I am increasingly struck by how disconnected the professional communications class is from the actual substance of what they are covering. Take, for example, this article by Troy Patterson on the State of the Union. I don't mean to pick on Mr. Patterson, who is explicitly covering the coverage of the speech. But it does point out just how quickly we jump from talking about the substance of an event, and move instead to how it looks, how we should perceive it.
To continue the point, look at this post about Obama's Q&A with the Republican Party in the House. Why do we skip to pointing out what great television it was? I have read numerous points about this session, all of which have skipped to how the public will perceive it, or what political benefits might accrue from it.
Can I ask you to pause for a moment and ask when was the last time you read a piece on politics that actually focused on what was happening, the substance of the thing as opposed to how us, the public, was going to react to it? I haven't read a single thing that says if Obama's Q&A might actually lead to new breakthroughs on any of the issues our country faces. I almost question whether any of the participants, Obama or the Republicans, actually are looking for opportunities to do something, or if they're all just trying to look a certain way for the cameras, the media, and the public.
But I'd argue (ah, the point, at last!) that most of the 'public' actually sees through all of this, but doesn't know quite what to do about it. Obama won, I'd contend, because he convinced enough people that he wasn't all about the surface appearances long enough that he got elected, and the whipsaw swing back to Republicans in recent elections indicates that he's dramatically failed to actually DO things, to say exactly, clearly, simply what he wants to do and then focus on that thing until it is done and can be judged on its merits.
Americans, if I can be so bold as to generalize, want to know what the rules of the state are so they can live their lives as they want within those rules. But they also want a decent amount of social protections so there aren't millions falling through the cracks of a cold system. Within that tension there's a lot of room for politicians to operate. But they need to say what their issues are and work tirelessly to achieve them. Scott Brown got elected because he said we should have a tax cut, should treat terrorists as enemies instead of common criminals, and government should be accountable to the people (so don't pass a wildly unpopular health plan against their will). Now he has to govern with a laser-like focus on those points if he wants to reward the trust Massachusetts voters have put in him. If he gets sucked in by those people who want him to be a symbol, and spends all his time preening in front of a camera, his time on the national stage will be short.
One of the larger points I'll be making again and again on this blog is that the decades of mass marketing culture have left us immune to most of the techniques of the speechwriters, campaign managers and PR flaks, at least most of the time. We want authenticity, even if it's a little weird, a little harder.
Oh, and by way of a shout-out, if you're looking for a blogger who authentically struggles with the issues facing our country (from a conservative perspective), look no further than Reihan Salam at the National Review. I intent to steal ideas and themes from him regularly.