In Defense of Presidential Campaign Mania

TAP’s Paul Waldman has performed a major public service for us political writers–and particularly news-cycle political bloggers–in making the case for early and frequent coverage of presidential campaigns– yea, even unto coverage of the 2016 cycle before it properly begins. He offers six reasons that essentially involve the psychological and practical needs of journalists. A sample:

I’ve been doing this blogging/column-writing thing for about a decade, and let me tell you, my job gets a lot easier once a presidential campaign gets rolling. One of the principal challenges is finding things to write about—not just meaningful events or situations, but meaningful events or situations about which you as a writer have something interesting to say that might in some small way contribute to your readers’ understanding of the world. But at the height of a campaign, something new happens every day. Even if it’s ridiculous on its own terms (how many of those trumped-up controversies from 2012 have you already forgotten?), chances are you’ll be able to wring something more significant out of it by placing it in a historical context or otherwise determining What It Says About Us.

But Waldman isn’t just offering special pleading for writers and gabbers. His seventh reason for endlessly looped presidential cycles is that it kinda matters a lot:

And finally, it matters—to all of us, whether we’re paying attention or not. After a while, it isn’t hard to get tired of the latest god-awful congressional crisis and conclude that it’ll go through the same motions as the ones that came before and make you even more depressed about our government. But every presidential campaign is different, and no matter what, it will have a profound effect on our country’s future. You don’t have to believe that “This is the most important election of our lifetimes!”, as people say every time, to understand that every presidential election is nevertheless extraordinarily important. The last time people said it didn’t matter who got elected, George W. Bush went to the Oval Office, and you no doubt recall how that worked out. It always matters, and it always will.

So it’s OK if you decide that you don’t give a damn whether some “Democratic strategist” thinks Hillary Clinton will run, or whether Ted Cruz wowed some evangelicals at a church in Des Moines, or whether Chris Christie raised a bunch of money. You can refuse to care for another year or two, and that’d be fine. But have some sympathy for those of us who write about politics for a living. We want to turn away from the siren song of the presidential campaign. But we can only resist for so long.

As the principal writer for a blog that isn’t supposed to let a sparrow fall to the ground without taking notice, I feel little guilt about writing about the early stages of the 2016 competition, if something relevant to it actually happens. Those writing less frequently have more of a problem. But Paul’s right: a topic that’s inherently journalistic eye-candy is easy to rationalize on grounds that it matters as much as or more than the endless bloviation in Congress that so rarely leads to the actual enactment of legislation. And in August, you take what you can get.

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.