DEMOCRAT V. DEMOCRAT. Last week, I mused over the difference between the Democratic Party's internal disagreements -- which are broadcast at maximum volume, countless times -- and the Republican Party's internal rifts, which go basically ignored. That, I suggested, and not any substantive incoherence or lack of focus, explained why Americans think Democrats don't stand for anything. But what accounts for the differing coverage? Why are Democratic disagreements so loud, and Republican arguments so silent?
Here's one, slightly counterintuitive, hypothesis: the media actually is liberal. And that's bad for Democrats. A University of Connecticut survey found that 68 percent of journalists polled voted for Kerry, 25 percent for Bush, and the rest either refrained or went with a third-party candidate. Let's be clear, I'm not saying the media's coverage is biased, just that those who end up in journalism, particularly newspaper journalism, tend to slant leftward in their personal opinions. Given the constraints of "objective" journalism, I don't think party affiliation much matters for coverage of events. But it does matter for which events get covered, because where you fall on the ideological spectrum has some bearing on what you'll be attuned to politically.
Journalists, being both liberal and politically attentive, are keyed in to the internal disagreements and contradictions of the Democratic Party in a way they're simply not able to replicate across the aisle. These debates -- interest group politics vs. common good; hawks vs. doves; etc -- thus get covered with an enthusiasm that the right doesn't have to face. As example, The Weekly Standard, considered the most influential conservative magazine around (John McCain is a reader and Dick Cheney sends a staffer to pick up 30 copies every Monday), published a feature this week on the next steps for compassionate conservatism. Those steps? Increased progressivity in the tax code, an acceptance of the Republican responsibility to entitlement programs, a gasoline tax, renewed vigor in antitrust enforcement, a pathway for immigrants to attain citizenship, etc. It's a list a liberal could love, and a straightforward condemnation of the plutocratic tilt of the modern Republican Party. Moreover, they recently ran a cover story blasting Republicans for focusing on business interests rather than working families ("Sam's Club Republicans"). Meanwhile, on foreign policy, the magazine takes an all-invasion-all-the-time stance, a stark contrast to the position taken by William F. Buckley, who's turned against the Iraq War and seems to be edging towards the isolationism that once undergirded the Republican Party. But these aren't debates you hear about because they're not debates the press corps is largely attuned to, or interested in.