Obsessing Over Hillary, Pundits Complain About Clinton “Fatigue”

Maureen Dowd wants to feel young again.

Already looking ahead to the 2016 presidential campaign, the New York Times columnist wrote on Sunday that elections are supposed to make you feel “young and excited.” But Dowd fretted that that's just not possible if Hillary Clinton is one of the nominees.

Dowd insisted it was the prospect of a Hillary Clinton vs. Jeb Bush battle that drove her to distraction: “The looming prospect of another Clinton-Bush race makes us feel fatigued,” she wrote. But as the column made clear, it was Hillary who caused the pundit the most grief, especially the prospect of “dredging up memories of a presidency that was eight years of turbulence.”

It's a familiar press refrain. The Los Angeles Times recently wondered if “lingering fatigue from the serial melodramas of Bill Clinton's administration” would hurt Hillary's possible presidential chances. And The New Yorker's 's Jill Lepore suggested documents recently released by the Clinton presidential library would reignite old “concerns” about Hillary's “unethical” behavior.

Please note the pundit-voter disconnect.

“Democrats appear overwhelmingly eager for a Clinton candidacy,” as the New York Times noted last week in an piece analyzing the results of a new poll. But D.C. pundits and Beltway media insiders are another story. Unconcerned with the desires of voters who traditionally pick leaders based on who they think will make America a safe and prosperous place to live, pundits fret more about “fatigue,” as if would-be candidates are stars on a long-running television series.

The irony is that if anyone's creating Clinton fatigue this year, it's the same journalists who claim she's already played out. For the week of February 10-16, the three all-news cable channels aired more than 400 minutes of Hillary coverage, according to Mediaite. And here's a sampling of the Times' recent Clinton coverage from just a recent three-day window:

* Highlights From the Clinton Documents

* Clinton Memos Offer Window Into the Past and Fodder for 2016

* End of an Era? Clinton Media Strategy May Be Due for an Overhaul

* The Evolution of First Lady Media Strategy

* Brace Yourself for Hillary and Jeb

* Who Else Besides Hillary Clinton in 2016?

So yes, I can see why some journalists are complaining about fatigue. The odd part? They're the ones firmly committed to relentlessly covering someone who hasn't announced whether she'll run for president, and for an election that won't be held for more than 900 days. Journalists are complaining about a Beltway ailment that they alone can cure: Stop acting like there's a presidential election in three months.

Clinton Fatigue, heal thyself.

The notion of Clinton Fatigue is not a new one. The phrase first appeared in the late 1990s. Back then fatigue revolved around the non-stop scandals that Republicans perused in their failed effort to nullify Clinton's landslide electoral victories. Fatigue referred to the endless hearings, the relentless subpoenas, and the orgy of cable TV Clinton commentary, so much of it about personal lives.

What's so strange today is that Clinton fatigue complaints are prompted simply by the fact that Hillary Clinton, who has maintained an extraordinarily low profile for the last six months, might run for president. She's not out on the TV talk circuit. She's not giving a plethora of interviews. She's not sparking controversies. And she's not out pushing an agenda, or lobbying partisan attacks.

So why the fatigue angle if Hillary herself isn't generating any headlines or “drama”? Part of it might be boredom. Specifically, there's the media fear of being bored during the Democratic primary season if Clinton were able to easily secure the nomination. The press wants instead to produce an entertaining campaign narrative. And that narrative needs to last for a long time, because the press has decided to cover begin covering the presidential race years in advance. That leads to manufacturing nonexistent trends, like “fatigue” commentary. (Again, according to Democratic voters there is no fatigue.)

The fatigue storyline also provides cover for pundits simply don't like Hillary Clinton (or Bill Clinton). After all, Maureen Dowd's careening attacks on Hillary in 2008 became legendary, with readers wondering what macabre turn Dowd's irrational eviscerations would take, like when she mocked Clinton for showing emotion on the campaign trail in New Hampshire, and asked if she could “cry her way back to the White House”:

But there was a whiff of Nixonian self-pity about her choking up. What was moving her so deeply was her recognition that the country was failing to grasp how much it needs her. In a weirdly narcissistic way, she was crying for us. But it was grimly typical of her that what finally made her break down was the prospect of losing.

Or when Dowd claimed, “The Democrats are growing ever more desperate about the Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.” Or when she typed up the Clinton-hating fantasy about how Hillary was practically going to storm the podium at the Democratic convention in Denver in 2008 and “try to show the Democrats they chose the wrong savior.” (She did not.)

Meanwhile, blogger Andrew Sullivan recently announced he's already feeling “exhaustion” over the idea of a Hillary campaign. Like Dowd, Sullivan's attacks on Clinton during the 2008 primary season were all-encompassing. Hillary, Sullivan wrote at the time, “depresses beyond measure.”

If the press has already committed itself to covering a White House campaign an entire year before it's necessary, pundits and reporters would be well served to listen to what voters think and shelve the phony fatigue chatter.