There was a time when every pastime had its assigned season: Baseball in spring and summer, football in fall, basketball and hockey in winter. Then along came daily gabfests on cable TV and talk radio, along with offseason workouts, drafts, free agent signings and trades. Now the gaps between seasons have faded, though more of it talk than action.
The same has happened in politics, the other national pastime.
Political banter used to come to a head leading up to an election, but eased off after the winners got down to governing. Those days are long gone. Now American politics is the Big Top Circus that never closes. Now the run-up to the next election starts moments after the new officeholders have settled into their offices.
Last year’s presidential campaign was the longest in recent memory, nearly two dozen candidates slugging it out for a year and a half before a punch-drunk public could stagger to the polls and put a merciful end to it.
But was that the end? Au contraire. Residents of metro Atlanta’s 6th District had to endure a special election for the House seat left empty by a cabinet appointment. That race began with 18 candidates, followed six weeks later by a runoff between the top two. While residents of the district were the ones most bombarded by yard signs, robo calls and canvassers, millions of other Georgians were subjected to the onslaught of TV ads without being able to vote.
Now is there finally a cease-fire in the political hostilities? No so much. The 2018 race for governor already is underway 10 months before the first vote is cast (primary date is May 22), with six hopefuls already joining the fray. And they’re not tiptoeing into the race.
To wit: Last week, one of the four Republican candidates summoned the news media for what he said would be a major announcement dishing up major dirt on one of his opponents. His revelation was a big fat nothing, vague accusations with no facts to back them up. But even if the first salvo was a dud, as sure as day follows night, there will be more.
So off we go for months of mudslinging, sometimes with real mud, sometimes with whatever substance is handy. It won’t be long before TV ads will begin echoing both the candidates’ bona fides and their opponents’ failings. Then will come billboards, mail flyers, debates, forums and speeches. By the time actual votes are counted, many will beg for mercy to be done with it.
Also next year are the midterm congressional elections, followed by the obligatory forays into Iowa and New Hampshire by candidates jockeying to run for president in 2020. The hamster wheel never stops spinning, with a fresh set of hamsters ready to jump on.
The months leading up to an election year always were full of activity, mostly behind-the-scenes efforts to raise cash, assemble campaign staffs and work up strategies. But what used to be a sprint has become a marathon that seems to start earlier every time.
Of course, the national broadcast media helps fuel this 12-month obsession. Cable news channels in particular used to cover the odd event outside of Washington. Now it’s all politics, all the time, a steady stream of talking heads queued up in Brady Bunch-like boxes yelling over each other as they pore over a trickle of actual facts. Perhaps it’s easier on news budgets just to point the camera and let pundits talk rather than send reporters out to find out stuff.
Social media is another handy conduit, with political discussions and memes often drowning out the usual parade of selfies and cat videos. But it, too, is getting tedious. A Pew Research poll last fall showed nearly twice as many social media users say they are “worn out” by the amount of political content they see in their feeds (37 percent) as those who enjoy seeing lots of political information (20 percent). Another 59 percent say their social media interactions with those with opposing political views are stressful and frustrating. Last year’s presidential race and its aftermath, in particular, has led to quite a bit of “unfriending.”
Amid the steady glare of the media’s spotlight, candidates feel obliged to insert themselves in the unending conversation at any cost to keep their names in the news. And since cable TV has 24 hours to fill, it’s happy to oblige, even knowing that if you feed a stray dog, it will never leave the back porch.
And there is the inescapable reality that with so much time invested in running for office, there’s little left for the job of governing. No sooner do candidates get elected than they start building war chests for re-election. Major decisions are parsed through a filter to determine how they will look to the voters rather than how they will benefit people in the long term. Much of the chaos in Washington is caused not by people incapable of governing efficiently but rather by those more concerned with staying in office by any means necessary.
On behalf of those weary of this game, we’d like to request a least a short break between elections to breathe normal air. Let the candidates get their game faces on and hold pricey fundraisers to their hearts’ content, but save the attention-seeking for when people are ready to pay attention. That usually comes sometime between the qualifying period and primary day when voters begin to vet the hopefuls and make their selections.
In the meantime, we have a governor and other officeholders capable of doing the job to the end of their terms, so we don’t need to focus on who’s next until the proper time.
For the sake of their sanity, it would be nice if Georgians could enjoy their summer and let the dancing bears, acrobats and clowns in the circus fold up the tent for a while.
Share your thoughts on this or any other topic in a a letter to the editor; you can use this form or email to email@example.com. The Times editorial board includes General Manager Norman Baggs, Editor Keith Albertson and Managing Editor Shannon Casas, plus community members Susan DeCrescenzo, Cathy Drerup and Brent Hoffman.