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This website is an archive. It ran from 2006-2010. Virtually everything on here is outdated or inaccurate.

Politics in America

"In American politics, the side that says don't politicize something is the side that's losing the argument." --Barney Frank

American politics is a combination of turning everything into a political battle, and revealing as few details as possible when reporting on these issues.



REPORTERS HAVE THOUSANDS of tricks for avoiding discussion of policy issues in campaign coverage, some more clever than others. The majority of them are obvious and are of the sort that jump out at the public: the constant focus on the People-magazine angles about the candidates' looks, their relationships with their wives (how often do they touch in public?), the musical instruments they play, the hobbies they pursue at their respective Viceroy retreats, etc.

Unfortunately, we're not yet at the stage where campaigns can be conducted without any mention of policy issues. We're headed in that direction—I'm guessing it's about three elections off, when the Rock decides to make his run against incumbent Tom Hanks—but we're not quite there yet. This puts both candidates and the press in a bind. They're still forced to give at least superficial lip service to the ostensible intellectual purpose of this exercise, but they have to do it in a way that makes it sound like they're not doing it. Fortunately, there are plenty of media innovations to help them out here, and one of the best is the Tumulter-sault.

Named after Karen Tumulty, who pioneered and perfected its use, the Tumulter-sault is a neat little literary device through which reporters refer to "details on the issues" without ever elaborating upon those actual details. The typical way the writer uses this one is to just slip it in, offhand-like, in between the more important details: "Candidate X, who boasts an impressive record on environmental issues, spent the weekend snowmobiling in Jackson Hole with a pair of one-armed Marine veterans..."

Forgetting about Bumiller and Bennet for a moment, it's worth pausing and recognizing Tumulty's contribution to the development of this device. She has always been the best at it, and this year she really set the tone. Take this passage from a piece last month ("Coolness Under Fire," Sep. 20):

"Kerry hardly lacks a platform at home; his health-care and fiscal policies are far more detailed, if less numerous, than Bush's. But the campaign didn't pivot from the past to the future after Boston and then hammer home Kerry's ideas. That left Bush a huge opening—and he reached for it in New York City."

Tumulty has a corollary use of the technique that not only obliquely refers to the existence of complex policy positions without explaining them, but simultaneously berates the candidates for even bringing them up. Here's an example from a piece she wrote about the selection of John Edwards as running mate ("The Gleam Team," July 19). In this one, she highlights Kerry's unfortunate tendency to talk about his policies in polysyllabic detail:

"When he finished, Kerry couldn't resist jumping in with a mini-seminar on trade policy that included references to the fine print of the antidumping and antisurge laws. But at least Kerry answered the question."

The Tumulter-sault is an important innovation because it paves the way for a future in which discussion of "the issues" can be replaced by the actual words, "the issues." With this kind of help from the press, we may soon reach a point at which the candidate who uses the word "environment" more becomes the environmental candidate and the candidate who uses the word "security" more becomes the security candidate. We're not quite there. But thanks to certain reporters, we're well on our way.

Both Bumiller and Bennet pulled Tumulter-saults in recent weeks. Bumiller's was more elaborate. In an Oct. 21 piece she co-wrote with third-round dropout Jodi Wilgoren ("A Blistering Attack by Bush, A Long Indictment by Kerry"), Bumiller managed to relay 1325 words of Bush-Kerry accusations on security issues without including one detail about what their actual Iraq policies are. In the spaces where those explanations should have come, she and Wilgoren just stuck in Tumulter-saults, as in this passage:

"Mr. Kerry sought to rebut Mr. Bush with a detailed policy speech Wednesday, unusual for this late stage in a campaign. His aides said Mr. Kerry delivered the speech because he must prove himself as an acceptable wartime leader before he can win over undecided voters on domestic issues like health care and embryonic stem-cell research."

This is a good one, confining a "detailed policy speech" to the words "detailed policy speech" in order to leave room for more newsworthy stuff like this:

"Mr. Bush's aides said they were delighted to see Mr. Kerry spend the day discussing national security, the central component of the president's campaign, because they believed it meant he was on the defensive."

Try to imagine that scene. Elisabeth Bumiller is sitting somewhere in Iowa chatting up a Bush aide (or "aides," according to the attribution). One of the aides deadpans: "You know, Elisabeth, we're delighted that Kerry spent the day discussing national security, because that means he's on the defensive."

Bumiller nods seriously, writes it down in her notebook... And then an hour later, she fucking publishes it? Her husband must have to restrain her from taking notes when they go used-car shopping.

My politics

I live in the United States and these are my politics:

My favorite politicians are Ron Paul, Barney Frank and Jeff Flake

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