As a conscientious citizen, I recognize that it is never too early to start compiling information on all the potential presidential candidates so that when the time comes to vote a mere 29 months from now, I'll be able to make an informed choice.
I am therefore grateful to The New York Times for its recent revelations about two of the politicians who might very well square off in November 2016.
Last week, the Times addressed our concerns that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, 66, might not have the vim and vigor to go mano a mano with the Vladimir Putins of the world when 2017 rolls around. Not to worry, says the Times. She's indefatigable! She eats crudités! (I'd be careful about that if I were she — sounds a little too French.) She takes vitamins!
Remember when campaign fatigue used to set in during the primaries? Then it began to set in before the primaries, during the run-up to the Iowa caucuses. Now, thanks to the Times's and other news organizations' making Hillary Clinton a full-time beat, with occasional peeks at the viability of Jeb Bush, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), et al., some of us may tune out 2016 campaign coverage before President Obama's second term is half over.
Even news outlets in the hinterlands are jumping the gun, with The Des Moines Register reporting Sen. Tom Harkin's (D-Iowa) declaration that Iowa Democrats aren't ready for a Hillary Clinton coronation. And perhaps the most nauseating headline I saw as I sat down to write this was this one from The Daily Caller: "Early 2016 poll: Rand Paul holds big lead in Iowa."
Is there anything more meaningless than the results of a poll so far in advance of an election? I mean, besides a poll telling us a president's approval ratings after he's been elected to a second term.
Clearly, our current eight-year limit on presidencies is far too long for a news culture with the attention span of "a concussed goldfish," as Jon Stewart put it. Obama's going to be in the White House for two-and-a-half more years? How boring is that? Can't we move on to the next cycle of hope and disappointment?
Even better, how about the one after that? After all, The New York Times devoted a story in February 2012 — nine months before the Obama-Romney election — to who the frontrunners might be in 2016. Why not a story on Chelsea Clinton's baby's prospects for 2064?
Ridiculously, in that 2012 look ahead to 2016, the Times's David Leonhardt acknowledged that it was entirely possible that some below-the-radar candidate could sweep to victory. "Consider," Leonhardt wrote, "that eight years ago Mr. Obama could well have sat next to you on a plane without your noticing."
This was Leonhardt's Groucho moment. "I've got to stay here," Groucho tells his "Horse Feathers" audience as Chico tickles the ivories, "but there's no reason why you folks shouldn't go out into the lobby until this thing blows over."
I try to regard such idle political coverage as mindless but harmless fun, like debating whether Mike Trout or Miguel Cabrera is the better player, or proposing trades that would clear the Dodgers' outfield logjam. But I find it hard to argue with the Times reader who appended this comment to Leonhardt's piece:
Oh please, please give it a rest. I dread the next 10 months of mud-slinging. I should dread the next 5 years? One election at a time, please. They're bad enough when taken one by one. Why lump several of them together when it's impossible anyway to predict anything political that far into the future.
Amen, Angela M.
The Times assigned Amy Chozick to the Planet Hillary beat last summer. At the time, public editor Margaret Sullivan questioned the seemliness of this kind of pre-anointing in an age of diminishing "reportorial resources."
Since then, Chozick has told us where the Clintons planned to spend their summer 2013 vacation; where the Clintons planned to spend their summer 2014 vacation; that Hillary and Obama had lunch together (last July and again last month); who planned to publish Hillary's memoir; the title of the memoir; what's in the memoir; who was already endorsing Hillary's candidacy, assuming there is one (Caroline Kennedy and Sens. Dick Durbin [D-Ill.], Tim Kaine [D-Va.] and Claire McCaskill [D-Mo.]); how she's feeling about Monica Lewinsky these days; and, ad nauseam, that Hillary has not yet made up her mind:
Oct. 4, 2013: Hillary Rodham Clinton will begin to seriously consider a run for president "sometime next year," she told a group of Long Island business people on Friday.
Oct. 21, 2013: Hillary Rodham Clinton says she has not decided whether she will run for president in 2016, but the battle over her public record is already being fought on television.
Jan. 28, 2014: On Monday, Hillary Rodham Clinton again said she had not yet decided whether she would run for president in 2016.
Two more years of this? Chozick's skills could be put to better use.
Frank teaches journalism at Penn State University.