Volume 2, Issue 31: The One About Covering Politics

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Annie Oakley died on November 3, 1926, at the age of 66.

November 3, 2018

When I signed up to cover the 2016 election for Bloomberg — you can find all the pieces I wrote right here, though you can only read them if you have a Bloomberg terminal login, and my lord why would you want one of those? — I legitimately thought it would be a rich, spiritually fulfilling experience. I have always admired politicians. I know that’s a strange thing to say; we’re supposed to find them all complete phonies, and yeah, sure, a lot of them are. But I do truly believe there is something noble about wanting to go into politics. I’m a little Parks and Recreation about it. It doesn’t pay well, you get yelled at by everybody all the time, your entire private life is exposed to constant public scrutiny, you are never allowed to have a sincere human moment without it being parsed and torn apart. I can’t think of a single aspect of it I’d be able to personally tolerate. But people do it. And they do it, most of them do it, because they think they can make a difference, because they think they can make the world a little better, because they engage with the planet in a way that’s not just about personal enrichment. We can all go into our bunkers and just take care of ourselves and our own lives. People go into politics because they have beliefs about what can help the world and want to help implement them. Even when I disagree with what a politician believes, I have always found it difficult not to admire the fortitude it takes to enter the arena.


But 2016 destroyed most of that. Seeing the slow motion train wreck that was Trump’s election happen in real time, over the course of 18 months, traveling from New York to Alabama to Iowa to New Hampshire to South Carolina to Philadelphia to Cleveland, made it nearly impossible to believe in any of it, or to believe in much of anything. I remember covering Trump’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland (I even wrote a newsletter about it) and thinking that being involved in politics, as a candidate, staffer or a reporter covering it, was the most vile, disgusting thing I’d ever been a part of. I felt like even being there was being part of the problem. I felt that every story I wrote during the Republican primary that wasn’t Jesus Christ what is happening we have to stop this we have to stop this right now was a dereliction of duty. Cleveland just shook me. When I came back from that RNC trip, I requested not to go on the road anymore; I ended up just finishing out the string doing the podcast with John Heilemann and really, really enjoying getting back to writing about my usual frivolities of sports and movies. And when the election itself happened, the nightmare was complete. It has been rather tough to have much admiration for “the fortitude it takes to enter the arena” after that.

Our country has become so angrily polarized over the last three years that it’s worth remembering sometimes that most people don’t want to think about politics. It’s hard enough dealing with everything the world is constantly throwing at us as is. What the average person wants from their government, I think, is just not to blow everything up. I always think of the Obama adminstration’s guiding rule: Don’t Do Stupid Shit, or, in even more colorful language, the classic Glengarry Glen Ross rant Ricky Roma at his middle manager: “What you’re hired for is to help us. To help us. Not to FUCK US UP.” We want the trains to run on time. We want to be a general force for good. We want our taxes not to be too high. We want to be able to go to the park with our dog. We want to be able to call the police when they are needed and be left alone when they are not. We want our children to go to a safe school where they can learn what they need to learn. We don’t want to get shot. We want our loved ones to be cared for when they are sick. We want the weak to be protected. But mostly: We want to go on with our lives. We want politics and government to be a background hum rather than constant car alarms in both ears. We just want everything to be OK. Life is hard enough already.

And we don’t want this. This cannot be what we want or who we are.

I’ve struggled with how to best get involved in the election this year. Freed of professional responsibilities of supposed impartiality, I’ve been able to donate financially to candidates I support. I proudly wore a Stacey Abrams hat during my half-marathon last week and have an STACEY ABRAMS GOVERNOR lawn sign in our front yard. I’ve been more open on social media than I used to be, though that strikes me as the absolute least one can do. (And tends to give the illusion that one is doing more than one actually is.) I’ve sent out some texts for her campaign, as well as the campaign of Deborah Gonzalez, our representative at the Georgia State House. (I actually have met her opponent a few times and find him perfectly pleasant. I don’t agree with him on nearly anything, but I do not find him a terrible human being. I fear sometimes we’ve lost the ability to hold these two competing thoughts in our brain at the same time.) I find myself bringing up the election and its importance in just about every casual conversation I’ve had about anything; I’ve certainly irritated my fair share of Waitin’ Since Last Saturday listeners by continuing to bring up Brian Kemp’s systematic voter suppression when they just want to hear about Georgia football.


But there’s a limit to what I can do. I’m an adult now, a father, a family human, a guy with about five different jobs. A friend of mine was telling me last month about how she sometimes feels bad that she can’t do more: “If I were in my 20s, I’d be out there in the streets.” You just do what you can. This is the most tumultuous period of my lifetime; these three years of Trump dominating every American conversation, of attacking the most vulnerable, of appealing to the worst of every base instinct, of bringing out the rottenness that lived within more people than any of us knew ... it takes a lot out of you. It can erode the spirit. And I’m a straight white guy: Having my spirited eroded is pretty much the worst thing that can happen to me. To see what he has done to those I care about who are black, who are Latino/a, who are Jewish, who are LGBT, who are women, anyone who is marginalized ... it makes you feel like everything is being tugged backwards, by angry people who refuse to let go of their fears and hatreds. We are seeing violence directly connected the President’s current rhetoric, and rather than tamp it down, he’s ramping it up. This will not stop. It makes you goddamned angry too. It makes you furious.

So, on the eve of this election day, I beg for us to step back from this. Seeing all the avarice and grift over the last two years, the pure shamelessness of it all, the only recourse, the only relief, has been the belief that there will be some punishment for this in the end. That there will be blowback. That we will stand up and scream STOP before it is too late. We’ve not had the opportunity to do that since that tragic mistake two years ago. I beg, I plead, I even pray, that we take a step closer to getting it closer to right this time. Because it’s just going to keep getting worse if we don’t. So please, VOTE. Life is hard enough already. This cannot be what we want or who we are.


Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality. (This is an attempt to have an objective look at the value of my work in a way that I suspect will be difficult to sustain.)

1. Are Boston Sports Fans Sick and Tired of Winning? The New York Times. This piece was meant to be taken as more playful than I think it was necessarily taken.

2. The WWE’s Gross Relationship With Saudi Arabia, New York Magazine. I honestly think this is the first piece I have ever written about wrestling.

3. Should Bryce Harper Consider a One-Year Deal? MLB.com. Whatever gets the guy more money. (And gets him to the Cardinals.)

4. Debate Club: Best Scary Movies For Kids, SYFY Wire. Any list with Beetlejuice on it can’t be all bad.

5. The Thirty: Each Team’s Worst Free Agent Move, MLB.com. Grrrr Tino Martinez.



This week’s guest was NBC News’ Steve Kornacki, who talked about game shows, the 90s and more politics. Also: Note what’s on the TV screen back there! Old school Life As A Loser shit right there. Watch the show on Amazon or on SI TV.


Grierson & Leitch, the great “Burning,” along with “Suspiria” and, in our Reboot section, “Primer.”

Waitin’ Since Last Saturday, reviewing the Florida win, previewing today’s Kentucky game.

Seeing Red, no show this week. Taping Monday.

Obligatory Halloween photo here:


I’m the tall one in the jorts. The jorts were a last-minute addition because ... well, that costume is pretty skin-tight, and had there been no covering, I’m pretty sure I was going to end up in jail.

Have a great weekend, all. Be good to each other out there.



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