Has Politics Finally Moved Beyond The Personal?

by on 31 January, 2012

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Menzies House Managing Editor Timothy Andrews gives us his take on the SMH question:

The other day I came accross the fact that the Sydney Morning Herald's "The Question"section the springboarded off the meteoric rise of Newt Gingrich, who has had his fair share of personal baggage, to ask whether politics has finally moved beyond the personal. 

With my background in U.S. politics, and my personal intest in the personal/political divine, I thought I ought pen an answer, sticking to the 400 word limit set for published pieces. I should note that I penned this prior to reading any of the published pieces, hence any similarities to Menzies House Contributor and IPA All-Star James Paterson's piece are purely coincedental.

So here goes:

Newt Gingrich’s political resurgence can be traced directly to one event last Thursday: the South Carolina GOP Primary debate.

When CNN’s John King led the debate by asking Newt to respond to allegations that he asked his second wife for an ‘open marriage’, Newt’s response – a scathing indictment of the “elite media” – propelled him to the lead; a remarkable 20 point turnaround in the polls almost overnight.

Part of this was no doubt a backlash of conservative outrage at perceived ‘liberal media bias’; a reaction to the view that the media who refused to cover numerous Democratic improprieties, choose to focus upon Newt only as he is a Republican. Added to this was the redemption narrative that Newts sins were long passed and he had sought absolution, and the obvious desperation of the Republican base for a candidate who is neither a moderate flip-flopper, nor certifiably insane.

Yet beneath this lies a very simple truth. At a time when U.S. unemployment is at record highs, and Americans are struggling just to get by, long-gone personal indiscretions are the least of anyone’s worries.

This US election is squarely about the economy. The US Government is $15 trillion in debt, budget deficits are projected to remain for decades, and the Democrat-controlled Senate hasn’t passed a budget in over 1000 days. These are the real issues. But sex sells.

Affairs make better copy than economic analysis, and the media, rather than focus on the matters of substance, continue to frontpage tawdry tales of lust and love.

But at a time of economic crisis, the country who forgave Bill Clinton has wearied of such antics. And in an age where the internet is rapidly heralding the death of privacy, and the flaws and failings of our friends are open for all to see, their effect has worn off, and informed voters have become inured.

Character certainly matters in politics, and cases of hypocrisy remain relevant. However this is a far cry from using scandal to substitute distract from real issues, creating an environment when only the most spin-obsessed hollow men devoid of substance or character can survive, and the days of Trial by Media Feeding Frenzy are nearing an end. Yellow journalism is ill for any democracy that relies on an informed populace, and the public’s rejection of such tactics is a welcome relief, and a sign of things to come.

Politics has moved beyond the personal. The media just hasn’t gotten the memo. 

Obviously I am not predicting that Mr. Gingrich will win the Florida primary, let alone the elction; my comments are simply limited to the bump he received. Sill, I think said bump is a telling point…

Also, I ought note that I did try to limit myself to the SMH 400 word limit guideline, so I didn't have the chance to speak about David Campbell, Della Bosca etc… perhaps another time…

Tim Andrews is the Managing Editor of Menzies House. 

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