Clippings: The election is over, please shut up
I was driving into work on the morning after the election and I heard a Republican strategist on the radio asked about how the GOP needs to change to build a coalition that can win a presidential election. The guy stammered about Republican governors and the House of Representatives for a few minutes, then admitted that he didn’t know.
A pundit admitting that he didn’t know! I let out a big sigh; what a relief.
After months — check that, years! — of reading, hearing and seeing self-anointed experts pontificate about this election and what voters in ever more granular samples were thinking, I could barely believe my senses when I heard an “expert” honestly answer that he had not yet figured it out.
This has seemed to be the longest election, and among the most annoying. In part that is due to my disposition. As a reporter I have a knee-jerk skepticism to just about any statement of fact (there’s an old maxim in journalism — if she says she’s your mother, check it out); and when the person delivers the alleged fact with an air of pompous authority, well my blood begins to simmer. This past election saw a glut of pompous authority figures, and not just on the Republican side.
Watch out; now I’m going to veer off into a rant about how when I was young, elections were more high-minded affairs, or at least that back then people shut up when they didn’t have anything to say. Well, that’s the way I remember it, but I was just a kid with more important things to think about (like “Gilligan’s Island” and “The Brady Bunch”).
But when I checked it out, I naturally found that bombastic pundits were high-profile media figures long before Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh were in diapers. Take Walter Winchell, for instance, who was a force on the national political scene in the middle of the last century. He started out in vaudeville but ended up with a top-rated radio show. At least in his day they often called what he did “gossip,” not punditry.
So there was no golden era, but it may have been easier back in the day to tune out blowhards pushing their unwanted opinions on you. To ignore Winchell all you had to do was turn off your scratchy-sounding radio receiver or turn the page of your newspaper. Nowadays it is hard to escape when so-called “intelligence” is being pushed at you in both of those venues, plus on television, the Internet and your cell phone.
Perhaps it is just that abundance of information flowing at me that is so wearying. Well, the abundance and the content. The fact that a discussion of who will lead our nation is information that could possibly be important to me, my family, my community, my country makes it that much harder to ignore. It was easy when all I had to screen out was who Snooki was hanging with on a Jersey boardwalk. The stakes are higher when they’re talking about public policies like how much Social Security my mother-in-law will get or how health care for my family may be brought more within reach.
And trying to keep track of the number of voices is just bewildering. Do I trust this guy; what’s that gal’s bias; is that station right of center, left of far right, or center leaning right on fiscal issues but left on social issues? And the hardest question for a fellow like me, who believes in the basic goodness of my fellow human beings, is is this pundit knowingly telling me a falsehood?
In doing my research for this column I came across a piece on Slate.com that shows the accuracy of 18 pundits in predicting the outcome of Tuesday’s Presidential election. Half of them predicted the number of electoral votes Obama won within about 20 percent — not bad. One of them, Josh Putnam of Davidson College, even nailed it, projecting that Obama would win 332 electoral votes, which was exactly on target if Obama does indeed get Florida’s electoral votes.
Then there were the outliers. No intellectually honest person would ever have expected some of them to be close. Projections by Dick Morris, Ann Coulter, Karl Rove and Newt Gingrich should never be believed because they simply are intellectually dishonest. Rove and Coulter were closest to the mark, off by only 73 and 67 electoral votes, respectively. Given that they had to predict a Romney victory, maybe this was only a little white lie on their part. Gingrich (please, Main Stream Media, stop interviewing this lying jerk) was off by about 100 electoral votes. Morris (who would ever trust this guy?) guestimated the results wrong by 119 electoral votes.
My two favorite pundit miscalls were by Dean Chambers of some outfit called “UnSkewed Polls,” who predicted Romney would get 311 electoral votes, which was only about 50 percent more than he actually won; and Jim Cramer of CNBC, who said Obama would get 440 electoral votes — the last candidate to get that many electoral votes was Ronald Regan in 1984.
So, given what some people will say under the pressure of TV lights or facing a room full of financial backers, it was all the more surprising and refreshing to hear the talking head on the radio saying this simple phrase — twice:
“I haven’t figured it out.”
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