Something Useless

Sometimes it happens that something strange and seemingly inconsequential occurs, and for some reason you can’t let it go. To wit, Steve Benen of msnbc, earlier today:

It’s generally been assumed that the Republican presidential field in 2016 wouldn’t just be competitive – it’d be enormous. The Huffington Post’s Pollster chart ranking the GOP presidential hopefuls by poll support shows literally 15 candidates.

Now, the truth is that Benen goes on to discuss what is wrong with that thesis, but I also think some of the problem is his own setup insofar as he seems to be simply reminding people of the obvious:

Looking ahead, it’s easy to imagine a Republican presidential field that includes (in alphabetical order) Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Lindsey Graham, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, George Pataki, Rand Paul, Mike Pence, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, Marco Rubio, Rick Santorum, and Scott Walker. That’s 17 people. It’s also easy to imagine a handful of fringe figures – John Bolton? Herman Cain? – dipping their toes in the water, too.

msnbcBut I’d bet good money that some of these folks will do exactly what Paul Ryan did: think about running, have some serious conversations with their families and aides, enjoy some of the media attention that comes with being a possible candidate, and then stand down.

Every once in a while, I pause to wonder if Benen one-drafts his blog posts the way we often do in our insignificant corner of the world. And, yes, those occasions often arise because of something like this; one would expect him to tack the punch line onto that first paragraph like a proper thesis, or even in the guise of mere foreshadowing.

In truth, there are a small handful of reasons to take a moment for so superficial a consideration. To the one, the issue I’ve raised is not so far removed from our everyday political discourse; were he a candidate and published that post, the opening paragraph would be problematic, as this is the sort of vagary opposition looks for and press loves to cover for its pretense of simplicity.

To another, say what you want about affiliations and political sympathies, but we happen to appreciate his narrative and apparent priorities, essentially the manner in which he has adapted to his role in the discourse. And given the number of times we had to say, for the recent President Bush, “We know what you mean, George”, yeah, it isn’t so difficult to extend that courtesy in obvious cases like this, and that point isn’t entirely worthless given the state of the American public discourse.

Actually, it’s a principle of philosophical discourse, the rhetorical principle of charity. No wonder we have no use for it in these United States.

And usually we joke about the third and the fourth, and the point at which we would never leave the house, but those two parts go together. While it is important to bear in mind that we won’t have so many candidates come August, when the season officially opens at the Ames Straw Poll, it is also worth taking a moment to gauge just how superficial the American discourse has become, and we might hope that taking a moment to consider useless superficiality as we have could actually have some use in helping people bear in mind the useless superficiality of the 2016 presidential race at this point in the preaseason, or even the useless superficiality plaguing our public discourse.

What? Here’s some useless superficiality: Equality = White Supremacism.

No, really, that one came to Capitol Hill in recent weeks. Did you sneeze and miss it?


Benen, Steve. “The pre-primary narrowing gets underway”. msnbc. 13 January 2015.

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