(NewsNation) — Here we go again.
A presidential race has barely launched, and already we’re getting sucked into personality debates, nonissues, and the stupid things some pundits say, rather than prioritizing the policies that affect Americans.
This is the mistake of so many election cycles before us. We don’t need to repeat the cycle.
Nikki Haley is a serious person. She has served as governor of South Carolina and a United Nations ambassador, and was a small business owner with roots in accounting. Haley talks in her memoir about the power the U.S. wields and how to use it, and writes about U.S. aid money going to authoritarian regimes. It’s unfair, she writes, that taxpayers continue to support these regimes. She raised the issue again last week.
It’s a legitimate question, and a legitimate debate. I can see both sides of the argument — because some would argue if we don’t support things like health aid, the troubles in another country will come to America, regardless of the regime. So, the investment is for our own protection.
That’s not the point, though. The point is that you’re not hearing a debate like that on most cable television coverage. Instead, the dialogue is focused on whether Haley is past her prime.
Sure, Haley raised age as an issue. But the media talking about her age and not her policies does no service to the American people. Americans can look up her age. They want substance: what our taxpayer money has bought, how we are prioritizing our country’s values, and what the leaders who are running for office will actually do for them.
I learned this lesson in 2007 during the Iowa caucuses. I was working on a presidential election for a candidate who, pundits assured us, didn’t have a chance. We were setting up in barns across the state with then-Sen. Barack Obama to meet with Iowans of every background. My job was minding the media coverage of each engagement, ensuring the press had access to everything he said.
I had a front-row seat while doing my job, and I listened to a then-little-known candidate’s vision for America. And appreciated the importance of the back-and-forth between the candidate and the audience. The then-Sen. Obama was talking about substance. I was also at an event, though, where he discussed the price of arugula at Whole Foods and a press corps — eager to paint him as out of touch — pounced. Iowans don’t know Whole Foods and arugula, the reporting crew from the coasts would say.
Au contraire, my dear tourist friends. Iowans most certainly knew about the prices of crops. They grow them. I watched Iowans make their choice for president that flew in the face of the pundits.
And I learned on the ground that Americans — from Iowa, to South Carolina, to Idaho, to Nebraska — all asked the hard questions of their candidates. About the issues that actually matter. Nobody at any of these events asked him about Whole Foods or why he used that reference.
The same thing happened when President Trump was elected. Many in the news media claimed that he hadn’t talked about issues — that’s not how millions of voters saw it. President Trump appealed to people I grew up with in Galesburg, Illinois, because for decades politicians haven’t done their jobs. He called out the old ways of doing things. This resonated with my former community because he talked about a structure that had outsourced our manufacturing, and for many, our future.
On TV, many pundits missed this appeal — they were focused on Trump’s behavior. They missed that a considerable part of the electorate wanted an outsider to shake things up.
In the aftermath of President Trump’s election, what I wished I could see on television was a true conversation about policies, and what’s not working for the American people, what is the history of our jobs being outsourced, and how are we going to fix it? That’s not what happened, and years later, we’re falling into the same traps.
The contest over eyeballs has become one of manipulating the outrageous for soundbites. Shouting for attention, rather than doing the due diligence to earn the attention. It’s shortsighted and a partisan press does no favors for the American people.
The parents I work alongside on our PTA, on our charities, in our communities, they’re busy. They’re building businesses, they’re trying to find solutions, they’re raising their kids. They want media working for them to make their life easier to navigate between the substance of the candidates.
That’s the media environment I want to see this election cycle. And I know it’s the media environment so many good journalists want to see too.
So here it goes.
I’m throwing my hat in the pundit ring: I’m proud to join NewsNation as a contributor, and I’m proud to do so because they want to bring together smart people with facts, and a willingness to listen, from on-the-ground reporting, across the nation. I can assure you I’ll mess up. We all do. But I’m going to try harder every day to do better — and to focus on substance.