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Robert J. Elisberg Headshot

If Only Life Was Like Jeopardy and You Got the Answers First

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Shortly after Barack Obama and John McCain finished their sit-down interviews with Rev. Rick Warren, the analysis began. I was flipping through channels and a bevy of talking-head squares appeared on CNN, looking like the political version of "The Brady Bunch."

One pundit, Dana Bash, was finishing up. With that knowing look of authority, she was explaining how John McCain had come across, "very direct, very clear about his answers," she intoned, "like George Bush," while Barack Obama had been - and here she scrunched her face - "very nuanced," like the previous Democratic candidates.

The inference was obvious. Direct and clear - winner. Nuanced - loser.

This was one of those moments you really wished for Interactive TV. O, to point out what was so wrong-headed about her comments.

What was wrong is that journalists have value when they report, not make value judgments. Upturned noses are best left to cotillions. Or Fox News. It's that basic.

But that's not the issue.

Because any analyst who thinks a comparison to George Bush with a 29% approval rating is A Good Thing is only demonstrating that she should be doing rehab on her analytical skills.

But that's not the issue.

You see, we all understand the subtext of what she was saying. Yet John Kerry and Al Gore did not lose because they were nuanced, or because George Bush was clear-headed. Al Gore lost largely because he came across as too distant to people, and was painted by Republicans as an exaggerator. Nuance was way down on the list. (And lest we forget, Mr. Gore got more popular votes than Mr. Bush.

John Kerry lost because he also came across as too distant, and (though a war hero) was painted as virtually a war coward - as well as a flip-flopper, wind-surfer and too "French." Nuance was way down on the list.

By contrast, Barack Obama is the polar opposite of wooden. Even the McCain campaign itself acknowledges how attractive Sen. Obama is to the masses. Further, the battered country has by now grasped that the simplistic and unbending worldview of George Bush is not acceptable for an American President, and given him a 29% approval rating, with Congressional Republicans running for cover.

But that's not the issue either.

What at issue is this: in what universe does Dana Bash - or any reporter - think that the concept of "nuance" should be presented as A Bad Thing?

Life is made up of atoms and nuance. Every hour of every day of our lives, we face nuanced decisions. We breathe a sigh of relief for those rare, blessed moments when we get to deal with something clearcut, black-and-white. Not crossing the street in traffic. Hating the New York Yankees. Most everything else - nuance. Life isn't easy, we all say. It isn't. And it isn't largely because there is so much nuance in most of everything we all do. Always. The simple, un-nuanced moment? It's heaven sent. The rest, that's for us to deal with down on earth.

But that's just us. Imagine now the President of the United States. If someone doesn't fully accept how nuanced that job is, they're not trying. If a news reporter (especially one actually analyzing such things) doesn't regularly address how nuanced the presidency is supposed to be - dealing with the varied interests of 300 million Americans, and then balancing that off of every culture in the world - then that reporter is doing us all a disservice and wasting airspace.

The reality is that 71% of Americans now understand the problem we face when a president is unwilling or unable to deal with nuance, and is instead close-minded, incurious, and can only stay the simple course he is already on.

If anyone does think that "nuance" is a negative, however, then just explain why. Explain that you think the public is too stupid to grasp nuance. Because otherwise, if you don't believe that, if people are not too stupid, if they can follow nuance, if they're adult, mature and can understand differences...then nuance isn't a problem at all.

Perhaps reporters themselves will grasp that their jobs exist because of nuance. That the whole concept of presenting two sides of a story is the heart of nuance.

Belittling nuance is worse than "shooting the messenger." It's shooting the messenger who has a message that the coming storm will not just water your daisies - but also flood the entire valley because the dam is about to break. Or the levees.

In the end, we understand why Republican strategists want to convince others Life is Sooo Easy that all big decisions are black-and-white. Because life is sooo difficult that some people will grab at whatever looks like an easy answer. But today, most Americans understand that a life full of only easy answers only gets you George Bush.