Keeping It ‘Real’

The real campaign begins... now! Wait, now! No, no, I mean now!

DENVER, COLORADO— Turns out there’s one piece of news—real news!—to be learned about the Democratic convention, which is otherwise an event whose general lack of real news is both acknowledged and ignored by the press. And the news is big! Seriously. You actually might want to sit down for this.

Are you sitting? Okay, then, here it is: The Democrats’ convention marks the official start of…The Real Campaign.

Here’s Andrew Sullivan, writing about the Meaning of the Convention in the Times of London yesterday, emphasis mine:

Yet the most important thing dawning on observers of the election, even those who have been examining it under a microscope for months, is that the real campaign starts now—and no one has a clue what is going to happen.

And here’s Frank Rich, writing on the Meaning of the Convention in the Times of New York yesterday (emphasis, again, mine):

As the real campaign at last begins in Denver this week, this much is certain: It’s time for Barack Obama to dispatch “Change We Can Believe In” to a dignified death.

One can’t help but note the irony that an event known for—okay, defined by—its pageantry would herald the start of, you know, the Real Campaign. But that’s precisely what the columnists are suggesting: The pageantry is attracting voters’ attention. And voters are real. Ergo: The campaign itself is now real.

“If you looked at the polls at this point in the last two election cycles, you would see they were poised for real movement only now, Sullivan writes. “This, after all, is when the mass of American voters tune in.”

Rich seconds that emotion. “Zero hour is here,” he has it. “As the presidential race finally gains the country’s full attention, the strategy that vanquished Hillary Clinton must be rebooted to take out John McCain.”

Which is also (ironically, as well, given the sources) an implicit indictment of the press. If voters—the public, the people the press is meant to serve—haven’t been paying real attention to the presidential race until now, then the press’s obsession with it, the suggestion goes, has been both self-indulgent and, even worse, unhelpful.

Except, of course, Sullivan and Rich aren’t the first to make that suggestion. To the contrary: The Real Campaign has begun, apparently, several different times during the 2008 season. And several times during previous election seasons, as well:


Bill Bradley, Pajamas Media: “Finally, the Real Campaign Begins” (June 9, 2008)

Dan Balz, The Washington Post: “The Real Race Begins” (May 9, 2008)

Tony Peraica, Blogger News Network: “Now the real campaign begins” (February 7, 2008)

PBS: “Edwards, Clinton Claim Real Campaign Has Just Begun” (January 4, 2008)

Time: “The Real Campaign Begins” (October 17, 2007)

David Broder, The Washington Post: “the serious stage of the presidential campaign begins this fall” (September 6, 2007)

St. Petersburg Times: “Fun’s over; the real campaign begins” (September 2, 2007)

Howard Fineman, Newsweek: “Somehow it’s appropriate that the Democratic presidential campaign begins in earnest this week in a place called Popejoy Hall.” (September 3, 2003)


So. Current presidential campaign: Just beginning? In mid-life crisis? Wrapping up? All of the above? Either way, we know one thing that’s just beginning: convention shenanigans. See you at the Pepsi Center!

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.