Here's Matthew Yglesias.
Michael Signer, who worked on foreign policy and national security issues for John Edwards, has a great piece in The Washington Post about the difficulty of getting any coverage of the foreign policy distinctions between the presidential candidates. He (rightly) cites Michael Gordon's series of interview/analysis articles for The New York Times as an important exception, along with some of the stuff Jason Horowitz did for The New York Observer, but "mostly you had to look to the blogs -- places such as the Atlantic Online, the American Prospect, TPMCafe and Democracy Arsenal -- for serious, sustained foreign policy reporting."
Look, if you want foreign policy to become a political issue, you have to make it a political issue. That's an organizing problem. I didn't see any attacks from any Democratic candidates against each other on North Korea or Russia, any attempts to draw distinctions, though I saw a lot of high-minded 'major serious policy addresses'. Of course those are going to be discussed on elite foreign policy focused blogs and nowhere else. If you want to get into the fray, you have to get in the fray. The foreign policy community doesn't do that, politics stops at the water's edge and all that.
On the other hand, I saw fights over immigration, trade, and Iraq. Those seem like foreign policy issues to me. Bill Richardson ran ads on no residual troops on Iraq, and foreign policy is a regular topic of conversation all over the country, but Signer only looks at a certain type of wonky blog as talking about the issue the way he likes to discuss it. I saw the liberal wonky community get their knickers into a twist over Moveon's Petraeus ad instead of using it as an opportunity to start a conversation. What exactly does Signer think that ad was about? This habitual disrespect of politics needs to stop.
Here's what Signer writes.
This time around, the three top Democratic candidates all proposed assertive ideas for tackling major problems in roughly the same time frame. In April, May and June respectively, Obama, Edwards and Clinton all gave major speeches on national security. Obama called for "building a 21st-century military." Edwards proposed building a "mission-focused military." Clinton called to "rebuild our strength and widen and deepen [the military's] scope."
You'd think that journalists would do a comparative analysis of what the three candidates had proposed for the U.S. military in the coming decade; what they could do, practically; and what the speeches might predict about national security during their presidencies. But no.
No, Signer, that's what YOU think journalists should do, because you enjoy comparative analysis of bureaucratic sounding language that few outside of military think tanks understand. What political journalists cover is politics, and they don't do a particularly good job. That's obvious. That's been obvious for years. Why you run your foreign policy discussions as if they do cover substantive issues in depth is the question I have. The media's problems are the media's problems, but they should not obscure the fact that 'major serious policy addresses' are terrible forums to communicate major serious policy ideas, and that progressive foreign policy elites just don't tend to deal with politics or organizing or engaging with the public itself in a serious sustained fashion.
It's time that Signer look himself in the mirror and recognize that politics matters. If he or someone like him is not sitting in the room where the decisions about TV, direct mail, and organizing are made, then no one in the press will take his foreign policy addresses seriously. And you can blame the press if you want, but if 97% of a campaign budget is going towards something other than communicating foreign policy ideas to the public, then what exactly is being done to fix this problem?