The coverage of Hillary’s every move is a perfect example of the 24/7 news cycle at work.
I was this close to posting a story about Hillary Clinton. Really. Specifically, it was a criticism of MSNBC commentator Krystal Ball’s assertion that she isn’t the right candidate for President. I even saved the post I was going to make into a Word document.
But I really just don’t have it in me to post another overwrought, over-analyzed, and overdramatic article about Hillary Clinton or her chances for the Presidency, or to take part in the massive media machine that puts the importance of a would-be-in-three-years-candidate’s every move over moves of major players in the political process, like, say, Speaker of the House John Boehner, or Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, or…the actual President of the United States, Barack Obama. Four years before 2016. Yes, this is what absurdity looks like: the fact that in February 2014, before the midterm elections and nearly two years before the first primary, professional politicos are talking more about Hillary Clinton running for President than what the actual President is doing.
I think Hillary Clinton is an outstanding public servant and has done a lot of great things for the country and the world, and it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility that I vote for her. I’ve also seen a number of truly engaging, thoughtful pieces about her chances at the presidency; one of them was the controversial New York Times Magazine “Planet Hillary” feature, and another was by our own John K. Anderson. My problem is not with the player, but the game. We have slowly reached a point where it’s totally feasible to have a nonstop election cycle; in the new Netflix documentary about Mitt Romney, we see the foundations for his 2012 run laid out on the night he realizes he lost the primary. The difference with Clinton, however, is that it’s been much more of a public discussion.
This is where we’re at, three years out from the election: at this point, nearly every commentator on nearly every major network has deliberated the qualifications, the electability, the skeletons in the closet, the decision-making capability, the Benghazi involvement, the Twitter tweets and/or the fashion sense of one Hillary Rodham Clinton. Three years before the 2016 election. A full ten months before the 2014 midterms.
This situation is a glowing example of what’s wrong with American politics in a nutshell: we have been talking about Hillary Clinton since the day Barack Obama was re-elected in 2012. Before his inauguration, we crowned his successor. We chose a fresh crop of young Republican senators to be the opponent to his successor. In 2012. Obama? He’s old news. Nevermind that he’s still got a little under three years left in his presidency and is always pushing new plans and initiatives that Republicans don’t give the time of day.
Officially, Clinton hasn’t decided to run yet; no one has. Not Martin O’Malley, or Elizabeth Warren, or Ted Cruz, or Rand Paul, or Bob Dole, or Michael Dukakis, or Honey Boo Boo, all of which have one thing in common: they have not announced their candidacy. So why are we talking about this? Why are we so obsessed with the horse race aspect of politics that we treat every comment Clinton makes towards running or not running like a Richard Sherman post-game interview?
The answer, as it always is, is ratings. Like every other facet of American life, the media is driven by the bottom line. Advertising dollars. We are stuck in the middle of a black hole of nonstop 2016-or-scandal coverage because government, well, isn’t that exciting. It’s not interesting for viewers if you push stories about Senate hearings on filibuster reforms, or House debates about gun control; if it was, CSPAN would be more popular than Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN combined.
Here’s the thing: government is not meant to be exciting, or crazy, or any other adjective you would use to describe an SEC Championship game. Yet we continuously treat it like it is. Yeah, I will concede that elections are incredibly fun to get involved in if you really believe in someone or something, but actual governing is a completely different story. Congress and the executive branch are designed to move slower than molasses, except in times of crisis. That’s how they’re effective. Not only that, but we usually don’t see the results from major programs until years after they’ve been enacted. These things take time.
This, of course, does not mesh well with our Information Age demands that things be done immediately.
Is there a better alternative? Well, not really. Public media has a free reign to focus on actual issues pertaining to subjects that have been co-opted and broken down by major media outlets in order to increase revenue; however, the lack of advertising means they need to get their money from somewhere, and if that well should dry up, then most of the station goes into panic, endless-campaign mode. And besides: MSNBC and Fox News and CNN are making money with the current formula. Why should they change?
The cold hard reality is that, barring some miracle that greatly increases investment into public media, the American public would need to coalesce around a common goal of using our viewing choices to affect change; to get our information from independent, non-partisan news sources without an agenda, liberal or conservative. Maybe, then, we can become educated about real issues that are affecting us, rather than more speculation about possible 2016 candidates that haven’t even announced that they’re running.
Now, excuse me, I have to go start a rumor that Dennis Kucinich is the presumptive nominee for the Shortest Man Alive Party in 2020.
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Photo of possible 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton by veni/Flickr