Not long ago I had a column in which I made light of the “issues” issue, arguing, in effect, that, in American politics, issues are determined by the candidates’ pollsters, not their issues advisers.

In making this case, I cited the “insider” account, “Game Change,” by a couple of well-known political journalists. The book mentioned only one such adviser, Neera Tanden who worked for Hillary Clinton. They described her as “brilliant,” but provided only two examples of her actual influence, neither of which had anything to do with issues.

Tanden sent me this email:

“Dear Mr. Frary,

“I read your column with interest. If you had reached out to me before it was written, I would have detailed the ways in which Hillary laid out specific policies and out in front of her opponents on: 1. the economy overall, including a. subprime mortgages, b. derivatives, c. stimulus; 2. by unveiling a detailed universal health care plan that covered all Americans (and was ultimately closer to the plan the Congress passed than the President’s own plan); 3. a detailed plan to get out of Iraq, again which the President adopted; and 4. universal pre-k.

“These were just the areas where she was ahead of or bolder than her primary opponents. She detailed a large number of policies, regardless. Hillary was able to make substance and ideas her calling card in the campaign because she put out ideas on a regular basis.

“Now, just because that wasn’t covered in the book, and they had a lot of incendiary quotes of questionable accuracy, doesn’t make their depiction a true picture of the campaign.

“I am happy to answer any questions you have and again, I would have been happy to do so if you had reached out to me before you wrote it.

“All the best,

Neera Tanden”

In truth, it never occurred to me to “reach out.” First, because I had not thought that Tanden would think me important enough to reply. Second, because I figured that slogging through “Game Change” was work enough for a single column.

It was never my intention to challenge Tanden’s brilliance. It was just that the two authors, who set out to give a detailed account of the campaign, did not trouble themselves to provide any evidence for or against their characterization.

I have to admit that the woman showed me more courtesy than I showed her, but I stand by my original argument. Clinton’s brief gush of tears got more play in the press than all her issues positions put together, and the book reflected this reality. This is a reflection on the customs of America’s political press, not on Tanden.

The Republican primary contest appears to me to confirm my view. My guess is that Rick Perry sat down with his advisers and discussed how to rally the conservatives to his cause. They advised him to promise the elimination of three federal departments. He thought this a good idea and tried it out.

Not having given much previous thought to the “issue,” he was caught short when called upon to list the three. And The New York Times has an account of Herman Cain demanding that his advisers come up with his 9-9-9 plan. It was simple and forceful, but his grasp of the details proved to be a bit slack.

As things now stand, Barack Obama’s re-election effort concentrates on the iniquities of the Republicans and the rich. He has no plausible proposals for reducing the national debt, containing the current deficits or reducing unemployment.

Over on the Republican side, issues fade in the background as attention focuses on the electoral prospects and liabilities of Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich.

Few people can give an account of their proposals for solving the nation’s problems or how those proposals differ.

John Frary, of Farmington, is a retired professor and former Republican candidate for Congress.

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