The editor’s opinion from Marketplace, Northeast Wisconsin’s business magazine. (Obligatory disclaimer: Most hyperlinks go to outside sites, and we’re not responsible for their content. And like fresh watermelon, peaches, pineapple, grapefruit, tomatoes and sweet corn, hyperlinks can go bad after a while.)

June 3, 2008

Coming to your TV any second now

Real Clear Politics sees “Minnewisowa” — Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa — as keys to the presidential race:
In fact, as the summer of the 2008 presidential campaign season approaches, and the nominees of the two major parties are known, a shift is taking place from some midwestern states to some hitherto "safe" (for Democrats) rust-belt states in the Eastern/Middle Atlantic regions of the country. It is also quite possible that some previously "safe" states (for Republicans) in the West could become battlegrounds.
We might be on a first-name basis with John McCain and Barack Obama by Election Day. There is no major statewide race this fall (U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl (D–Milwaukee) was reelected in 2006, and the terms of Gov. James Doyle and U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold (D–Madison) expire after the 2010 election), so there is no other statewide race to clutter up the ballot or the attention of political writers. This is also probably why Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is reportedly high on the list of McCain’s vice presidential candidates.

I am skeptical that Wisconsin really should be considered a battleground state. The last Republican presidential candidate that won in Wisconsin was Ronald Reagan, in 1984, and the last two Republicans who won one of the big two statewide races (governor and U.S. Senate) were Gov. Tommy Thompson in 1998 and Sen. Robert Kasten way back in 1986. Some of the presidential races have been close, but a majority, or at least plurality, of Wisconsin voters have cast their ballots for such Democratic nothingburgers as Michael Dukakis and John Kerry. The reasons too many Wisconsin voters vote for Democrats in presidential races are the same reasons that we’re stuck with one of the highest tax burdens in the universe.

Why is this attention from presidential candidates a mixed blessing? In addition to the fact that this reinforces the idea that government is more important to our lives than it should be, if this writer is correct, we are about to be inundated by advertising for McCain and Obama, accompanied by regular stops by the candidates, accompanied by the national media hordes. This summer and fall, coverage of McCain and Obama in Wisconsin will crowd out actual news from your favorite TV station and daily newspaper. And, as we’ve seen for more than a year, it won’t be coverage of actual issues affecting voters; it’ll be horse-race coverage — which church will Obama choose? Can McCain appeal to independents? Will Obama be able to quit smoking? What about that McCain temper? Is Obama really a closet Muslim? Is McCain really a Manchurian candidate? Is Obama the Messiah? Is McCain too old to be president? — with a substantial portion of irrelevant reporter grilling of voters designed to elicit whatever responses fit into the media template (liberal-leaning, time for a change, conflict as story).

An example conveniently comes today from coverage of General Motors Corp.’s announcement of the closing of the GM Janesville plant, the last vehicle assembly plant in the state:
“Today’s news is a painful reminder not only of the challenges America faces in our global economy, but of George Bush's failed economic policies,” Obama said. “For eight long years, we’ve had an energy policy that funds both sides in the war on terror without promoting fuel efficiency or helping make our auto companies more competitive. That’s part of the reason thousands of more Americans in Wisconsin and Ohio will no longer be able to count on a paycheck at a time when they’re already being pinched by rising costs.”
Of course it, and everything else, is George W. Bush’s fault. Why, he’s probably the reason the Packers lost to the New York Giants in the NFC championship game. (Hey, Barack, your environmentalloony friends had nothing to do with running up gas prices to $4 a gallon, right?) Obama’s “analysis” is the opposite of what Ben Stein noticed earlier this year — the idea that everything that is wrong with this country and/or your life is the result of the current occupant of the White House. It is as if in Obama’s PR offices there is a template that reads: “[Insert bad thing here] is the direct result of the failed [insert subject area here] policies of George W. Bush ...” And this kind of “reporting” will be on page 1 and leading the evening news every night for the next five months.

As an employee of Wisconsin’s largest media company, a news junkie (they say the first step to curing an addiction is admitting you have a problem) and a bigger believer in the First Amendment than many journalists, I should think all this media attention is a good thing. As someone who believes that, when it comes to government, bigger is not better, I don’t.

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