Sunday, July 22, 2007

When Character Matters

Marc Ambinder (who I wrote about here and here) has a follow-up post that attempts to answer his critics. He tries to make the argument that the story was important because it shows us something about Edward's character and his ability to advocate for the poor. However, this is just silly. I cannot see how his decision to get an expensive haircut will inform his policies regarding poverty or how it says anything about who Edwards is as a person.

Even if Ambinder is correct, this is not a standard which is applied uniformly (if at all). For example, look at the coverage of Bush back in 1999-2000. At that time, there was evidence to suggest that he was an absolutely horrible person who had little concern for how others felt. Perhaps the most horrid example comes from an interview Tucker Carlson did with Bush in 1999 where Bush mocked the pleas of a condemned prisoner:
In the weeks before the execution, Bush says, a number of protesters came to Austin to demand clemency for Karla Faye Tucker. "Did you meet with any of them?" I ask. Bush whips around and stares at me. "No, I didn't meet with any of them", he snaps, as though I've just asked the dumbest, most offensive question ever posed. "I didn't meet with Larry King either when he came down for it. I watched his interview with Tucker, though. He asked her real difficult questions like, 'What would you say to Governor Bush?'" "What was her answer?" I wonder. "'Please,'" Bush whimpers, his lips pursed in mock desperation, "'don't kill me.'" I must look shocked — ridiculing the pleas of a condemned prisoner who has since been executed seems odd and cruel — because he immediately stops smirking.

Yet if Ambinder is right, and that political journalists are just trying to highlight possible character flaws in candidates, why didn't this story get some serious coverage? In 2000, Bush sold himself as a compassionate conservative and committed Christian- if anything, the Karla Faye Tucker story shows that Bush was full of it. However, this story is relatively unknown and I only came across it a couple years ago while reading a blog entry on Atrios.

Compare the relative silence on this story with the hubbub surrounding Al Gore's mythic pronouncement that he invented the Internet in 2000. Gore was mocked endlessly by the political press for saying that he invented the internet, when he actually said nothing of the sort. The story was supposed to show that Gore was someone who exaggerated a little too much and suggested that he had some serious honesty problems.

Seen in this light, Ambinder's original assertion that this is all about revealing important character flaws is ridiculous. The political press chooses to cover certain stories because they are just very petty people with an inflated sense of importance. They aren't wisely presiding over our public discourse because they want to inform the American people, they are playing the same type of game silly teenagers play.

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