Although nobody sensible would choose to do it this way, America's political fate has become captive to the TV news media's never-ending quest for ratings. Months before the earliest votes are cast, the 2016 presidential contest has turned into a "reality TV" melodrama.
The themes are broad and simple: Donald Trump as Nationalist Strongman, and Hillary Clinton as National Bitch. Up with the Strongman, down with the Bitch. Yes, 20 other candidates are vying for attention, and somebody else could assume a starring role should these narratives lose momentum.
Even supposedly left-wing MSNBC broadcasts Trump's speeches live, giving the billionaire braggart free publicity even he might not be able to afford. Whatever you can say about Trump, he gives good TV -- that is, if professional wrestling extravaganzas are your idea of family entertainment.
Also, it's always been clear that no Democratic woman, and certainly not one named Clinton, can be elected President of the United States without being designated a brass-plated bitch. Having failed to entomb Bill Clinton and drive a wooden stake through his heart, wrecking Hillary's candidacy has become the Washington press clique's overriding goal.
And yet the geniuses running her campaign act as if they don't know it. Consider reporter Amy Chozick's remarkable piece in The New York Times on Sept. 7: "Hillary Clinton to Show More Humor and Heart, Aides Say." According to "extensive interviews" with "top strategists" at the campaign's Brooklyn headquarters, Mrs. Clinton would be urged to exhibit empathy and humor on the campaign trail.
Such as when she recently joked, apropos of Trump's insistence that he didn't buy that orange thing on his head from Hair Club for Men, that while her own "hair is real, the color isn't."
Well, it says here that everybody in Brooklyn involved in the Times exclusive ought to walk the plank. Voluntarily or otherwise. Slate's sarcastic headline summed things up perfectly: "Hillary Clinton Hatches Plan to Be More Spontaneous."
The idea of Hillary as a kind of political Stepford Wife, calculating and "inauthentic," to use the cant term, is so deeply imprinted in the press clique's standard narrative that they reacted pretty much the way your dog does when you rattle his leash.
Let Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank speak for all: "And now comes the latest of many warm-and-fuzzy makeovers -- perhaps the most transparent phoniness since Al Gore discovered earth tones."
Never mind that the whole "earth tones" and "invented the Internet" fiasco was a malicious invention. Caricaturing Gore as a posturing phony made it possible for make-believe rancher George W. Bush to become president.
So how is it possible that communications director Jennifer Palmieri, one of two staffers quoted in the Times by name, couldn't see that coming?
Another Clinton staffer confided that, although the candidate would emphasize income inequality, she'd be "scrapping the phrase 'everyday Americans,' which wasn't resonating with voters." One mocked it as too much like Walmart's "Everyday low prices."
Presumably, the campaign will choose a more tasteful slogan from Tiffany or Bergdorf Goodman.
Esquire's always understated Charles P. Pierce calls Clinton staffers "a writhing ball of faithless snakes," more concerned with advancing themselves than electing her. Do they not grasp that wrecking her candidacy is Job One at The New York Times?
Indeed, no sooner had Hillary made a rote apology for the manufactured email "scandal" than staffers "who insisted on anonymity to discuss private conversations" hurried to the same Times reporter to emphasize they'd been urging her to kiss the news media's collective feet for weeks.
Supposedly, Bill Clinton had resisted the idea on the grounds that she hadn't done anything wrong. Supposedly too, he urged staffers to try harder to make that clear.
Based solely on her appearance on Chris Hayes' MSNBC program, I'd say the aforementioned Palmieri -- President Obama's former communications director -- couldn't explain how to pour sand out of a boot with the instructions printed on the heel. Her speech mannerisms make her hard to follow, and she talks in circles.
The Clinton campaign needs to send out more spokesmen like former governors Howard Dean and Jennifer Granholm: people capable of clarity and forcefulness. Here we are, months into this pointless debacle, and it's left to the Justice Department to state that Clinton's email arrangements were legal, proper, and presumably known to everybody in the Obama administration who sent her a message.
And oh yeah, that business about how Hillary's obsessive secrecy caused her computer's server to be wiped of all data? Evidently false, as Bill Clinton evidently wanted the campaign to say all along.
So spooks in places like the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (seriously) now say emails sent in 2010 should be made Top Secret in 2015?
Isn't that like getting a traffic ticket in the mail from a town you drove through last month because they dropped the speed limit last week?
Then shouldn't somebody say so?