Last week, to guests of Toronto’s distinguished Donner Foundation, Mark Halperin, senior analyst for Time Magazine and MSNBC, provided a broad overview of the US presidential election. To get things started, he asked them where they stood: By show of hands, they broke roughly 20-1 for Obama. The audience was lopsided, as “by-invitation” evenings often are in Canada. Nevertheless, for a good hour, they applauded Halperin’s even-handedness.
As with his book Game Change, Halperin's saving the “delicious” stuff for his next book. Americans will pick a president and then will be able to read the “telling details” along with the rest of us.
That’s fair for an historian, but falls short for a political journalist.
There was nothing intimidating about the audience; it was partisan, but civilized and highly informed. Nobody flinched when he said he liked Romney as well as Obama. No one laughed when he said that Mitt Romney was also intelligent and, in private, very funny.
The problem was: He went no further, as if that weighty term “in private” is evidence enough. This is manipulative. Halperin invited his audience to conclude that Romney and Obama are similar and, next year, could both be good presidents—by inference.
Romney reasonably asks Americans to judge Obama by his record—by his public utterances and actions. Halperin seems to suggest that Romney can be handicapped by favorable second-hand reports about how he thinks and what he truly values.
That’s nothing less than giving the voter a license to decide when to take Romney seriously. To sound even-handed, he’s saying: Relax, whatever you think is all that matters.
You’re a Keynesian. But, you can vote for Romney because you can decide that what he says publicly about the deficit, tax cuts, and the debt ceiling is nothing more than tactical pandering.
You believe in universal healthcare, a women’s privacy, and better relations with Russia. Still, you can vote for Romney because he did say many reasonable things before running for president and, in private, may even chuckle about the excesses of the “Tea Party.”
Andrew Potter, in the latest Literary Review of Canada, turned to Stephen Colbert in a review of artistic fraud and authenticity .
When the satirist Stephen Colbert coined the term “truthiness” to describe American political discourse, he defined it as “‘what I say is right, and [nothing] anyone else says could possibly be true.’ It’s not only that I feel it to be true, but that I feel it to be true.” His point is that, by universal consensus, we no longer care about the facts or the external truth of the matter. What we care about is emotional truth and the politics of perception over reality. Not truth, but truthiness.
Potter noted that the art fraud, Otto Wacker, wondered why he was the one on the dock: “After all, a number of experts had authenticated his paintings.”
Before we vote, we should be hard on the Halperins, as well as on the spoken words of the candidates.