So, it’s official. As of midnight on Sunday, Ted Cruz has officially announced his candidacy for president in 2016, making him the first high-profile politician to explicitly state the intention to run in this cycle. The news merited a New York Times alert, a few sardonic tweets and Facebook statuses and, of course, instant parodies and mockery of his oddly chosen rhetoric, which was vaguely reminiscent of John Lennon. More broadly, with this announcement, Cruz has officially set off the starters’ gun in earnest for the 2016 nomination — finally, instead of weeks and weeks of rampant speculation about who will or won’t run, we have a bona fide candidate to latch onto.
But although Cruz was the first official politician to announce that he would be running for president, it seems like all the news one hears these days is of the impending primaries. Every move Hillary Clinton makes is scrutinized with inches of column space; every word out of Elizabeth Warren’s mouth is analyzed with respect to how it might affect Clinton’s (unconfirmed) campaign; and honestly at this point the list of Republicans who are reportedly considering a bid for president is far longer than the list of ones who aren’t.
But beyond all the slogans, all the cheap shots ready for the taking, isn’t there something a little unnerving about potential candidates dominating the media cycles a year in advance? The Iowa Caucus isn’t scheduled until February 1st, 2016 — that’s 312 days from today. The very first election event is a full 10 months from this moment, let alone the general election. So what do we truly gain from starting this myopic fascination with the rat-race of presidential elections so early?
Some might say that we get more time to compare different politicians’ stances on various issues; the longer they’re in the race, the more time we have to scrutinize them. But what are we really scrutinizing with all that extra time? I woke up this morning and as I browsed through news on Ted Cruz, the first stories I found were about his ineligibility to run for office due to being born in Canada. (For the record, much as I wish it were not so, Cruz was born an American citizen; he can run for President. Don’t let Vice convince you otherwise.)
What about the other candidates? What is this extra campaign time getting us in terms of assessing Secretary Clinton’s worth as a candidate? First of all, she hasn’t announced that she’s running for president, and so none of the truly hard-hitting policy questions have been asked of her yet. Instead, the media is making do with scrounging up stories like her State Department email usage. Yes, there’s a somewhat unsettling story there. But is it worth weeks of my time? Probably not.
So then what do we lose by spending 18 months hyping elections? Focusing exclusively on the election means we’re paying no attention to the people who are currently in office. For example, if I go to the New York Times website and click on the “politics” tab right now, the first five stories are about Ted Cruz and his merits (or lack thereof) as a candidate. The next story is about a fundraising rally being held for Jeb Bush. Below that, however, are real stories, stories that people should read with as much avid curiosity as we read the latest salacious piece of non-news about a non-candidate. Relegated to the bottom of the “politics” tab are stories about real governance: one on Wisconsin’s voter registration law; one about the charges being brought against Senator Menendez; and one, lines and lines below all of these, on talks between Israel and France about the nuclear weapons deal with Iran.
In what world are these stories playing second fiddle to this crazed and prolonged electioneering? Something seems to be thoroughly wrong with the way we watch elections unfold, almost as if they were an episode of The Bachelorette, only to promptly forget about those same individuals once they assume office. We enjoy the sport of politics, but not the drudgery of policy; and maybe that’s why not much is getting done in Washington. It’s because no one’s listening. Maybe if we made a concerted effort to tune out the sensation of elections, choosing to care about the jobs that elected officials are doing, we could force politicians to get back to the business of running this country instead of running for office.
Victoria Hall-Palerm is a senior in Berkeley College. Her column runs on alternate Wednesdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .