Let’s Give ‘Em Something To Talk About

At Lunch Buffet I drew attention to a post from Armando Llorens (a.k.a. Big Tent Democrat) at Talk Left that made the best argument I’ve heard so far as to why primary competition could actually be good for Hillary Clinton:

The Media doesn’t actually care about policy. Partly because it’s hard to report on policy. Partly because they don’t really care about policy. The only way they do is if a political opponent raises the issue….

Do you want to hear about income inequality and how Clinton would try to attack the problem? Don’t hold your breath waiting for the Media to cover that. It will require a primary challenger to do this.

Want to hear about Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy views? Want her hawkish ideas challenged? Don’t count on the Media for that. It will take a primary challenger.

I don’t think any fair person can challenge Clinton’s commitment to women’s rights. But just yesterday she gave a speech at the UN on the 20th Anniversary of her famous “women’s rights are human rights speech,” the chances of prominent coverage would have been nil but for the chance to ask about eGhazi.

Without a contested primary, no important issues will be covered.

Democrats need a contested primary.

Hillary Clinton needs a contested primary.

Because our Media is simply terrible.

Greg Sargent picked up on the same theme this afternoon at the Plum Line:

[T]here are plenty of other topics important to Democratic voters that would benefit from a good debate between Clinton and one or more challengers: The massive trade deals that Obama is currently negotiating, which will likely be opposed by major constituencies within the Democratic party. The desire by some high profile Democratic lawmakers and activists to see Social Security expanded, rather than cut (as Obama has flirted with doing). Obama’s too-vague and too-broad request for authorization for the use of military force against ISIS, which will have ramifications for the next presidency. The possible nuclear deal with Iran, a topic on which Clinton has been vague. And so on.

The alternative to a real primary is a year and a half dominated by the aforementioned Hillary-versus-the-media death struggle.

Greg goes on to quote veteran Democratic op Bob Shrum from a piece by the New York Times‘ Patrick Healy:

“Democratic primary voters may let her have the presidential nomination without a struggle, but the press won’t,” said Robert Shrum, a Democratic strategist who has advised several presidential candidates including Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004. “The press will wage a kind of primary campaign against her, at least try to bring her down a peg or two. In the end, she will be the nominee, but she has to go through it first.”

I dunno about you, but I’d rather have HRC debating, say, Bernie Sanders or Martin O’Malley than Ron Fournier or the many hounds at Politico. It would feed the hungry media beast in a way that would if nothing else chew up words otherwise available for narrative-driven obsessions of the media’s own choosing that have little or nothing to do with what she’d do as president.

Now having said that, of course, you cannot just conjure up somebody who’s formidable enough to create a real test for HRC, but maybe no so formidable as to divide the Democratic Party and deny her the nomination. And for that matter, once somebody’s making the sacrifices involved in running for president, who’s going to be in a position to tell them they cannot talk about the crap the media’s talking about right now if it might help make HRC more vulnerable?

I don’t have easy answers for those questions, but I do imagine an awful lot of Democrats who wish nothing but the best for Hillary Clinton are looking at the media coverage this week and looking for ways to avoid it. If that means temporarily colluding with other Democrats who want to see her defeated or forced into a particular ideological path–well, stranger things have happened, and you can’t take the politics out of politics, can you?

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.