Politics Lost: Has the U.S. political system been hijacked by the pros?
While Time Magazine's Joe Klein assured a packed audience that some of his "best friends" are political consultants, he bemoaned a shortage of politicians who have faith in the public - and in themselves - and are willing to buck these advisers. And he denounced opinion polls as the "crack cocaine" of politicians (and of political reporters, his panel-mates offered).
Likewise, US News editor-at-large David Gergen complained that today’s "leadership class is failing us… pushing a lot of problems down the road" - in contrast to the World War II generation of leaders who were willing to cross party lines to solve problems.
That left Bush media guru Mark McKinnon and Clinton pollster Mark Penn to defend themselves - and the impact of their professions on a system that nearly everyone agrees has become polarized and short-sighted.
McKinnon dismissed Klein's thesis, noting examples of leaders who acted on core beliefs rather than polls - like Bush's pursuit of social security reform - and weren't applauded for it.
Penn argued that public opinion polls actually enable political leaders to see beyond the biases of small staffs/advisers, providing a window to the concerns of the broad public. Polls, he said, act as a "public desk" that break through the elitist noise of interest groups and advisers to examine the concerns of real people. Posted by Nina Easton
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