Thursday, January 10, 2008

Policing the Pundits

We've been through all this election year nonsense before. Eight years ago.

SHUTEYE REDUX. Of course all the pundits were wrong about what was going to happen in New Hampshire Tuesday. And now they've moved seamlessly into their most effective mode -- predicting the past. In a few more days, they'll resume trying to predict the future, and they hope you'll be paying attention.

But why should you? This part of a presidential campaign is far more a horse race than a math equation. All the race track touts have their own tips and systems for picking a horse to bet on, but you absolutely cannot pay any attention to their logic. They're part of the story they think they're standing apart from and their presumed objectivity is a disqualifying joke. It's always this way. For evidence of this fact I dug into the pre-InstaPunk archives from 2000 for a couple of our columns about this stage of the campaign that year. It was just as screwy then, and the pundits and pollsters made just as big asses of themselves as they're in the process of doing now. Take a look.

February 10, 2000

The Couch Campaigner

Catching up on 
the Presdential Race

      I know I was supposed to be covering the Presdential campaign, but I got a late start. The end of the NFL season was pretty absorbing for a change, and suddenly it seemed like all the movies were being touted as “one of the year’s very best.” (It took me a few wasted tickets to figure out the year they were talking about was 2000.) Besides, all the polls were saying you hadn’t gotten too interested in the campaign either, and why should I wear myself out writing a bunch of great stuff about something you didn’t notice yet?
      So now I’m on the case, and it looks like exciting things are underway. The last time I checked in, George W. and Al Bore were walking away with the major party nominations, and Pat Buchenwald was getting ready to throw the big enchilada to the Dems by running on the Reformed Party ticket. 
     Who would have thought everything would get so different so fast? Pat Buchenwald is embroiled in a tougher race than the one he walked out on—competing with the likes of Donald Trumph, Jesus Ventura, Warren Beady (sort of), and the ghostly spectre of Ross Pyro. George W. did the impossible by spending $50 million in New Hamshire to get his ass kicked by a white-haired Viet Nam POW. And Al Bore turned the solid gold advantage represented by the best economy in 3 billion years into a skin-of-the-teeth victory over a washed-up basketball player with a heart condition.
       It almost makes me wish I’d been paying more attention. How about you? Maybe you’d settle for a brief explanation of how this all came about? Let’s hope so. Here goes.
      Pat Buchenwald got into trouble because he figured the Reformed Party would swoon for a famous, college-educated (semi)politician who had been on TV more than Ross Pyro. Like most of the ‘inside the beltway’ intellectuals, he forgot that college-educated doesn’t impress Amerians very much any more, since everybody in the whole government went to Yail, and anyone with half an eye can see they’re not too damn smart. 
     And when you leave out the college-educated part, suddenly Pat Buchenwald isn’t the top gun anymore, because here comes Jesus “The Booby” Ventura, who’s been seen on television by probably fifty times as many people as Pat, and he’s been elected a governor to boot, even if it is in one of those nothing states that start with an “M.” 
     When everybody in the media rushed to interview Jesus about being Presdent, people kind of lost track of Pat, and when all those interviews made people start thinking that maybe it wouldn’t be too smart to elect a bald idiot as Presdent, that gave Donald Trumph the idea to run, because why else did he spend all those years combing his side hair over the big empty spot on top of his head? Investments like that have to be cashed in sometime, don’t they? 
     After the Reformed Party folks didn’t actually throw up at the thought of a whoremaster like Trumph as the nominee, Warren Beady got the idea that he might have a shot too. And does anybody think Ross Pyro paid all that money to set up his own political party just to see a bunch of squabbling egomaniacs rip it to pieces? That scratching sound you hear is Ross's feet digging in for a last-minute sprint. With all this going on, who’s paying any attention to Pat? Maybe black and silver uniforms would help...
    George W. got into trouble because after about six months of being polled every half hour, average Amerians finally realized that the Bush who was running this time was the son of the one they dimly remembered. Which was a completely different thing, of course. Completely. If John McKane had realized it six months earlier, he would have gotten into the race a lot sooner—probably six months sooner. As it was, he had a lot of catching up to do. After six months of voting for him in telephone polls, average Amerians were starting to feel like they knew George W. almost as well as they knew his dad. 
       In fact, it wasn’t until the mass media started telling people how much average Amerians admired John McKane for all his honesty about whatever it was he was being so honest about that they realized how much they had always admired McKane before George W. distracted them by pretending to be his own father. 
      All in all, there was lots of realizing going on, and most of it got completed in time to give George W. a good thumping in New Hamshire. None of the other Republians was ever in the race because the only thing they talked about was abortion, which is the one subject nobody anywhere wants to hear another word about. Thus, the first primary resulted in the two-man race we have today.
     Al Bore got into trouble by being himself for many months of campaigning. Thankfully, an army of political consultants figured this out in time to convince him that the best strategy was to run as someone else, someone like, say, Bill Clitton. And so they managed to come up with a perfect patsy for Al Bore to run against, so that the Vice Presdent would have someone other than himself to lie about during the campaign. 
     Then it turned out that Bill Broadley was almost too perfect a patsy—he campaigned so lethargically and inertly that Al barely noticed him and kept on telling all his best lies about himself. As a result, New Hamshire was a closer vote than anyone wanted, especially Bill Broadley, who had been given to understand that he’d be able to go home after the first primary. When he realized that the Bore campaign had been lying about this too, he got really steamed and started hurling accusations about everything under the sun, which made everyone nervous. 
     First, Broadley charged that he had a debilitating heart condition, then he claimed that he was too much of an impotent intellectual to have the guts for Presdential campaigning, and then he asserted that if elected he would make the government pay everybody’s doctor bill forever, thus bankrupting the country. 
     In response, the Bore campaign counter-charged that Al Bore would pay everybody’s doctor bill too, and that it wouldn’t bankrupt the country because the Democratics would raise taxes on the Republians to pay for it, even if Broadley did get elected. Faced with such negative tactics, Broadley quit trying to weasel out of the race and consented to stay in a while longer. Having dodged a very big bullet, a much relieved Al Bore finally started to get the hang of Presdential campaigning and began telling only the lies his campaign managers ordered him to.
    All caught up? Good. I promise I’ll be checking in more often from here on in. Okay?

