I think someone on the New York Times editorial staff has a wicked sense of humor. Today they featured a guest op-ed by Elizabeth Edwards, wife of former presidential candidate John Edwards, right alongside Maureen Dowd's latest excretion. A representative sampling follows.
Edwards: Bowling 1, Health Care 0
The problem today unfortunately is that voters who take their responsibility to be informed seriously enough to search out information about the candidates are finding it harder and harder to do so, particularly if they do not have access to the Internet.
Did you, for example, ever know a single fact about Joe Biden’s health care plan? Anything at all? But let me guess, you know Barack Obama’s bowling score. We are choosing a president, the next leader of the free world. We are not buying soap, and we are not choosing a court clerk with primarily administrative duties.
The decision was probably made by the same people who decided that Fred Thompson was a serious candidate. Articles purporting to be news spent thousands upon thousands of words contemplating whether he would enter the race, to the point that before he even entered, he was running second in the national polls for the Republican nomination. Second place! And he had not done or said anything that would allow anyone to conclude he was a serious candidate. A major weekly news magazine put Mr. Thompson on its cover, asking — honestly! — whether the absence of a serious campaign and commitment to raising money or getting his policies out was itself a strategy.
I’m not the only one who noticed this shallow news coverage. A report by the Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy found that during the early months of the 2008 presidential campaign, 63 percent of the campaign stories focused on political strategy while only 15 percent discussed the candidates’ ideas and proposals.
Watching the campaign unfold, I saw how the press gravitated toward a narrative template for the campaign, searching out characters as if for a novel: on one side, a self-described 9/11 hero with a colorful personal life, a former senator who had played a president in the movies, a genuine war hero with a stunning wife and an intriguing temperament, and a handsome governor with a beautiful family and a high school sweetheart as his bride. And on the other side, a senator who had been first lady, a young African-American senator with an Ivy League diploma, a Hispanic governor with a self-deprecating sense of humor and even a former senator from the South standing loyally beside his ill wife. Issues that could make a difference in the lives of Americans didn’t fit into the narrative template and, therefore, took a back seat to these superficialities.
And now, for the defense... here's MoDo.
Hillary grows more and more glowy as Obama grows more and more wan.
Is she draining him of his precious bodily fluids? Leeching his magic? Siphoning off his aura?
It used to be that he was incandescent and she was merely inveterate. Now she’s bristling with life force, and he looks like he wants to run away somewhere for three months by himself and smoke.
Hillary is not getting much sleep or exercise, and doesn’t, like the ascetic Obama, abstain from junk food and coffee and get up at dawn to work out on the road. She’s still a long shot and she’s 14 years older than her rival.
Yet she’s the one who is more energetic and focused and beaming, and he’s the one who seems uneven and gauzy, often fatigued and unable to disguise being fed up with the slog. Even his speeches don’t have the same pizazz.
The Nixonian Hillary has a ravenous hunger that Obama lacks. Literally — at a birthday party in Philly for her photographer, she was devouring the chips and dip with two hands — and viscerally.
At Joe’s Junction gas station in Indianapolis, Obama did his best to shoo away the pesky elitist label. Accused by an Indianapolis reporter of looking like a GQ cover, he said he has only four pairs of shoes and buys “five of the same suit and then I patch them up and wear them repeatedly.” But his campaign refused to reveal the brand, presumably because it’s not J. C. Penney.
I know it's not the job of the opinion page to present candidates' proposals and policy views in their full detail. But what they can do--remember, these are supposed to be the best writers, not the best reporters (though most of them did start as reporters)--is to write about those positions in a way that makes them come alive for readers, and to call for a higher level of discourse in coverage overall. Remember that in the 2000 election cycle, when a little more analysis of the differences between Al Gore and George Bush might have been useful, MoDo was writing about Gore's sighs and sartorial choices, and Bush's ease and grace. Heaven forfend she ever learn or improve.
It's enough to make you wonder if the Times has the wrong choice of these two women as their regular columnist.