Post-Dispatch story on STL congressional races leaves unanswered questions

Is there a course in Journalism School that teaches that the best way to cover a political campaign is to use the following metrics: money raised and endorsements? If so, then the Kevin McDermott and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch get mega-points for following the formula.

First, let’s thank McDermott and the Post-Dispatch for getting off the donut and writing an informative article about local congressional races. Together, the first and second Congressional Districts in Missouri include approximately 1.5 million people (every U.S. Congressional district is supposed to include approximately 750,000 people [the population of the U.S. divided by 435 seats]). Those are serious numbers.

Not only do these two districts cover well over half the population of the metropolitan area, but the candidates are running to represent the voters in the most important legislative body in the country, the U.S. Congress. State government may be interesting, especially since it is so tawdry, but it is at the federal level where decisions are made that impact us most in terms of our human rights, economic well-being and personal security.

McDermott’s article provides considerable information about money and endorsements. Implied in the piece is that these are the key barometers for measuring the strength of the candidates. Indeed, it may be true that these two variables are strong indicators of the popularity of the candidates and the likelihood that they will succeed in their races. But from the perspective of voters who would like to be informed about who the candidates really are, it tells them little.

Candidates are more than the numbers that represent the donations they accrue and the endorsements they receive. Those running for office are even more than the positions on the issues that they espouse, although those are very important. Key to knowing how well they would serve includes knowing what kind of people they really are.

This is a dicey road to follow; trying to assess a candidate by the type of person they appear to be. Look no further than the man in the White House. To some, Donald Trump is the most authentic man in politics; a true reflection of the best of America and what every one of us can aspire to be. To others, he is not only dishonest, but also detached from reality and represents one of the greatest threats that this country has ever faced.

The same issue of varying opinions about candidates is present in every race, though usually not as polarizing as the takes on Trump. For instance, in Missouri’s Second District, Democratic candidate Cort VanOstran is seen by some as a real reformer who knows how to run a campaign and is thoroughly prepared to fight for progressive issues. He is very well liked by many. Among his biggest supporters are people in the Democratic donor class, Democratic endorsers, and a growing cadre of young people who combine idealism with realism.

But to others he is lacking in authenticity because he reflects in many ways what has distanced the Democratic Party from the FDR and LBJ constituencies. In his book Listen Liberal, Thomas Frank talks about how the professionals and the “credentialed class” in the Democratic party have largely turned a deaf ear to not only the middle class, but also to poor people, the very individuals who are most in need of the social and economic safety net that has been a vital part of the Democratic platform for ninety years. VanOstran expresses genuine concern for those outside the safety net, but other candidates such as John Messmer and Mark Osmack seem to be better connected with the “non-donor” and non-professional part of the party. Back when FDR and LBJ ran, the ugliness of money was more hidden than it is now. It could be that struggling people do not truly trust candidates who travel in exclusive circles. This is just my opinion; I obviously could be wrong.

It might be asking too much of Kevin McDermott and the Post-Dispatch to try to characterize the candidates beyond the numbers. But, wouldn’t it be a reasonable disclaimer to acknowledge that the article focuses only on the measurable in a world that is often difficult to measure? If the reader wants to really learn about the candidates, he or she will have to seek other sources of information.

And by the way, speaking of numbers, the Post forgot one. Zero is the number of town halls and forums that Ann Wagner has attended in her six years in office. The Post-Dispatch would serve democracy well by pointing this out whenever they are writing about her, which hopefully would be a frequent occurrence.