President Obama's trip Monday to sacred ground for the labor movement for the dedication of the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument got more than its share of news coverage. It would be hard for the president's team to complain about stories across the television networks and spread over at least some newspapers' front pages.
And yet something was missing and will remain missing through election day, Nov. 6. That is the sense of moment and history that lent a multiplier effect to so much of the coverage of Obama's first run for president.
Four years ago, the headlines commonly spoke of "history" and stories were filled with language of moment. The possible election of a first African American president lent the sensibility, sometimes to stories that nothing explicitly to do with race. Journalists love to write in the warm language of "breakthroughs" and "firsts." They did that with some abandon in 2008. The photographic coverage buttressed the sense of occasion. Obama was often cast looking off in the distance at some mythic horizon or gesturing broadly.
This has been reported many times, but it's harder to measure the absence of that sensibility in 2012 or the impact it's having on Obama and his campaign. It seemed obvious, though, during the visit to the mountain retreat near Keene, Calif., where the United Farm Workers of America has its headquarters.