This will be my last political column for The Daily Free Press. I’ve loved writing for this newspaper for the last two years. I’ve loved the people who’ve loved (or hated) my columns. I’ve loved the chance to explore my beliefs and ideas while hopefully allowing you to question yours. While I’ve truly enjoyed the opportunity to have 800 words published every week on politics, I’m not looking forward to the next year-and-a-half.
My very first column back in September 2013 was about the November 2016 presidential election cycle. Since then, I’ve probably written a dozen other pieces on the same topic, and we’re 18 months away from the end. I know that if I continue to write about politics and government next year, the vast majority of my columns will cover 2016. That’s not something I want, and I promise you, you don’t want it either.
Over the next year-and-a-half, you will read hundreds or thousands of articles about the 2016 presidential election. Some will be insightful and intriguing. Others will be redundant and painfully dull. While I like to think that my voice will stand out, it’s hard to believe that’s realistic when I’ll be competing with almost every political reporter in the country. When everyone is writing about the same thing, it’s hard to be unique. There’s going to be a cacophony of political noise during this election cycle. There are going to be so many voices you won’t be able to hear yourself think. I’d rather not contribute to the chaos.
As a person with a genuine interest in politics and governing, election cycles are my least favorite part of the process. Suddenly, the most complicated issues become shallow sound bites, and years of foreign policy are “easily” summarized into a 15-word quote.
I’ve said this before, but elections are simple. They have very little substance, especially in a country where corporations can funnel endless donations to their favorite candidates. It becomes more about image and branding than issues and qualifications. Just look at how many articles have been written about the “Hillvetica” font. In an election cycle, the media, and by extension, the public, become obsessed with the horserace. Polling numbers are the foundation of almost all coverage; at the very least, they play a supporting role.
Running for government is so much easier than running the government. You only have to know enough about an issue to criticize your opponent. There’s little need to worry about misrepresenting the truth because there’s not enough time or resources to fact check every statement or press release.
I don’t want to spend the next year of my life writing about the same issues over and over and over again, whether it’s former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s image problems or U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s complete lack of qualifications. These issues aren’t all that important in the long run. History cares about who creates meaningful change. I don’t want to contribute to 18 months of unnecessary and unimportant political over-analysis.
Of course, there are some issues we should discuss. Campaign finance is out of control and stricter campaigning laws should be considered. However, even these topics will receive plenty of coverage. In an election cycle, no issue is safe from the media’s spotlight.
But still, these issues most central to our electoral process are quickly buried beneath debate blunders and wardrobe malfunctions. In 2012, we spent $7 billion on presidential campaigning, and yet far too many stories focused on “binders full of women” and businesses “you didn’t build.” In the heat of a presidential campaign, all of these issues seem important. It’s only in the harsh light of December 2016 will we realize how insignificant Clinton’s Chipotle order is. OK, well, that one we kind of already know.
Furthermore, there’s little use in covering any of this hullabaloo before January. Iowa and New Hampshire are eight months away, and I guarantee our political landscape will look completely different. Predicting how events today will impact primary decisions next winter is like predicting next Friday’s forecast based solely on yesterday’s weather. They’re related, but a lot can happen between now and then.
I guess what I’m saying is I don’t know if I can contribute to 2016 coverage in an effective and unique way. I’m not interested in adding to the meaningless noise surrounding presidential politics. There’s more to government than elections, and there should be more to campaigns than superficial media coverage.
I’m not giving up on politics or writing a column, but I think I’m done with political writing … for a while. It will be a challenge for any writer to separate politics from the 2016 election cycle. It’s a pervasive factor that will impact every story written or broadcast. For some, that’s exhilarating. For me, it’s exhausting.