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Always remember: ‘We’re not normal’

By Ezra Klein,

“What’s clear is that 2012 is a mountain campaign,” write Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake in The Washington Post. “Molehills are a thing of the past.”

SEAN GARDNER

REUTERS

Seriously, dude?

They’re talking about the incredible success the two parties’ campaigns have had at making everyone who even vaguely pays attention to politics feel a little dirtier and a lot dumber. Turning “molehills” -- The Fix reporter list “Etch A Sketch, stay-at-home moms, caterpillars, dog-eating, silver spoons and cookie-gate” as examples -- into “mountains.” And it certainly feels like the Romney and Obama camps have become uniquely skilled at the dark arts of distracting us from thinking about anything that actually matters. But is it true?

Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom made his “Etch a Sketch” remark on March 21. That was definitely “a mountain.” So, did Mitt Romney’s favorability ratings drop? Not that I can tell, at least from Pollster.com’s data. Did President Obama pull noticeably ahead of Romney? Well, according to the Real Clear Politics average of polls, Obama was leading by 4.5 percent that morning, and over the next week, that grew to 5.4 percent. So maybe -- maybe! -- the Etch a Sketch comment had a small effect.

Democratic consultant Hilary Rosen’s tweet — the one that kicked off the furor over stay-at-home moms -- came on April 11. Obama’s job approval was 48 percent. He was leading Romney by 5.3 percent. A week later, his job approval was 47.3 percent, and he was leading Romney by about three percent. But this was also the week that Rick Santorum dropped out of the GOP primary race and the party rallied behind Romney.

As for the others, well, I cover politics for a living, and I don’t know what the silver spoon thing is. I found out about “Cookiegate” this morning. I was about eight hours late on the dog stuff and, when I asked someone who tweeted about it to explain what they were talking about, they literally didn’t believe that I could possibly be ignorant of such a consequential topic. After I learned the story, I felt a little worse about myself for being in any way involved in the tornado of idiocy that is American politics.

The two campaigns have definitely made molehills feel like mountains to Twitter-obsessed politicos who live in Washington, D.C. But have they really made any of the molehills into mountains in the general election contest? Have any of these furors changed the trajectory of the race by even a little bit? I don’t see much evidence of it.

On Thursday, I spoke with Lynn Vavreck, a political scientist at UCLA, for a column I’m writing next week. She said something that I thought was very wise.

“Most people don’t care about politics,” she said. “They’re not running around with these preformed opinions in their head. They worry about what they’ll make for dinner and how to get their kids to bed. And that hasn’t changed. For us, that’s an alien world. We think about politics all the time. But we’re not normal. The 24-hour news cycle has not really affected the average American who isn’t into politics. And that’s really important to remember.”

I think most people in Washington believe voters would make better decisions if they spent more time following politics. But I spend a lot of time following politics, and quite often, I couldn’t be happier that voters are tuning out the inanities that obsess this town. Better that they worry about real mountains rather than hyped-up molehills.

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