Washington Babylon — February 6, 2008, 1:12 pm

Yes We Can’t: Pundits fail, flail

Yesterday I planned to write a post about the likely outcome of the Super Tuesday voting, but gave up when I saw the glut of over-excited punditry filling the newspapers and jamming the Internet’s tubes. When the votes finally came in, it was clear that most of what had been written and said was little more than idle speculation, much of it based on a combination of worthless polls and the personal hopes of the pundit in question.

During the past week, the media narrative has been that a wave of momentum was building for Barack Obama. There were all those endorsements from top Democratic elected officials, the backing from MoveOn.org, that music video, and the tightening polls. Meanwhile, it was said that Bill Clinton had singlehandedly destroyed Hillary’s chances, even though this theory is illogical because the former president, no matter how high-profile, is not on the ballot.

In Massachusetts, backing from Ted Kennedy and assorted family members was supposedly going to turn the tide for Obama. Last night, Hillary Clinton won there easily. (Who knows, perhaps an Obama endorsement from Michael Skakel, the one Kennedy family member who seemingly did not to make an official endorsement, would have tipped the race?) There was fevered speculation that Al Gore might endorse Obama, which was going to turn the tide in his favor in Tennessee (and possibly nationally). No endorsement came and it clearly wouldn’t have a made a difference anyway given that Clinton trounced Obama in Tennessee by 13 points. Obama also lost decisively in a number of other states where the hype, and the early exit polls, suggested he would either win or come very close.

Now that the votes have (mostly) been counted and there’s actually something to analyze, I’d say that Hillary Clinton came out slightly ahead last night, but the future favors Obama. But given how tight the race is at this point everything is essentially guesswork.

It’s far more simple on the G.O.P. side. The Republicans are stuck with John McCain whether they like it or not. The press keeps reviving Mitt Romney from the dead, but last night should prove to be the final stake through his heart. (You could tell during Romeny’s “victory” speech that even wife Ann has had enough. The look on her face said it all–Please, Mitt, pull the plug on this thing and stop blowing through the kids’ inheritance.) Mike Huckabee performed well, but his base of support is narrow and it’s hard to see how he could possibly stop McCain now.

All told, the best state-of-the-game analysis I’ve seen today is this one at The New Republic. Check it out, get back to your normal life and don’t read anything more about the presidential race until after the next set of primaries. You’ll free up a lot of time.

I still can’t muster much enthusiasm for either of the Democratic candidates. There’s a lot to admire in Barack Obama and the excitement he has generated on the campaign trail is genuinely stirring. On the other hand I still don’t know what he really stands for and fear that he’d be a cautious, middle-of-the-road president who’d disappoint his followers. Hillary Clinton is meaner and tougher and that in some ways seems preferable to Obama’s naïve calls for bipartisanship. Also, you know from the get-go what Hillary is all about. Hence, it’s possible to skip the phases of betrayal and disillusionment and go straight to opposition, which is almost always the best place to be in American politics.

Share
Single Page

More from Ken Silverstein:

From the November 2013 issue

Dirty South

The foul legacy of Louisiana oil

Perspective October 23, 2013, 8:00 am

On Brining and Dining

How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy

Postcard October 16, 2013, 8:00 am

The Most Cajun Place on Earth

A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits 

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

September 2015

Weed Whackers

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Tremendous Machine

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Goose in a Dress

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Genealogy of Orals

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Romancing Kano·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:

The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.

leadership
service
integrity
creativity

Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.

Article
The Prisoner of Sex·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“It is disappointing that parts of Purity read as though Franzen urgently wanted to telegraph a message to anyone who would defend his fiction from charges of chauvinism: ‘No, you’ve got me wrong. I really am sexist.’”
Illustration by Shonagh Rae
Article
Gangs of Karachi·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“In Karachi, sometimes only the thinnest of polite fictions separates the politicians from the men who kill and extort on their behalf.”
Photograph © Asim Rafiqui/NOOR Images
Article
Weed Whackers·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Defining 'native' and 'invasive' in an ever-shifting natural world poses some problems. The camel, after all, is native to North America, though it went extinct here 8,000 years ago, while the sacrosanct redwood tree is invasive, having snuck in at some point in the past 65 million years.”
Photograph by Chad Ress
Article
The Neoliberal Arts·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“College is seldom about thinking or learning anymore. Everyone is running around trying to figure out what it is about. So far, they have come up with buzzwords, mainly those three.”
Artwork by Julie Cockburn

Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:

65

An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.

A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Subways Are for Sleeping

By

“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”

Subscribe Today