In general, I try to avoid writing about stupid campaign coverage because there is so much of it. The vast majority of it is, in fact, stupid on some level. Some of the responsibility falls on Maureen Dowd, whose habit of imbuing impressionistic trivia with cosmic political significance now dominates both media coverage and campaigning itself in various ways. But this is noteworthy: A literal example of Dowdism in action appears in today's Wall Street Journal. Dowd has been obsessing for months about Barack Obama's slender frame and apparent desire to maintain a healthy diet as somehow prissy and elitist, rather than what it is, which is: healthy, i.e., an objectively good quality in a person and a president. The WSJ takes the Dowd meme out of the realm of pure opinion and turns it into classic, pseudo-objective newspaper claptrap:
The candidate has been criticized by opponents for appearing elitist or out of touch with average Americans. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll conducted in July shows Sen. Obama still lags behind Republican John McCain among white men and suburban women who say they can't relate to his background or perceived values.
"He's too new ... and he needs to put some meat on his bones," says Diana Koenig, 42, a housewife in Corpus Christi, Texas, who says she voted for Sen. Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary.
"I won't vote for any beanpole guy," another Clinton supporter wrote last week on a Yahoo politics message board.
The article cites no evidence, in polling or history, that the skinny, fit candidate is at an electoral disadvantage to the chunkier candidate. (It notes that Lincoln was skinny and Taft was fat. Both won presidential elections.) The article's notion that Americans are fat slobs who will reject a candidate who eats right and is fit is an elitist view in itself, and flat-out insulting to American voters. The quotes cited here negatively associate Obama's physique with the true reasons for the quotees' skepticism - his "newness" and the fact that he is not Hillary Clinton. In other words, it's not his body mass index that really bothers them.
Why does the WSJ print this stuff? I'm not saying you can't write about candidates' diets or their body types - if it's done with some wit. This isn't.
Via Kevin Drum.