June 17, 2013

Brendan Nyhan has a nice column out today about silly overreactions to Hillary Clinton’s new post-government Twitter account and (even more goofy) her first tweet.

He’s right.

And yet . . .

I have a fair amount of sympathy for pundits on this one. The truth is that by far the single most important question about 2016 is whether Clinton will wind up running for president or not. If she does, she’s somewhere between a solid and an overwhelming favorite for the Democratic nomination; if not, it’s wide open. Since it certainly does matter who the Democrats choose, that makes her decision quite important.

At the same time, there are heavy incentives here for Clinton to basically act the same way whether or not she actually intends to be an active candidate by January 2016.

What does this mean for reporters and pundits covering the 2016 nomination contest — which, remember, absolutely has begun in earnest already? It means there’s going to be an overwhelming interest in reading tea leaves on Clinton’s intentions; that Clinton’s intentions are highly important; and that we’re currently in a two- or three-year holding pattern in which there will be no actual, real news about those intentions.

Given all of that, I guess I’m more inclined than usual to give a lot of leeway to speculative interpretation of hints of possibilities of whispers of rumors of news. On the other hand, responsible writers should clearly label it as such. Is that too much to ask?

Basically, if everyone who pays any attention to politics at all is going to spend the next two years guessing at what Hillary Clinton is up to, then I think it’s okay for reporters and pundits to join in. All we should ask is that they do it with as much humility as possible, pointing out explicitly that it’s all speculation and guesswork. As long as they do that, there’s not much harm in it.