One of the big advantages that the President of the United States has is the so-called bully pulpit, whereby the President uses the stature, respect, and non-stop media presence associated with the most powerful job in the world to take his message directly to the people. It’s historically been considered a huge political advantage (and disadvantage by the opposing party).
But based on media coverage in 2011, who is standing behind the bully pulpit–President Obama or the Tea Party?
With the major news source for countless Americans being the Web and 24-hour-per-day “news” channels (which would be more accurately categorized as 24-hour-per-day pseudo-political stations), political lunacy gets more air time than legitimate political discussion. That’s what boosts ratings and page views.
For example, at this time last month, Marcus “pray the gay away” Bachmann was receiving more air time than legitimate coverage about the then-approaching potential for U.S. default. There was some deficit-debate coverage, of course, but much of it focused on certain House members who believed that the debt-ceiling should have been lowered or why the default wouldn’t have been be all that bad.
What did not rise to the top of the heap was daily coverage of President Obama addressing the need for a balanced package of expenditure cuts and tax increases.
Even when Marcus Bachmann’s 15 minutes of fame ended (at least it did if there is a God) late in the month, a prime time speech by President Obama on the impending crisis was followed by a factually inaccurate retort from the Representative
John Boehner. Boehner’s speech was given as much post-event credence as Obama’s.
In this particular example, the bully pulpit may not have been enough to move the political football in the direction of a debt-reduction plan that would have included both expenditure cuts and revenue increases, but since that discussion still needs to be had, we might be a step closer to forcing the more moderate Republicans (I know–it’s almost an oxymoron) into acting like financial grown-ups if there were still a bully pulpit.
It was the same thing earlier in Obama’s term. During the health-care debate, ridiculous notions about death panels filled the air waves while coverage of President Obama talking about the actual details of the plan were hard to find. During the initial debate about whether to allow the Bush tax cuts to expire, non-stop talking points of the failed theory of trickle-down economics and the myth of job-killing tax increases overwhelmed the President’s talk of the need for fiscal responsibility.
The bully pulpit is dead.
The problem is not that the President’s advantage is gone. The problem is that the advantage has shifted to the extreme. The more extreme, the more coverage–that’s not good for anyone, except those who depend on ratings for huge paychecks.
I could go on, but I hear that a certain half-governor/economic wizard is about to put in her 144 characters about the lowering of the U.S. credit rating.
I can’t miss that.