Friday, August 19, 2011

More on the media and Ron Paul

A thoughtful (as always) post from Will Wilkinson at the economist comparing the major media's treatment of Ron Paul and Michelle Bachmann.

A somewhat different explanation than the one he offers is that the standard issue establishment democrats in the major media simply do not know how to think or talk about Ron Paul because he does not fit into the comfortable but conceptually incoherent boxes of red and blue that they are used to deploying when analyzing partisan politics. Under this theory, they avoid talking about Ron Paul for the same reason I generally avoid talking about macroeconomics or baseball: they want to avoid the unpleasant feeling of not understanding what they are talking about.


Dan said...

I think it's a bit unfair to put this all on Democrats. Not many Americans (probably under 5%) actually understand economics. The whole media, with the exception of the BBC and NPR, engages in talking points wars. This is probably a circular process where people who don't understand issues can be fed twitter posts that they understand but which make no sense and keep them uninformed. So yes, in general, I do agree with you that political news is intentionally uninformative. But my larger point is that probably none of the political pundits on TV seem to actually understand economics, or even sometimes politics, whether they're on MSNBC or Fox. Thoughtful discussion is not welcome because daily scorekeeping and screaming matches, peppered with YouTube clips of animals doing funny things, are so much better for the ratings.

Note that Ron Paul himself says Fox News ignored him during the last campaign as they seem to ignore him now: I would be interested to ask him about his feeling that he is not welcome on left-leaning news stations, but that those with similar viewpoints are invited on (around 0:26 and again around 1:05). I can't easily determine why that would be the case using any of the theories floated so far.

I think you underestimate, by a lot, how many Democrats there are, like me and many of my friends, who greatly support Ron Paul on a whole host of issues and would vote for him in the Michigan open primary next year, given the chance. Certainly I don't agree with him on all issues, particularly monetary policy. But he's just the kind of Republican that I wish Republicans would be. (And if you don't believe me, I'll gladly forward you the minutes from the GEO meeting last fall where I made a motion to endorse Rick Snyder, backed by another economics graduate student that you might not expect.)

econjeff said...

Dan -

You've interpreted my comments a bit more narrowly than I intended. My concern is not that establishment democrats do not understand economics. Indeed, I agree with you that most TV heads of all flavors are weak on both economic theory and on how to use and interpret statistical evidence.

Rather, I think that many people, including most media commentators (who, empirically, are mostly center-left democrats) do not really understand why a view that simultaneously favors personal liberty, economic liberty and a modest foreign policy represents a theoretically coherent whole worthy of consideration and confrontation.

In contrast, I think that many conservatives do understand the libertarian worldview, and they know that they don't like it, either because they can't give up their social conservatism or they can't give up their aspirations to "national greatness" and the aggressive foreign adventures it implies or both.

Also, I know lots of democrats like the ones you describe, both in my family and in my professional life. To use local examples, in many ways I have more in common politically with John DiNardo than with Matthew Shapiro, even though John is much further to the left. Comparisons like this are one reason I argue against reliance on the simplistic and misleading one-dimensional left-right political spectrum.

Dan said...

To clarify, I agreed with about 90% of what you said in the original post and probably 90-100% of your reply.

I've always thought electoral reform might be very beneficial in fixing some of these sorts of problems, coupled with not watching TV news or reading extraordinarily partisan websites. Why do Iowa and New Hampshire get to basically pick the two people in each party that the rest of the country has to be satisfied with? And why are the results greatly swayed in presidential re-election campaigns, when one party's members are free to cross over?

I do think alternative voting and open primaries might bolster the chances of people like Ron Paul who are considered fringe. However, I'm also paranoid that anywhere from 20-80% of each party's members actually enjoy partisanship and would do their best to wreck the other party by crossing over and picking the one with the worst chance of winning. I'm curious to see the results of California's new primary system, but I'm afraid that it will just cause each party to front only one strong candidate and have behind-the-scenes arm-twisting move earlier in the calendar.