Heated presidential race fuels politics junkies

Saturday, March 22, 2008 | 10:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:59 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

You’ve read about Brock Olivo, the former MU football star who has decided he should be our congressman despite never having voted. In a nice demonstration of verbal dexterity, he has referred to himself as a “recovering apathetic.”

My situation, when it comes to politics, is close to the opposite. I’m a borderline politics junkie. Only recently I’ve come to realize that I’ve been spending Sunday mornings with Tim Russert and George Stephanopoulos, plus way too much time in front of the computer reading the politics blogs. I’ve been fixated on The Fix.

As evidenced by the turnout at primaries and caucuses, to say nothing of the flood of public commentary, I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. And what have we addicts learned from our obsession?

The Republicans, always more efficient than Democrats, have settled on John McCain. It’s hard even for a Democrat to think of anything bad to say about Senator McCain. He’s an American hero. For some reason, he seems to like journalists. If only he weren’t wrong on just about every important issue, including those he used to be right about. He was against the Bush tax cuts before he was for them. He was critical of right-wing religious bigots before he learned to love them. He opposed President Bush before he supported him.

Meanwhile, my Democrats, blessed with two strong, attractive candidates and with the political wind at their backs, seem intent on doing what Democrats do best — civil war. Is Hillary Clinton a monster? Is Barack Obama reprising Ken Starr? Both sides are devoting vast resources to providing the McCain camp with ammunition for the fall. No wonder a friend of mine calls it the party of self-immolation.

So while Olivo commits to politics, I’m trying to break free. I’m reminding myself that March Madness once referred to basketball and not the Wyoming caucus and Mississippi primary. ESPN is going to reclaim its rightful hold on my idle hours.

Already I can sense improvement. Last Sunday, instead of buying the New York Times and reading Frank Rich, I got the Post-Dispatch and read Joe Strauss and Derrick Goold. (For those who share the politics addiction, I’ll point out that Strauss and Goold cover the Cardinals.) I skipped Meet the Press. Later in the day, I went over and watched a few innings of the Tigers baseball game.

Now when I let myself think about politics, I’m trying to look close to home. Is John Clark doomed to yet another disappointment in Columbia’s First Ward race? Can Paul Sturtz use the glory of the True/False Festival to overcome the burden of having been a Missourian editor? How about Judy Baker, Steve Gaw and Ken Jacob all vying for Kenny Hulshof’s seat in Congress?

I’m not quitting presidential politics cold turkey, of course. I’ll always try to catch Mark Shields and David Brooks on the News Hour. And I recommend Gail Collins in the Times.

It’s just a matter of balance in one’s life, as the Dalai Lama might say. Come to think of it, Brock Olivo might say that, too.

George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.

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