March 3, 2000

The Couch Campaigner

Bush is done! McKane is done!
No, Bush is done

        It’s getting confusing here on the couch. If I didn’t know better, I’d think the mass media don’t have a clue about what’s going on in the campaign.
        First, John McKane blows out all the poll predictions in a giant drubbing of Bush in New Hamshire. The whole country starts going nuts for McKane. He makes the covers of all the news magazines. The polls which had shown Bush with a 20 point lead in South Carelina are suddenly showing him behind McKane. 
        The pundits explain that Bush’s people had always been dead wrong to think of South Carelina as a conservative “firewall” for their man. Actually, they say, Carelina doesn’t belong to the “Old South” anymore. They’re tied into the UnderNet like everyone else in the country, which means they don’t have any morals anymore either, and so they’re not quite as enthusiastic about the politics of a Republian God who’s planning Armageddon for Satan’s anti-Anti-Choice minions. 
        What’s more, South Carelina is also overflowing with veterans, which means that George W. might remind them more of Clitton than his dad, and McKane could attract their votes just by waving the (Amerian) flag a little and swapping some raunchy war stories. 
        Even worse, the way the pundits explain it, the South Carelina primary is also open to independents and Democratics, which there aren’t supposed to be any of in the state, except that there are, and they seem to like the looks of a Republian who talks like a Clitton Democratic. And the whole time the pundits are explaining all this, the polls stay close, and the Bush campaign seems to be bracing itself for another, possibly fatal, defeat.
        Then the South Carelina primary takes place. Bush wins it convincingly. The news magazines put George W. on their covers and talk about how tough he was to come back and put it to McKane that way. The pundits take to the air to explain that during the last frantic days in South Carelina, the honest and highly principled John McKane had done some pretty negative advertising, going so far as to compare George W. to Clitton. 
        It also turns out that the South Carelina folks aren’t quite as finished with being “Old South” as everyone thought—as the experts could have deduced if they’d paid attention to their own tirades about the Confederate flag flying over the capitol. But, anyhow, the folks were still “Old South’ enough to remember that a candidate who talks about being positive and honorable probably shouldn’t compare his opponent to the scummiest presdent in Amerian history—unless maybe he isn’t quite so positive and honorable as he says he is. 
        Any of the South Carelinians who were slow to figure this out were nevertheless able to get some help from the Bush campaign, who called everybody in the state once an hour and preempted all regular programming on TV to explain just how unprincipled it was for John McKane to do negative campaigning.
        With South Carelina now safely out of the way, the Republians run up to Mishigan to explain to the voters how negative the other side is being. Since Bush has proven to be so much more effective at this than McKane, the pundits explain, the Arizonia senator is now in real trouble. Besides, the Republian governor of Mishigan has made this primary a vote of confidence for his own administration and is using the whole Republian machine to win it for George W. 
        The worst news of all for McKane is that he seems to be losing his famous temper quite a bit, and he’s no longer sounding like a brave, war-hero reformer. What he's sounding like is a sore loser.
        The Mishigan primary vote takes place right on schedule, and McKane wins big. The pundits race to the talk shows to say, of course, obviously, this was inevitable. The governor of Mishigan is unpopular, and everyone in the City of Destroit—all Democratics, of course—voted in the primary, for John McKane, just to piss off the governor. What this means, according to the pundits, is that the whole phenomenon of Democratics voting in Republian primaries will make the race for the nomination into a real dogfight, one that could go all the way to the Convention. 
        Next up are primaries in the Commonwealth of Vagina and Wishington State, both considerably more moderate in their politics than South Carelina, which is the only place Bush has actually scored a victory at the polls. Time, the pundits tell us, to hold our breath.
        So, naturally, Bush stomps McKane to pieces in Vagina and Wishington. It turns out that the Republians have decided to battle the Democratics by voting unanimously for the candidate the Democratics hate the most—George W.
        Now, we’re on the brink of Super Tuesday. The pundits are still busy explaining what happened in Vagina and Wishington, and what will happen in Newyork, Californica, Uhio, and a bunch of other states. But I’ve stopped listening for a while. My head hurts. Maybe I’ll just wait for their explanation of what happened after it’s all over.

I still think that's good advice. Wait for the explanations they think up afterwards. They won't be any more correct, but they'll be a lot more believable if you're the kind who believes people really can be smarter after the fact than before.

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