It's much too early to pay attention to the race for president
More than 18 million sturdy American TV viewers tuned in to the Democratic presidential debate in Miami on June 27. It was a new record.
Another 15 million-plus watched the first round the night before. That's 33 million total viewers, not including the many millions more who followed the two events online.
The high ratings were a surprise, and lots of people are excited that the carnival presidency of Donald Trump seems to have energized voters at an unusually early stage of the campaign.
Meanwhile, some of those who deliberately didn't watch _ or couldn't sit through _ the debates have been made to feel slack in their patriotic duty.
Don't feel guilty. It's too much, too soon.
The general election is 16 freaking months away. To put that time line in perspective, consider this: A wharf rat that had babies the night of the first debate will produce 24 more litters between now and the day you numbly walk into the voting booth.
It's not healthy to obsess about anything, whether it's rodents or politics, for almost a year-and-a-half. It's also possible to pay attention to important developments without wasting a moment pondering ludicrous and impossible scenarios.
Let's begin with the alleged candidacy of Marianne Williamson, who appeared on stage the second night along with former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Kamala Harris, Sen. Bernie Sanders, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and others.
That Williamson even got into the debates while candidates such as Montana Gov. Steve Bullock missed the cut illustrates what a finely tuned operation the Democratic National Committee is running.
Williamson is an author of self-help books such as "Everyday Grace" and "The Divine Law of Compensation." She's a popular writer, but Dr. Seuss has a better chance of getting elected president _ and he's dead.
A spiritual adviser to Oprah Winfrey, Williamson is famed for dispensing nuggets of wisdom, such as: "Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are."
Let's hope she didn't drop that line on any of the 2,300 young migrants at the federal detention center in Homestead, which she visited during her South Florida stay. Things are really not so good when you're confined behind a guarded fence, far from your family.
Williamson got less than five minutes of speaking time during the debate, but she addressed Trump directly, vowing to "harness love for political purposes" and defeat him in 2020.
That was a cue to lunge for your remote and switch to Comedy Central, because clearly Williamson isn't interested in the White House. She's just trying to sell more books, and it's working. The next day she was the hottest name on social media.
Another person who made the debates difficult to take seriously was New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. When 76 percent of those polled in your own city don't think you should be president, you shouldn't run for president.
Many media commentators said it was a good thing to give 20 of the Democratic candidates a voice, even if they were talking over each other in a clunky format. And, judging by the ratings, many Americans were eager to hear something hopeful, inspiring or half-sensible.
As someone who wrote that Barack Obama (and later Donald Trump) had almost no chance of winning, I have lame credentials as a handicapper of crowded political races. Long shots do sometimes bloom into front-runners.
However, it's not going out on a limb to say with a high degree of confidence that the following debate participants will not be the Democratic nominee: Williamson, de Blasio, Andrew Yang, former Rep. John Delaney, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Rep. Tim Ryan, Rep. Eric Swalwell, Sen. Michael Bennet and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.
Some of them might have already bailed from the race by the time you read this column. For others, the clock is ticking.
Hickenlooper, for instance, is a bright guy who isn't widely hated in his home state. Sadly for him, and perhaps for the institution of democracy, this country simply isn't yet ready to elect anyone named Hickenlooper to be commander-in-chief.
Whether he qualifies for this month's debates depends on his poll results and fundraising.
However, Marianne Williamson will be back on the stage to promote her love-harnessing strategy and perhaps offer more of her best-selling pearls, such as this favorite:
"The top of one mountain is always the bottom of another."
Who knows what the hell that means, but any TV viewer who feels inspired to switch from the debate to a Mount Everest documentary will be forgiven.
Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for the Miami Herald.