And so it begins ...

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The 2016 presidential race began in earnest over the weekend, when former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton officially announced her candidacy.

While I have some pretty entrenched thoughts about the 2016 race, I won't be getting into those today.

Instead, I want to discuss the process by which we Americans elect our president, and the circus it has become in this era of ever-present cameras, social media and Internet "news" sites.

It almost seems as if the presidential election cycle never ends; as soon as a new president is inaugurated, political analysts begin discussing the next election. Heck, we're still more than a year and a half from the 2016 election and already Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton's name is being tossed around for 2020, heaven help us all.

It seems as if most of the time, too, things can change very quickly and very surprisingly. How many Americans, when George W. Bush was elected to a second term in 2004, had even heard of Barack Obama?

In the early 1990s I worked at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Little Rock. A coworker called me the day then-Gov. Bill Clinton was scheduled to announce his candidacy and invited me to tag along to hear Clinton's speech. I laughed off the invitation, saying something like: "In three months, he'll be out of the race and no one will remember his name."

Obviously, that was not a particularly insightful bit of political analysis on my part.

All this leads me to wonder if there will be a surprise in the 2016 race. The No. 1 seeds, if you'll indulge me in a bit of NCAA Tournament analogy, would certainly seem to be Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and Jeb Bush, with maybe Rand Paul thrown in. But there are some potential dark horses -- former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, for one. Huckabee came from nowhere (figuratively speaking, of course) to win the Iowa Republican primary in 2008 and his shtick and religious conservatism play well among a certain segment of voters.

The picture seems to be quite a bit clearer on the Democratic side: Clinton at this point appears to be the clear favorite, although Biden is certain to receive support from certain corners. On the Republican side, Bush can expect challenges from Paul, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Sen. Marc Rubio of Florida and Sen. Ted Cruz of Kentucky. Even Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin are being mentioned as Republican possibilities. Honestly, my hope is that Palin makes a run: She's always good for comic relief.

Politics in America has become almost a bloodsport in recent years. Regrettably, the Internet and social media have exacerbated the nastiness. Log on to Facebook any day and it won't take you long to read that Obama is a Muslim operative on a secret mission to destroy America, or that Bush rigged the 2000 Florida recount in his brother's favor.

One of those has a higher likelihood of being true, in my opinion, but the people who spread those stories on the Internet seem intent on disseminating as much misinformation as possible in the hopes that others will simply accept it as truth. Unfortunately, that strategy seems to work.

I know a young man, a family friend, who to my knowledge has never held a job in his life. He has struggled with substance abuse issues and suffered a severe head injury in a car accident. But to judge from his Facebook page, he's an absolute expert on foreign policy. And I'm not sure most of his friends appreciate the irony. This, to a large extent, is illustrative of the modern American voter. I don't know about you, but it sure scares me.

So, Campaign 2016 is about to kick into full gear. Let the surprises, and the mud-slinging, and the rumor-mongering begin.

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Scott Loftis is the managing editor for Carroll County Newspapers. His email address is CarrollCountyNews@cox-internet.com