Optics, this years green shoots

August 29, 2011 07:10 AM

One of the annoying things about recent public discourse is that it is not so much the public policy impact that determines whether a subject is newsworthy but whether a snappy new title could be placed on it and then discussed with great seriousness by cable TV arbiters.

Hence, instead of the usual prattle about whether a president should be seen vacationing during tough economic times or when major events occur, a new word is created — optics — and we discuss whether his judgment is skewed because he should know how it looks or more accurately how the other side would try and exploit it. 

So we ignore the silliness of the same media pundits who defended president Bush 41 for spending time in Kennebunkport during the first Gulf War, Bush 43 for setting a record for vacation time much of it during myriad of crises, criticizing President Obama. And we ignore that those defending Obama where the same ones talking up the insensitivity of past presidents taking vacation time amid crises.

The script goes, “It is not whether President Obama is shirking his responsibilities by taking a long vacation in a snooty playground of the rich, Martha’s Vineyard, it is how that looks to people who are struggling in a weak economy with high unemployment.”

Stop it. It is a boring, lazy story borne from having nifty photos and needing to do something with them and our bifurcated media world where people go to get their personal prejudices validated.

All presidents deal with issues 24-7 and can get the necessary information delivered to them. Everyone knows this, but we have pictures.

This tendency is troubling. Not because of the optics but because coverage of important and albeit complex issues continually get pushed aside for silly talk. It is not as if this is necessitated by a slow news environment. There is much to report on. We should be hearing about what policy a president is enacting, or not, to help improve the situation.

That is the great thing about covering trading, it is pretty easy to determine the importance and the impact of results. Prices move and they have a real impact; not on perception but in real dollars and sense.

A few years back the word was “green shoots," referring to economic progress following the “Great Recession.”  Turns out most of those green shoots withered on the vines and we are just now talking about some of the policies and people who helped get us in the mess we are still trying to extract ourselves out of.

I am a little surprised that no one spoke of the optics of the Fed’s Jackson Hole symposium. Especially given that Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke did not offer anything new. He did throw it back to the President and Congress. Perhaps they can work on moving the economy forward and forget about the optics of it all.

Stop with the buzz words and start covering detail.

About the Author

Editor-in-Chief of Modern Trader, Daniel Collins is a 25-year veteran of the futures industry having worked on the trading floors of both the Chicago Board of Trade and Chicago Mercantile Exchange.