The endless campaign: Why the media are overdosing on 2016 politics

Jeb Bush said recently it will be an "interesting challenge" to run as his "own person." Carly Fiorina may announce her presidential candidacy in May, The Weekly Standard says. Hillary “took more than $19.2 million worth of private flights” during the 2008 primaries, National Review reports; I wonder if the New York Times will be as interested in that as in Chris Christie’s jet-setting career.

The stories and snippets come across so quickly that I have to double down just to keep up. With so many candidates, potential candidates and pseudo-candidates jockeying for position, the media radar screen is extremely cluttered.

And then I happened upon these comments from John Oliver:

“I’ll think about that in 2016 — I couldn’t care less right now. I truly believe that the 2016 election is what the news likes to think about when it doesn’t want to think about anything. There’s no merit in it. Unless you’re in the same year as the thing you’re describing, it’s a complete waste of breath. It’s like a subject screensaver for the news.”

Okay, he’s British and doesn’t want to let the early handicapping interfere with his afternoon tea. And he’s a comedian, so he’s playing the question for laughs.

But let’s face it, Oliver has a point.

Nearly two years before election day, most Americans aren’t tuned in to the 2016 race. This is all spring training for people with lives and jobs and kids who are not fixated on politics. By the time they start paying attention, most of these candidates will be history.

Now I can make a case that this preseason stuff really matters. Mitt Romney testing the waters and then bailing out changes the shape of the GOP race. Jeb’s early drive to line up big donors could give him a big advantage. This could be the period when Scott Walker established himself as a force (or, looking back, it could prove to be a blip). Mike Huckabee has to show he can raise money, Ben Carson has to show he’s viable.

But I’ve known for the longest time that the press would rather cover campaigning than governing. The business of running a government is a slog: budgets, proposals, hearings, markups, compromises, delays, filibusters. Only the rare issue breaks through. Whereas politics is potshots, sound bites, attack ads and a horse race that lends itself to rampant speculation.

With President Obama and Congress looking at two years of stalemate, it’s little wonder that so many pundits are focused on the next campaign. And those stories and segments attract enough clicks and ratings from the junkies that they can be justified on commercial grounds.

Still, as Alec MacGillis says in Slate while pronouncing himself a guilty practitioner:

“There are 644 days until Nov. 8, 2016. That is longer than the Spanish-American War, the Russo-Japanese War, and the Franco-Prussian War. It is as long as the period of the Nazis’ Siege of Leningrad before the Soviets finally managed to get a sliver of access to the city…

“There was Cokie Roberts saying on NPR’s Morning Edition on Monday that Clinton should really hurry up and get in the race already rather than postponing her official kickoff for another few months. ‘It’s a mistake,’ Roberts said. ‘She needs to be in the fray, dealing with the politics of this explaining exactly why she wants to be president. … She needs to get out there and talk about the future with voters.’

“Right, because voters know so little about Clinton and because she’ll have so little time during a virtually uncontested primary season and general election to get her message out…

“Still, 21 months? We need to confront the facts that the calendar has gotten seriously out of whack and that the permanent campaign is truly on the verge of devouring us all.”

And that may be the most important point.

By the time the candidates drag themselves through the two-year ordeal, they’re battered and bruised, and we’re all sick of them. It does seem like something here is seriously broken.

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