Talk of who will take the White House starts three years early

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The wife of Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky, doesn’t want him to run for president in 2016, the Washington Post reported Friday.

The Sunday after he won re-election by a landslide, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was the guest on most of the major television talk shows. Nearly every question he was asked by the journalist panelists pertained to whether he’d run for president. Hardly any of the scribes expressed interest in what it was about how he has governed the Garden State that prompted so many Democrats to vote for him.

There are no announced candidates for president yet, which is understandable, because election day 2016 is nearly three years away. But besides Mr. Paul and Mr. Christie among Republicans, there already have been stories speculating about whether Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., will run.

Among Democrats, there have been stories speculating about the possible presidential ambitions of Vice President Joe Biden, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, and Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

The height of absurdity was reached by the Arizona Republic with a story Nov. 10 informing us Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz, has “no plans” to seek the White House in 2016.

Sen. McCain will be 80 on Aug. 29, 2016. He’s anathema to conservatives and -- if the pounding he took in 2008 is any indication -- not that popular with moderates or liberals, either. He’d be a fool to run for the Senate again, much less for president.

“It’s like watching a 60-year-old pitcher announce that he’s thinking of coming out of retirement, if his career highlight had been getting shelled in Game Seven of the World Series,” said Allahpundit of Hot Air.

Enough already. Journalists devote far more attention to candidates for public office -- and to speculation about who may or may not become a candidate -- than to how successful candidates perform once they’re in office.

The cart’s before the horse. Only if we know whether campaign promises have been kept or broken, whether the challenges that have arisen during his or her term have been met, side-stepped or botched can we make a reasonable judgment about whether an incumbent deserves re-election.

Only if we know how well or poorly the incumbent has performed can we put into context what those who propose to succeed him or her say they will do in office.

And we can get a better idea of what candidates for president might do if they win from how well they’ve done in the jobs they’ve had, or have currently, than from what they say. When a candidate has as thin a record of actual accomplishment as, say, Barack Obama has, we should expect trouble.

“The education of this president is a protracted and often amusing process -- as it was this week -- as he continues to alight upon the obvious with a sense of profound and original discovery,” said columnist George Will. “He’s alighting on what is obvious to governors. This is really why we should have governors more often than senators as president.”

Why do journalists pay so much attention to froth, so little to substance?

It’s partly because in our “low information” electorate, many lack interest in issues, may lack the elementary knowledge required for evaluating job performance. They -- we -- prefer gossip and celebrity to substance.

And it’s partly because politicians invite speculation about possible candidacies. Both Sens. Paul and Cruz already have been in Iowa -- where the first presidential nominating contests are held -- to “test the waters.”

But the electorate is “low information” in large part because the news media devote so little attention to substance. People aren’t likely to judge candidates on the basis of what’s important if they aren’t being told about what’s important.

Why do the news media devote so much more attention to gossip and celebrity?

In part because it’s less work. To evaluate the performance of an incumbent requires research, and some knowledge of history, civics, economics, basic math. It’s easier to cover a campaign, especially if you treat it like a horse race, as journalists are inclined to do.

But more because most journalists are liberals, and for liberals, what matters is what candidates promise, not what they deliver.

Jack Kelly is a columnist for The Press and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio. jkelly@post-gazette.com, 412 263-1476.


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