it from the coverage. The threats and bluster have occurred, and I do not deny that they are news, but the proposals have also occurred.
“Who has decided that they are not news?”
I think this is an overstatement. Last Thursday Clinton delivered what the New York Times described as a “detailed point-by-point rebuttal” to Trump’s economic proposals and the Times played the story on page one. So did the Tribune, for that matter, though the Tribune‘s angle was that her message was “undermined” by “damaging revelations” about her old e-mails. The Tribune made its own story a compelling example of this undermining. Though it said Clinton’s “policy-laden address . . . effectively rebutted” Trump’s plan, the story was two-thirds done and back on page 14 before it got around to saying how.
Economic proposals, it occurs to me, are a lot like the equestrian competition in the current Olympics. It’s a bit dry and the audience isn’t big—but NBC boasts of covering absolutely everything, and anyone who looks hard enough for dressage can find it. The Olympics are a model for how the media should be—and to an extent already are—covering the elections. Trump’s veiled messages to gun nuts would be prime time fodder, but anyone hungry to know more about his views on, say, taxing one-percenters could find nonstop economics-issues coverage on a cable channel previously specializing in infomercials on kitchen gadgets.
The immigration channel would be more popular. I’d compare it to Dish’s channel 98. That’s where I watched the U.S. women’s soccer team. I had no idea there was a channel 98, but before long my fingers were typing the numbers automatically.
And yet we have analogous channels even now. There’s MSNBC. There’s C-Span. There’s Comedy Central. If you have your own idea of what an important election issue is, I guarantee there’s somewhere you can go to follow it. If the equestrian sports never drew much of an audience, it wasn’t because frustrated multitudes didn’t know where to look.