Neutral Story Line That Isn’t: Looks like NBC has its midterm election line set: It’s all about “gridlock” and “polarization!” (Video clip, featuring Chuck Todd, here.)
You can understand the appeal of this angle to Turness & Co.. It at least seems to be a Neutral Story Line of the sort traditionally favored by big cautious MSM entities worried about appearing partisan –“Is This Anyway to Elect a President?” and “Nasty,Politics” are two other hardy NSL choices. But unlike those even more banal and bedraggled themes, this one presents itself as chin-strokingly substantive, even Aspenish.
Like all good NSLs, it works with any outcome. If Republicans win, well, voters just saw that as the way to break gridlock! If Democrats win, voters were tired of Republican obstructionism — or in any case (as Todd teed it up on Friday) they didn’t really trust Republicans to bring “change.” Nothing to do with approval or disapproval President Obama. A “gridlock” focus conveniently abstracts from unpalatable issues of ideology or policy or personality. Do voters hate Obamacare? Do they think there is a “war on women?” That Obama is losing Iraq to ISIS? Did they become maybe more conservative? Or liberal? Superficial details. Labels. NBC has penetrated to the deeper reality!
Which happens to be its reality. The “gridlock” line isn’t neutral, of course. What would ending gridlock look like? Maybe, to the MSM, a non-gridlocked agenda is as “obvious” as it is to David Brooks. But it’s still an agenda. Front and center in this agenda currently is some kind of immigration amnesty deal. Sure, you could break the immigration gridlock the other way — with a focus on border enforcement before amnesty. But that’s not the break the MSM has in mind — and anyway President Obama would never sign it. So “voters want to end gridlock” translates smugly into “voters demand what the MSM, including NBC, wants,” if not precisely what the Democratic president wants.
Does it matter that this may in fact get the reality of the midterms 180 degrees wrong — voters seem poised to vote against amnesty and for an focus on border security, for example, against breaking the gridlock the “obvious” MSM way?
And when those voters get angrier still at the MSM misinterpretation of their action — well, there they go again, with their demands for “change” in Washington! Bet that’s what NBC will say the 2016 election is about too, if it hasn’t been acquired by Snapchat.
To be sure: I’m not saying there isn’t a germ of truth to what Todd says — neither party seems to have a reassuring policy fix for the current mediocre economy. But voters also have views on the specific policies that have been offered, and they are rendering judgment on specific political actors who offer them and the philosophies that inform them. Todd knows this. He shouldn’t let himself be Gregoryized for prime time.
P.S.: It’s particularly odd for Todd to say “political activists … in Madison,” Wisconsin are against “polarization.” Activists? Madison? Aren’t they the polarizers?