There were many important political issues that could have used unpacking on the Sunday shows this week. The controversy over delays at Veterans Affairs medical centers has kept Congress and the White House occupied and looking for answers. A mass of midterm primaries are scheduled for Tuesday. India held an exciting election, and Ukraine's elections are set to happen soon. The drought in California is setting the state alight.
The Sunday shows touched on a number of these issues. They also devoted a significant portion of time to a political issue that isn't scheduled to have any impact on policy or the nation at any point in the near future — if ever. This issue would be how Republican strategist Karl Rove's comments about former secretary of state Hillary Clinton's health could affect the 2016 presidential contest, comments which happened over a week ago, comments which have left aftershocks which continue to entrance a fair number of the people who tend to guide our national political conversations. Comments that mostly interest the general public not a whit, and which were mostly brushed off by people in politics and mostly backed away from by Rove. The definition of a non-event. However, when a presidential campaign and the coverage that tails it starts a few weeks before the previous presidential election has concluded, it's best not to let a non-event go to waste.
During yesterday's five news shows, Hillary Clinton or her political operation were mentioned 98 times, and speculation about whether she was headed for victory despite not declaring her candidacy could be found in every nook and cranny of the broadcasts. NBC's "Meet the Press" and ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" each mentioned Hillary Clinton 27 times, excluding the several mentions of her husband. On "Meet the Press," only five mentions of the total 27 Hillary Clinton name drops came from guests — the hosts and reporters running the show were the ones eager to drive the conversation in the direction of the Clintons. On "This Week," guests made seven of the 27 mentions of the most comfortable constant in American politics.
Clinton was mentioned 11 times on CBS's "Face the Nation" — eight times by guests. On CNN's "State of the Union," guests on the show made two of the eight Clinton mentions. On Fox News Sunday, Clinton was mentioned 25 times — 11 times guests brought up the subject.
These reams of numbers drive home the point that Hillary Clinton 2016 speculation hardly comes up organically in political conversations. We're being consciously steered in that direction all the time. (And, no, blog posts about people talking about Hillary Clinton likely doesn't help the matter, but it can't hurt to acknowledge the Clinton cacophony we've already reached so dangerously far from the 2016 primary season.) Barbara Bush has lamented many a time about how we need to have more than two families dominating presidential elections in the United States. It also seems we're in the market for more than two families to talk about, if anyone can be convinced to drift away from their well-worn, favorite gossiping default. Journalists in New York like to gossip about the New York Times, four-year-olds like to talk about "Frozen," twentysomethings have myriad opinions about student debt and economics nerds have no choice but to talk about Thomas Piketty. Those in politics feel the same way about the Clintons.
The odd assemblage of guests who were asked to place bets on Hillary Clinton's political future also brings to mind the terrifyingly long list of on-the-record predictions we'll be able to look back at come January 2016, when Clinton is either not running or a frontrunner. (There must be an intern somewhere out there who has already begun compiling it.)
Just yesterday we had Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg, California Gov. Jerry Brown, former Vice President Dick Cheney and his daughter, Liz Cheney, among many others, offer their opinions on Hillary Clinton's health and future political happiness. CNN published a blog post which noted that "Hillary Clinton was the subject that consumed the political talk shows" — including theirs.
"Fox News Sunday" host Chris Wallace also asked his audience, "What would you like to ask the panel about Clinton in 2016? Just go to Facebook or Twitter @FoxNewsSunday, and we may use your question on the air."
Last week, Benghazi and the Vanity Fair article written by Monica Lewinsky offered another opportunity to gossip about Clinton's 2016 possibilities. Who knows what will spur Clinton discussions come Memorial Day weekend? But you can be sure something will. And if we've reached such a constant drone of Clinton gossip in May 2014, that doesn't bode well for the next couple of years. Even if Clinton decides not to run, conversations about how the race could have unfolded or how she would have approached political decisions are sure to occur. (Note the already robust catalog of articles written about what would have happened if Hillary Clinton had won the 2008 presidential election. Political junkies love rewriting Clinton's past presidential run nearly as much as they like handicapping her future ones).
In other words, it's going to be a long two years.