A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Poor Performance of Pundit Political Prognostication

Since Tuesday's special primaries I have been reading and listening to the talking heads analyze what Tuesday's primaries might mean for the mid-term elections this coming fall. Political pundits on the left (e.g. MSNBC) dismiss the seemingly bad news for Democrats by simply saying that what happened on Tuesday night is nothing more than an anti-incumbent year for both parties and that the Tea Party movement consists of basically a bunch of angry white people who cannot adjust to having a black president. Such loony leftist nonsense is a denial of reality from people who desperately want their reality to be more than illusion. Then, there are the political pundits on the right (e.g. FOX News) who actually think that the Democratic Party's loss of independent voters is a sign that the people are ready, once again, to embrace the Republican party they rejected only two years before. Such wacky right nonsense is a denial of reality from people who desperately want their reality to be more than illusion.

I remember after the 2004 elections, when the Democrats continued to lose elections, the pundits were talking about how the Democrats needed to moderate their position on abortion if they hoped to attract swing voters. Then in 2008, the American people elected a president whose liberal views on abortion are the most extreme among any president ever to sit in the Oval Office.

Then after the Democratic trouncing of Republicans in 2006 and 2008, the same pundits were insisting that the Republican Party needed to moderate its positions if it was going to attract those same swing voters. Well, as of Tuesday, and especially after elections in Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, it is obvious that such so-called informed prognostication was hardly prophetic.

So, what's the point of this post? Political pundits are, after all, paid to prognosticate. They are just doing what is expected. Of course they are, and I certainly do not expect them to stop. I just continue to be amazed at how expertise in certain areas (in this case, journalism) continues resemble the hocus pocus of the village witch-doctor. The pundits are not always wrong; they could, however, use a little more humility, and produce a little less spin in attempting to minimize the damage to the politicians and the political party to whom they are loyal.

The point is that an eternity in politics lasts about two weeks. Anything can change at a moment's notice. More agnostic prognostication and less prognostic pontification would make the talking heads more credible to the thoughtful people who watch and listen to them (I exclude from "thoughtful" the extreme partisans on both sides).

I realize and admit as I write this that I have quite a negative attitude toward the national media. And while my comments at times are probably too extreme, in general I think that the national media has become less and less serious as a credible source of news and thoughtful reflection, and more the PR arm of the politicians. As I have said before, when George W. Bush was president FOX News was functionally state run media. Now that Barack Obama is the POTUS that distinction falls to MSNBC. And if you don't believe me, please take note that during the Bush Administration the White House watched FOX News, and now during the Obama Administration, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is tuned into MSNBC.

This is all so unfortunate because freedom of the press is so critical in a free society. But unfortunately, much (not all) of the national media has willfully decided to limit its own freedom in pursuit of an angle in reporting and prognosticating that puts forward a political agenda that advocates for or works against politicians and political parties. And politicians have gotten so used to this they get angry when a certain news outlet refuses to simply weave the political narrative as they would like it told. So they seek to control the narrative by marginalizing some journalists while inviting others to the White House.

No wonder more and more people are reading bloggers.


Unknown said...

This is just one of the results/symptoms of our willingness to accept a two party system in a very complex social environment. The great majority of the public want every issue reduced a 10 second sound byte and a simple yes/no or good/bad verdict. Sad!

Chuck Tackett said...

Allan, your company excepted, you make a pretty big assumption to say that thoughtful people watch cable news (only partially serious / kidding).

There are a few of the commentators who are worth watching but but I get so much more from a 5 minute read of the Financial Times.

I don't know what the trends are going to be for this Fall but I don't see any leadership coming from either the Dems or GOP. My personal opinion is that people are at least sensing this if not seeing it outright.

Until somebody stands up and says what it is that they stand, what they want to do about it - specifically - and why they want to do it then we will never have leadership worth following or voting for.

Nice post Allan.

Robert Cornwall said...


First, I don't pay much attention to MSNBC and refuse to watch Fox. I do, however, watch on occasion CNN. It's not as good as it once was -- back when Bernie Shaw was on the air, but it remains the least over the top news provider.

2nd and more importantly, I'm not sure why you said last night was bad news for the Democrats. There was only one race where the two parties faced off and a Democrat won in a race that GOP folks were hoping would be a bellweather win for them.

As for the other races, all primaries,it's hard to know what will happen come the fall. I think party apparatuses on both sides got their commupance. The question is, who will prevail in November and no one knows. There's simply too much time left to go. If the economy continues to improve (and Europe doesn't implode) the incumbants might get their places back. As for the Sestak-Specter race. The political establishment basically had to support Specter as thanks for switching. Most Democrats in Pennsylvania wanted a Democrat to run and voted for Sestak.

So, let's see how all this plays come November -- But you're right pundits don't know much!

Allan R. Bevere said...

Hi, Bob.. yes, there is much time to go before November, which was my point about two weeks being an eternity in politics.

The bad news for Democrats at the moment as I see it is that since they are the ones in charge, they are the ones that stand the most to lose. I think the frustration of the electorate right now is over what they believe is government over-reach particularly in reference to spending. Just two years ago people gave the Dems the keys to everything because of the over-reach of the Republicans on domestic spending and foreign policy, and only two years later they are angry once again at what they perceive is simply more of the same, only this time with the other party in power. I think we are seeing a case of buyers' remorse with the buyers having tried both brands and are less than impressed with either product. The electorate doesn't trust the Republicans either, so the celebration of some of their rank and file is clearly pre-mature.

And, yes, if the economy is stronger by November, Democrats will not fare as badly as it looks now. Nevertheless, I will in humility be an agnostic prognosticator on that one.