Hit & Run

The Stupid Season

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Robert Samuelson on the election:

Political campaigns are exercises in exuberant irrationality. People say things that they know are untrue; indeed, if they believed some of these things, they ought to be barred from office. But the media treat these routine untruths as respectable statements that ought to be analyzed and debated. My favorite example involves jobs. George Bush and John Kerry argue over who'd do best at job creation. The truth is that presidents create few jobs. Their policies may influence the economy over the long run. But at any moment, jobs depend mainly on the business cycle.

Every phony job boast ought to inspire the following qualification: "Most economists regard these claims as absurd." But the media cannot be dismissive without appearing arrogant, partisan or both. So we let these rhetorical stupidities stand. Some political reporters (who, as a class, are generally uninterested in policy, although they're remarkably well-informed and smart about politics) may not even recognize them as stupidities. Unfortunately, this deceit is only one of many.

The media pretend that Bush and Kerry are debating big issues, when they aren't. To be sure, some big issues are automatically engaged: Iraq and terrorism, for example. But here differences mainly involve style and competence, not substance. (See, for example, Kerry's July 4 op-ed in The Post. It has few big disagreements with Bush.) Beyond security, Bush and Kerry quietly agree not to debate some of the big issues facing the country. To wit: (a) baby boomers' retirement costs; (b) immigration; and (c) China. You won't hear much about these, because candor would offend millions of voters.

Whole thing here. I don't agree with all of it, but it's worth a read.