For one day at least, issues matter

Who’s the frontrunner this week?

Who’s falling behind, and who do the insiders think has the best chance to rebound? And (what really seems to matter), who’s bringing in the most money?

Those are the usual themes in the depthless, poll-driven “horse race” coverage of our national elections, no more so than in the selection of the Democratic Party challenger to President Bush. Sunday saw the television analysis turn to “momentum,” the surge in donations to the John Kerry campaign following his showings in Iowa and New Hampshire. Tuesday’s headlines abounded with sports metaphors: “Seven-state vote could seal Kerry’s campaign lead”; “Edwards, Clark hope to stop Kerry sweep.” Pity poor Howard Dean, who made the mistake of

trying to be heard over boisterous supporters and was summarily dismissed as a loudmouth; there probably haven’t been five words written about his political views since then. (Cue to talking head: “Can the wounded Dean campaign recover? We’ll ask three experts...after these messages.”)

Where do they all stand on the issues? Don’t look to the major media outlets to find out; all they care about is who’s likely to win.

This is not a new phenomenon; volumes have been written on the dulling of our national political discourse in the mass media. As a writer for the Sacramento Bee commented some time back: “Television rarely covers the substance of politics, but lavishes attention on the gamesmanship involved. The seemingly countless talking-head programs on cable channels are obsessed with who’s up and who’s down, and why, among the political players, but rarely focus on legislation or other forms of political policy in real-world terms.” Even the print media are complicit when the focus is on campaigns rather than government. As the writer observed, such stories “present politics as a spectator sport, full of tactics, inside gossip and leaks of opposition research on opponents but lacking much sense about what incumbents have done or what challengers might do if elected.”

While we don’t purport to have a remedy for the vapidity of television news programs – beyond the “off” switch and a few good newspapers – thoughtful discourse still has its place, at least for a day. For the Democrats out there, Saturday brings the chance to participate in national politics at the local level as party caucuses are held at four island locations. (The island’s GOP faithful, who already have a most exemplary Republican selected, get their chance to caucus on March 9.)

Want to talk issues? Here’s your chance. While the party

differences will become manifest in time, democracy is first served in selecting just who will represent the party. The

caucus lets you get beyond the horse-race headlines and make your case for your candidate of choice.

As one party activist noted, there’s plenty of time for Democrats to vote with their heads come November. At a

caucus, it’s not about the way you think things will be, it’s about the way things should be. It’s about values; it’s about the heart.

So if you don’t already have your candidate of choice in the White House, democracy beckons this Saturday.

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