Getting caught up in the media cycle is natural, even unavoidable. Despite the fact that many news stories are hardly "news worthy," we can’t help but follow it. We ignore the fact that it has little real meaning. It won't change society and is probably enticing to some less-than-noble appetite. It's kind of like watching a big hit in football or some terribly embarrassing (or funny) moment. We defy all good reasons to ignore it and allow ourselves to get caught up in the brilliance of its appeal. Later we might explore some implications of the story: what does this say about our society? Can we change it? Are we doomed?
In politics this “story” is often some tangent of an election: Who will run? Do they have a real chance? Will the incumbent win? Are we doomed? While this is all good and fun, it has limited use. The Chris Matthews show recently debated the New Hampshire primary “straw poll.” The poll's results were laughable. The only thing overshadowing the comedy of the poll was the significance that the commentators gave it. They literally believed this premature poll had some bearing on the 2012 election. While debating a poll two years before a presidential election and almost a full year ahead of any serious vetting process may sell advertising and get ratings, it offers almost zero insight. The only real insight to be garnered from that poll is that 237 people in New Hampshire don't know most of these candidates. The big vote getters were
potential candidates with name recognition (surprising...). I’m willing to bet this poll doesn’t reflect support for their policy positions. After all, it's pretty hard to vote on policy positions that don't exist.
My point is it is very very early to reasonably debate, much less analyze, the 2012 election. Don’t get me wrong polls are extremely helpful tools. They just aren’t every reliable when information is scarce (or nonexistent). I am absolutely positive about one thing, however. The media isn't giving the one official 2012 presidential candidate enough attention. He has a solid campaign slogan and his debate skills are second to none. If you don’t know him, I’ll give you a hint: he thinks the rent is too damn high.
Update: If you haven't found it already, Brendan Nyhan has a couple great posts about the relative strength of the Republican nominees and how useful analysis is at this point in the election cycle. Jon Bernstein also has a good post on the topic.