In most contexts, the announcement that you had been contemplating doing something three years from now but were thinking, probably not, is anything but news. If someone lets slip that he is leaning away from proposing to you three years from now, that makes the first date a bit weird. But it is not news, exactly.
But when Hillary Clinton is “not inclined” to do something in three years, that’s a headline.
These are the lean years. After the glut of presidential coverage, there come the three years of fasting, when Newsgatherers must keep tabs on The Assembling Field.
The difficulty with The Assembling Field is that they do not want to assemble too quickly, lest we grow tired of them. Instead, they string us along.
Everyone watches them with the kind of rapt attention generally given to tufts of varicolored smoke emerging from that place in the Vatican where the cardinals pick the pope. On Tuesday Hillary informed a crowd of rapt listeners that she is “not inclined.” What does this mean? everyone wondered. We brought forth the ceremonial bird and slew him and studied his entrails. They looked as inconclusive as ever. “Who runs on an incline, anyway?” we asked. “Perhaps that is actually better from the perspective of long-term ankle health.” The fact that we had just uttered a sentence like that depressed us to no end.
We go take a forked stick to the woods and see if it can shed any light on the odds of a Booker candidacy. We visit Delphi and listen to the tremors in the earth and try to put together a piece on the Perry Resurgency. After all, anything is possible. If a tree falls in a forest during the glut of election news, it gets completely stampeded by the cycle. But these days, it doesn’t even have to fall to make a sound. Trees tantalize us for months deciding whether they are falling, inclined to fall, not inclined to fall, partially inclined, or just have a squirrel in their upper branches who is making their inclinations difficult to discern.
We need more hobbies. But there is a certain rustic joy in this over-analysis. We live off the fumes of these dim hints. Chris Christie was seen eating kale! Cory Booker rescued only six people from burning buildings this weekend! Is he getting cold feet? Hillary Clinton got more than four hours of sleep for several straight days. Is she slipping? Rick Perry wore a purple tie. Is he sending a signal? What can it mean?
The glut will be back soon enough.
And by the time intentions are declared, it is no fun. The kids declare so soon, these days. After all, when the supply is scarce, each tiny slice of ankle is precious. Besides, when the actual election comes around, the Nate Silvers of the earth will be confounding matters with their actual, legitimate, numbers-based approaches. This is our time, when “yes” means You’re Not Doing It Right, “no comment” can mean anything, and a stated “no” means — hey, he’s considering the question! “Not inclined” — that’s several shades shy of “no”! We can work with that.