Journalists don't like to admit this, but much of the time they are really like stenographers for the institutions of society. We write or talk about what's going on with the cops and the courts; with politicians and various governments.
But when the judges are off and the city councils are closed, when the latest Bob Bashara has been trundled off to prison and there's no sex dungeon immediately in sight, why, we sometimes don't know what to do with ourselves.
Sure, we could look into economic injustice or the effects of long-term pollution or at what kids are really learning ... but that might take a lot of work. So we chase silly stories instead.
We report that there is a growing statehood movement in the Upper Peninsula, based on an hour with four guys in a coffee shop in Ishpeming. When the weather is nice, we find some lifer who swears he knows that Jimmy Hoffa is buried under a barn in Milford, and we get some official to dig a hole.
That's called being a public watchdog. This month, however, there's a new spin on the stupid story.
Political writers are speculating on whether Rick Snyder might be the next president. After all, he delivered his mind-numbingly boring State of the State speech exactly two years to the day before the next president will take office.
Could it be our very own relentlessly positive Rick?
Well, I have no idea who the next president will be. Nobody has any clear fix on who the Republicans will settle on either, though my money, for now, is on Rand — or hell, maybe Ron Paul.
But I've been watching and writing about politics for a lifetime, and I can tell you this much: It won't be Snyder.
Here's why. First of all, running for president is a years-long, full-time job. If Snyder had designs on the White House, the best thing he could have done is not run for re-election.
That's what Mitt Romney shrewdly did in Massachusetts. Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter won presidential nominations — and the presidency — only after leaving office.
Why? For one thing, running a major industrial state is a full-time job, especially one with a complicated economy. True, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were governors when they were elected. But Arkansas is scarcely a major industrial state.
In Texas, the lieutenant governor holds a lot of the power. There is one modern example of a governor of an older manufacturing state running — and it was a disaster.
That would be Michael Dukakis in 1988. That campaign will be forever remembered for the image of the "Duke" in a tank in Warren, wearing a helmet several sizes too big.
Dukakis, who was 17 points ahead in July, lost 40 out of the 50 states in November. But while there was plenty wrong with his campaign, one was that he tried to run for president and still run his state. Both are more than full-time jobs.
Running Michigan these days would be far harder still. But even if Snyder found a way to do it, the odds would be insurmountable. For one thing, he would be starting too late.
Presidential campaigns today last years, and the candidate has to have raised millions before the Iowa caucuses a year from now. But let's assume he could raise the dough. Then what? Five years ago, Snyder managed to break free from the herd, mainly a bunch of uncharismatic social conservatives, with his "one tough nerd" strategy. That was locally brilliant.
But it would be much harder on a national scale. Snyder is likely not a brand with legs, as they say in the ad game.
To put it bluntly, he isn't ruggedly handsome like Romney or charismatic like Reagan. Snyder also has a voice like Kermit the Frog on helium.
That's not his fault, but life isn't fair. More importantly, he is not well-known nationally, nor is he a leader of any prominent faction. If Snyder did get into the race, the national media probably would pigeonhole him in the "moderate wing."
There, he'd be a poor third behind the much-richer and better-known Jeb Bush and Romney. Add to that the fact that Snyder lacks any kind of Washington, military, or foreign policy experience. Traditionally, a president needs at least one.
That doesn't mean Ranger Rick doesn't have a political future beyond being governor. If a Republican did get elected president, Snyder would be a strong candidate for commerce secretary or head of the Office of Management and Budget.
President, not so much. When it comes to that job, I am relentlessly positive Snyder is out of the action.
Speaking of Hoffa: Incidentally, I never pay much attention to Hoffa stories, for two reasons. Number one, I am pretty sure I know what happened. The late Vince Piersante, who led the Michigan attorney general's organized crime task force for years, told me. Piersante was honest, but spoke fluent Italian and knew lots of mobsters.
"It was an accident," he told me. The Mafia goons came to give Hoffa a warning, but he ended up dead in a house somewhere. "They called Jersey and said, 'We did an oops,' which was the code," Vince said. Eventually, some guys came and took the corpse to a rendering plant the mob controlled in Wayne, and Hoffa became something like Crisco.
Piersante knew the guys who told him the story and trusted it, and it makes sense to me. But the real reason I don't pay any attention is ... it doesn't matter!
This summer, it will have been 40 years since Hoffa disappeared. He had lost all his power and stopped mattering even before that. Whoever killed him is also probably long dead.
Meanwhile, we have one or two real problems and interesting situations to worry about, don't we?