People Who Are Not Running For President

Written by Paul Waldman for Prospect.org’s blog section Tapped

Posted by YOS for LTS readers.

The old saying has it that there are two kinds of people in Congress: “work horses,” who diligently craft legislation and assemble coalitions, and “show horses,” who preen for the cameras but don’t really get anything done. It’s only partially true — though there are plenty of legislators who barely ever bother to work on legislation, anyone who serves in Congress wants and needs a certain amount of attention to keep getting re-elected and doing their job, however they see it. And managing the media successfully is an important part of legislating.

But all members of Congress want to be as important and influential as possible. Which leads me to this question: how come more of them don’t threaten to run for president?

Consider Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina. An absurdly conservative senator with no significant legislation to his name, DeMint could never be elected president. But he’s very popular among Republicans who are also very, very conservative, and sometimes they plead with him to run. So yesterday, he spoke to The Hill:

DeMint insists he has no plans to run. But he won’t dismiss the growing calls for him to enter the contest.”It’s humbling and out of respect, my wife and I have talked about it,” DeMint said late last week of a possible White House bid. “Out of respect for the people who have asked us to think about this, that’s what we’re going to do. I don’t want to imply that I’m changing in mind, but I want to consider what all these folks are doing.”

Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of pointless speculation! It doesn’t matter that DeMint will not actually be running for president; he’ll now have reporters begging for interviews and be a topic of discussion on lots of cable shows, at least for a day or so. And his standing as a national figure will be boosted just a bit.

Members of Congress just don’t take full advantage of the press’ propensity to rush to anyone who says they’re thinking about running for president. Quick quiz: have you heard of Maurice Hinchey? Probably not. But you’ve heard of Dennis Kucinich, right? They’re both liberal members of the House with similar voting records. Neither one of them is in the Democratic leadership, and neither one has authored any world-shaking legislation. But you’ve heard of Kucinich because he ran for president.

I don’t envy political reporters for their need to not only come up with something to say every day, but to pretend that it’s actually “news.” As a blogger, I can talk about anything I want, without having to claim that my latest thoughts about the 2012 race or health care reform or robots actually constitute “news.” But if, as every journalist knows, Jim DeMint is just playing a game here, do they need to treat it as something serious?