The compressed calendar also helps devalue the big media’s role while empowering new media. Yes, Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina will have significant impacts on the outcome of the big state showdowns, and the free media will be crucial to victory in one or more of them. But not only will the MSM will be spread as thin as the candidates in early ‘08, the need to reach all the big markets in the big states is going to make access to the blogs and talk radio a big deal. Every candidate will need to be scoping out now the AM drive time talkers in the big cities as well as the widely read state blogs if they are going to stay alive in the new calendar. The time in which the old king makers will have to make their plays will not only be greatly diminished, it will be split between the GOP and Democratic slug fests and like the general campaign, will have to be covered in terms the candidates will set via their travel schedule and their speeches.
The candidates will also be displaying for us their abilities to confront and master new and complex fact sets changing at pace not seen in previous cycles. They will be making decisions of huge consequence under conditions not favorable to the slow witted or the overrated. (If Joe Biden manages to recover from his hapless start and survives his almost Energizer Bunny-like determination to put his foot in his mouth, he will be the most fun to watch after New Hampshire and before the big primaries.)
And perhaps, just perhaps, if the smoke clears and two candidates from the same party both have a couple of wins, we will get a great series of subsequent debates about the crucial issues of our time between only the serious contenders.
Given the compressed calendar, the early start to Campaign ’08 was not only inevitable, it is welcome. The candidates almost have to engage in repeated appearances before the new and old media, prepared to answer all questions and to accept most serious debate invitations. Trying to run a front porch campaign when the gun announcing the start of the sprint has already gone off not only mixes metaphors, it nixes chances. The public that is interested will get its fill. Those that aren’t have an endless set of choices in which to invest their attention span.
A short season of decisive political clashes will tell us a lot about these candidates, as will the long run-up to the few weeks of voting. Then we will all take a break and a breath and get out scorecards on which to make notes and judgments.
It is the most important job in the world in an era of unprecedented risks. Making the next president work hard to be ready for January 2009 seems to me to be an excellent idea.