Why Obama’s Election Ruined Obama’s Term

Piggybacking on Yglesias’ post, I would to take an opportunity to discuss a hypothesis of mine that has been dancing in my head for a while, but I haven’t been able to put into words until recently.

As we all remember, the 2008 Presidential Election was one of the most analyzed, dissected, and reported in recent history. The advent of the internet contributed to the coverage, though just based on what I noticed, “old-school” reporting of the election was fairly high compared to 2000 and certainly 2004. The 2008 Presidential Election coverage began the morning after Democrats retaking the House and the Senate in 2006. Since that point, rumblings began that Gov. Richardson, Sen. Clinton, Sen. Obama, Sen. Bayh, and former Sen. Edwards would throw their hats into the ring. We followed their every move, every vote, every press release to determine who is the likely front-runner to run against the GOP candidate, which was as of then undetermined.

Without recanting much more of history, let’s jump to a more relevant issue. The Mainstream Media loved the 2008 Presidential Election. Ratings were high, publications were sold, and the hissy fight between Clinton and Obama was as entertaining as an episode of Jerry Springer — which means it was really entertaining. There was “Breaking News” coverage, intense stalking of VP candidates, reporters dedicated to report on the PR folks of each campaign, etc. The 2008 Presidential Election was just huge. Every day we heard of a new poll that showed McCain up by 1 point against Obama, then another poll showing Obama up by 3 against McCain, North Carolina treading Democrat, Pennsylvania treading Republican, and it just went on and on.

Sen. Obama’s win in 2008 was larger than most expected. Capturing all of the 2004 states, all of the traditional swing states and new ones like Indiana, and even an elector from Nebraska was really impressive and excellent TV. For weeks the MSM studied the election, digging through exit polls, past performance, and…whether Obama can repeat this in 2012. Without any sense of incredulousness, the MSM was already focusing on 2012 before Obama was able to take the Oath. Is Palin going to run? Is Romney going to run? Is Bobby Jindal the Page going to run (remember that guy?)? Obama, for better or for worse, was never given an opportunity to govern without the MSM reporting on how this may effect his re-election chances. Are independents going to support the stimulus? Are Republicans going to support Health Care Reform? Are Democrats going to split from Obama for being too centrist/leftist/rightist/independent? You pick the question, the MSM probably spent 10 hours a week discussing the question. And all tributaries of the MSM are responsible. Granted FoxNews was a slight more racist, sexist, and classist in their coverage, but they spent just as much time as Keith Olbermann discussing Obama or the other side. This was great TV.

And because this was great TV, the 2008 election carried over into the too-deep coverage of NY-23. Who really cared much about NY-23? Hoffman didn’t surge because of his platform of nihilism; Hoffman surged because of TV coverage. The same with Scott Brown. Yes — Coakley was a disaster of a candidate; I originally supported Capuano. But the more it seemed that Brown had a shot, the more coverage was dedicated to the race. And this is not a black box input-output scheme. TV coverage does help. The more people see “Democrats in Congress stink” as one segment and the very next segment is “Massachusetts could elect a moderate Republican v. an entrenched, boring Democrat”, the higher their chances to vote for the moderate Republicans. Can I prove this scientifically? No. I’ll admit it, I cannot…yet. This is a hypothesis. What happens after 2012 will solidify or kill it.

So, the recap, why did 2008 ruin 2009-2012? Because coverage over elections trivialized policy discussions. Instead of discussing policy for policy’s sake, we were discussing policy for the next-election’s sake. Who cares how Cap and Trade will play out in 2012? Or Health Care in 2012? Or the Stimulus in 2010? In the case of the Stimulus, we were told very clearly that the money will be doled out incrementally over the course of 12-18 months. Guess what, the November 2010 elections fall within that period. The Stimulus was never, has never, and never will be observed over the course of its intended life. Yes, the Obama administration miscalculated unemployment, but it does not mean that the Stimulus contributed negatively to employment. Without the Stimulus, unemployment could have been 12-14%. Proof? The same proof that detractors use to prove that the Stimulus killed employment. This is all speculation. And speculation, especially electoral speculation, killed Obama’s first term. The MSM realized that elections are interesting, something most political nerds realized a very long time ago. And elections are not a temporal story. Eventually, the missing blonde girl will be found. Eventually, we’ll forget that Michael Jackson is a weirdo. Mark Twain said two things in life are permanent: death and taxes. Media executives found a third: Elections in democracies. And the opposition nihilist party bought into the media executive narrative: How will this play in 2010? 2012? And this is exactly what is going on.

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