Believe me when I tell you that it seems like only yesterday when I wrote how over the 2012 presidential campaign I was, which then was just days away. I remember that day vividly because it was about halfway into what would become a weeklong stay at a friend’s apartment on the Upper East Side. Superstorm Sandy had made landfall in New York City on October 29, causing power outages for everyone in Manhattan living south of Times Square. That included me and the then-headquarters of Mic, which meant living and working from my friend’s place for a week. I thought power would be restored in a couple of days, so I prepared accordingly. It turned out to be eight.
I was kind of at my wit’s end already. Since June, my life had been consumed by the race between Obama and Romney: the polls, the debates, the gaffes, the campaign spots, the strategies, the reportage, the memes, the viral videos, the backstories, and oh yeah, the actual policies of the candidates. And it was my job to be on top of all this stuff. Nights, weekends, the whole shebang. As I wrote at the time,
“Being a member of online media, this election really has taken over my life. It’s there when I wake up in the morning and read the news; it’s in the stories I assign to our writers; it’s there when I edit those stories as they come in; it’s there when I go home and my politically-minded friends and relatives talk about it on Gmail chat or over the phone; it’s there when I go to sleep at night because it haunts me in my dreams. These are not mere nightmares, mind you; they are psychotic night terrors about potential real-life horror shows like a tie in the Electoral College.”
What’s really unsettling is that I wrote that after just four months on the job. While I had been a contributor to the site since 2011, I really was under no obligation to do anything concerning the race at that time. I was generally spared the utter lunacy of the Republican primaries, most of which I watched merely out of morbid curiosity (though I did occasionally chime in). But assuming I stick around long enough in the digital news media, this time around will be much different. I’ll be getting it all: the exploratory committees, the announcements to run, the ads, the debates, the caucuses, the primaries, all of it.
And I’m absolutely mortified.
Let me clue you in on a little secret: I hate politics. That’s admittedly a weird thing to hear from someone who’s spent the last three plus years covering it, the previous three years teaching it, and the previous six years studying it at the university level. But I do. And yet, I keep coming back for more. Not just because I’ve had to professionally, but because for reasons I don’t totally understand, want to.
I do understand it to some extent. On one hand politics is fascinating. The conventional definition of ‘political science’ is the study or who gets what, why they get it, and how they get it. But I’ve always preferred to think of it as the study of who gets screwed, why they get screwed, and how they get screwed. And there’s nothing like watching a real-life whodunnit with some serious real-life consequences unfold right in front of your eyes.
On the other hand, how many versions of this same formula can I honestly watch play out? Republicans vs. Democrats. Congress vs. the President. The President vs. Russia. Common sense vs. Republicans. Democrats vs. themselves. Everyone vs. Islamist terrorists. Fox News vs. reality. At some point it gets exhausting and played and I won’t be able to take it anymore.
This is why I’m thankful I’m not one of the reporters whose job it is to follow a candidate or candidates as they travel to the early caucus and primary states to deliver the same speeches as they engage in awkward photo-ops and embarrass themselves by fitting in with the locals by eating corn dogs and wearing plaid shirts. I imagine it’d be like like covering a stage actor night in and night out as they assume the same damn role in the same damn play.
Whether I’m still in this business a year or a year and a half from now, I’m still not looking forward to this campaign because I know I’ll become engrossed in it. I don’t want to be, but I know myself and I just can’t look away. It’s the car wreck on the side of the highway, and I’m just slowing down to get a good look until I hit the gas and do it all over again four years up the road.