If you’re lucky enough not to be paying attention to American electoral politics, a good visual metaphor for it is that of two diarrheal, toothless pigs trying to eat each other in a pen that’s rapidly filling up with their sour-smelling feces.
A lot of the time, we take it for granted that being “informed” is a virtue. If you admit to not knowing something, like the name of your representative or the current situation with the Euro, you have to make some kind of excuse, like, “Oh, I haven’t had the time to read as much news as I should,” or “My dog kept throwing up so I missed last night’s Daily Show.” When you find out about some important news story, however (“Guantanamo Bay Is Still Going On,” for instance), it’s considered totally acceptable—admirable, even—to trumpet your discovery all over social media, ideally with an accompanying micro-editorial: “THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA DOESN’T WANT YOU TO KNOW ABOUT THIS IMPORTANT NEW YORK TIMES STORY! LET’S MAKE SURE OBAMA KNOWS THIS IS NOT OK! #OCUCPY2012” Activists of all stripes are constantly telling us to “wake up” and notice certain things are happening—which things depends on which activists, but presumably, they mean follow the news more closely and not simply toggle back and forth between ESPN.com and pornhub.
There is something as paying too much attention to the news though, especially during the political hellscape that emerges after the primaries but before the big party conventions. That’s the period we’re in right now and if you’re lucky enough not to be paying attention to American electoral politics, a good visual metaphor is that of two diarrheal, toothless pigs trying to eat each other in a pen that’s rapidly filling up with their sour-smelling feces. Nothing is happening, but at the same time it’s horrifying to watch.
The “big” political stories of month since Obamacare got upheld by the Supreme Court haven’t been involved seismic shifts in the polls or important policy debates, because there haven’t been any of those. Instead, the stories resemble the kind of “Did you hear what he said to her?” rumors that normally only spread among middle school girls. When Mitt Romney went over to the UK, he made headlines for two things: London’s readiness to host the games, and a statement by an unnamed aide about "Anglo-Saxon heritage." That second “event” prompted Romney’s campaign to accuse the Telegraph, which printed the quote, of making it up. That’s where we are in the campaign-news nightmare—we’re not talking about what someone said, we’re arguing over whether they said it or not, and what the definition of “said” is.
Here’s how exciting the 2012 race is: In Israel, Romney said some shit that seemed to imply he thought that the Palestinians were worse off than Israelis because their culture was lacking somehow. Pretty much everyone on the left was like, “Hey man, that’s pretty fucked up.” This prompted Jennifer Rubin, of the <Washington Post, to write a rambling blog post about how Romney got taken “out of context” and how no one knows how to use that phrase except her. This, in turn, prompted Dave Weigel of Slate to call her out as being confused and dumb, and Alex Pareene of Salon to provide some additional context, namely that Rubin is basically a Romney flack. It’s OK if all of that was confusing to you, because unless you’re entertained by this stuff like me (it’s a sickness), there’s no reason this cycle-by-cycle squabbling should matter at all to you. You shouldn’t even call it a media circlejerk, because at least people take pleasure out of a circlejerk.
Another anti-circlejerk happened after Obama’s “You didn’t build that remark” went viral. (I’m not going to go into this, it’s incredibly stupid and you probably heard about it already—check out its Know Your Meme page for a refresher.) There was the usual attacking and counterattacking, but at a certain point bloggers got bored of merely discussing Obama’s “socialism”/anti-individualism/recognition that government can help people and got silly: What was really getting attacked wasn’t the content of his words, but his “black dialect.” That’s pretty crazy, but no crazier than Democrats accusing Republican donor Sheldon “I Heart Israel” Adelson of basically being a pimp before he threatened to sue, or Harry Reid’s vague “some guy told me that Romney didn’t pay his taxes” attack. And none of this, of course, is anywhere near as dumb as a lot of people eating a certain kind of fast food to prove that they don't like gay folks, thus starting a “national conversation” about free speech, gay rights, and—AAAAAAAAAAJSAFSKadffdff!
Political journalists have to write these stories, because there’s nothing else happening on their beat (some of them really don’t like it any more than you do). But if you’re a regular person, there’s no reason to pay attention to the campaign for the next month and a half. Seriously. Quit getting faux-outraged on Facebook about whatever Romney said, stop quoting John Stewart at parties, don’t tell anyone what kind of fried chicken you’re eating or why. Go to the beach and get trashed, soak up some rays, start following baseball. Get super into voter rights issues or something, if you have to busy yourself with US politics. Because the next few weeks are going to make stories about Ann Romney’s horse look like nuanced, complex pieces of political analysis. Save yourself, while you still can.