Simple Moral Judgments

SIMPLE MORAL JUDGMENTS….Ezra Klein says he’s sympathetic about the media’s difficulty dealing with complex policy proposal from candidates. But not too sympathetic:

Policy is hard. Lots of people come to different conclusions. Unanimity is rare. Except on this gas tax holiday. Just about no one thinks it a good idea. Conservative economists loathe it, liberal economists loathe it, energy experts loathe it…it’s shameless pandering of the worst sort. So is the media going to create a scandal around McCain’s pander? Around Clinton’s copy-pander? Will they hound them at press conferences, run segments about the derailed “Straight Talk Express,” bring on pollsters to ask whether Americans are tired of being lied to?

….When confronted by the fact that their coverage of politics is frequently trivial and annoying, many in the media argue that they only report that way because the voters make their decisions based on trivial and annoying issues. But there’s no doubt that, with proper press coverage, the gas holiday could be one of those trivial and annoying issues that comes to stand-in for broader character failures or narratives or whatever. It’s just that the media doesn’t like to deal with policy.

Yes, it would be nice if the press spent less time on inanities and more time on how candidates planned to actually run the country. But this view of the media is just too simplistic.

Like it or not, virtually every mini-dustup in a presidential campaign — Wrightgate, Tuzlagate, bittergate, Judigate, etc. — has one thing in common: it lends itself to a simple moral judgment. It helps a lot if there’s also video available (or photos in a pinch), but the really important part is the simple moral judgment. That’s what people react to. Cable news amplifies this tendency and makes it worse, but they didn’t invent it.

And look: the blogosphere isn’t much better. Take a look at the comment section of most political blogs and check out which posts get the most activity. Learned discussions of the history of the Earned Income Tax Credit? Analysis of which Shiite faction is up or down in Iraq’s civil war? Nope. It’s Wrightgate and Tuzlagate and bittergate and Judigate and any other post that provides an opportunity to express a simple moral judgment. Republicans suck. Dems are spineless. The media is corrupt.

And this is true even though blog readers tend to be far more wonky than the average politically lethargic American. But despite this, the blogosphere hasn’t ginned up even as much outrage over the gas tax holiday as I saw from Jack Cafferty in 30 seconds yesterday. It’s just hard to get too worked up over a minor political pander when we all know that responding to interest groups is what politicians do every day. It’s practically in their job description.

Now, dig up a video of John McCain having dinner with some blonde bombshell oil industry lobbyist coyly telling him how much she wants to show her appreciation for his bold gas tax holiday proposal, and you’ve got yourself a story. Until then, CNN can put this on a 24/7 loop and it’s just not going to catch on. You can’t blame the media for everything.