Call it Too Close To Call

Feeling uneasy this August? Not quite able to pinpoint the source of your anxiety? Never fear, the newsweeklies are here … to help us focus our fears on topics including Al Qaeda (Time’s cover: “Al-Qaeda in America”; Newsweek’s cover: “Al Qaeda’s ‘Pre-Election Attack,”) and sharks (U.S. News & World Report’s cover: “Mysteries of the Ocean”).

To sort out what, if anything, last week’s terror alerts mean for the presidential race, we turn to Time’s Karen Tumulty reporting from the campaign trail where, she finds, “message and stagecraft keep tripping over reality.” While both Bush and Kerry, Tumulty writes, have “had to adjust their games” in light of last week’s security warnings, if Time’s latest poll is any indication, terrorism is not voters’ “main concern,” (that would be the economy). Tumulty’s parting words: “The only thing that isn’t changing about the presidential race is the one thing that has been constant almost from the start: it’s still too close to call.”

Indeed, assert Michael Robinson and Susan Ellis in this week’s Weekly Standard, we’re in an “Era of Much Too Close to Call.” Yet Robinson and Ellis believe that “the theory of red states versus blue states is about as wide of the mark as it is widely accepted.” So why is it gospel? Both parties “have their own reasons for pushing the polarization theme,” the duo notes, but it’s also the press’s fault (“like partisanship, the specter of polarization gives the watchdog press a system-wide malfunction about which to bark.”) Polarization, Robinson and Ellis conclude, “is mostly an urban legend, imagined by the chattering classes of the metropolitan centers of politics and media….[A]s in any legend, there is truth here… .But it isn’t new and it isn’t news.”

Time’s Joe Klein sounds a similar theme — and he also has a bone to pick with what he calls “the anachronistic, irresponsible political-media lens created for more trivial times.” Klein wonders: “Is it possible that the great partisan divide is a media-induced mirage, little more than an exaggerated case of squeaky-wheelism?” At bottom, Klein blames “scream journalism — ‘Crossfire,’ ‘Hannity and Colmes,’ the various ‘gangs’ and ‘groups’ of Washington blabocrats assaulting our senses.” (Excluding, we presume, the various gangs and groups with which Klein himself associates, such as “The Chris Matthews Show” and CNN’s “Newsnight with Aaron Brown.”)

For (some approximation of) comic relief, we turn to The Economist, which this week poses the question: “Why is there so much macho posturing in this particular race for the White House?” While Bill Clinton “preferred to spend his vacations hobnobbing with metrosexuals in Martha’s Vineyard,” the byline-free mag opines, since 9/11 “America [has] rediscovered its butch side.” Accordingly, Republicans “are determined to paint Mr. Kerry as a Frenchified wimp in macho garb (the Botoxed Brahmin even opposes the death penalty, for Pierre’s sake),” and the Democrats are “equally determined to present the Republicans as poseurs — ‘chicken hawks’ who are prepared to act tough only when their own necks are not on the chopping block.”

But not all of America is going butch. Expect to see the Bush twins, New York magazine reports, donning feminine fineries such as “a tea-dyed tulle dress” and an “ivory meringue crochet capele” at the Republican National Convention later this month. Hey, we won’t complain. A ladylike touch of tulle might be a relief from the “macho posturing” certain to stretch all week long at the convention, from the podium to the press tents, and then back again.

Liz Cox Barrett

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.