To do otherwise is to use people as props, to feign interest in their issues while simultaneously thinking of how to move on to another, more interesting topic. Good politics and good journalism both demand that we pay attention to specifics, arcane as they may be—that’s part of the distinction between pandering and serving. The modern political campaign trades in benign generalities, and too much of the ensuing campaign coverage fails to challenge that model or fill in the details that the candidates so often elide. One measure of how well this campaign is covered will be how often reporters let those evasions slide—and how often the media can press the candidates to really respond to the people whose votes they’re seeking.

When you get down to it, I think this is what turns a lot of potential voters off: the overwhelming sense that politics is a game being played for its own sake, that every campaign stop is just another space on the board. It’s fun, sure. But it’s of questionable value.

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Justin Peters is editor-at-large of the Columbia Journalism Review.