The rumpus over Niall Ferguson’s Newsweek cover story proclaiming it was time for Obama to go proves an ancient truth. If there’s one thing worse than being talked about, it’s not being talked about.
Tina Brown, she of Vanity Fair and The New Yorker and now editor-in-chief of Newsweek, is the acknowledged Queen of Buzz. And buzz she has certainly created this week – even if it won’t do much to revive the once-eminent news weekly that nobody these days takes very seriously.
But who cares about the long term? In contemporary America, politics and media have largely fused. Politics is a branch of showbiz, attention is all. And in the 2012 presidential campaign, if only for 24 hours, the magazine today held centre stage.
Leading the attacks on Ferguson was The New York Times’ Nobel Prize-winning columnist Paul Krugman (no shrinking violet). But in a spat over the budgetary impact of certain provisions of the 2010 Affordable Care Act (aka ‘Obamacare’), the former gave as good as he got. Each accused the other of not having read the document on which they based their respective cases.
But leave the actual figures aside: there are after all lies, damned lies, statistics and reports by the Congressional Budget Office. The drama queen squabbling between two big-name academics, one a longstanding supporter, the other an equally longstanding critic of the president, may not be an uplifting spectacle. Believe it or not, though, it’s an improvement on the recent past.
Just last week the Romney and Obama campaigns were reduced to calling each other “unhinged,” while the main focus was on the Republican candidate's tax arrangements: an intriguing subject, but not exactly the fundamental ideological debate on the future of American capitalism that we were promised.
In their way, Messrs Ferguson and Krugman have now joined that battle. The former’s critique may or may not be riddled with inexactitudes. But at least it goes to the core issues of the campaign: growth and jobs, tax policy and the deficit, and role of government. And now that Paul Ryan, Ferguson’s hero and author of a sweeping and controversial budget plan now on the Republican ticket, perhaps the moment for these issues has come at last.