Hindsight is 20/20

Last Sunday, Campaign Desk gave readers two parodies of day-after election stories (the basic Bush Won/Kerry Won pieces, filled with the predictable Monday morning quarterbacking that follows any election.

From the “Bush Won” story, Sunday October 31st:

Bush’s advantage on the election’s key issue derived from his campaign’s bold decision to relentlessly focus its message on the war on terror. Bush’s handlers skillfully depicted their man as a decisive, resolute leader, and created a compelling contrast with his opponent, who they depicted — right out of the starting gate, and consistently thereafter — as weak and vacillating, temperamentally unsuited to lead the country in dangerous times.

Today, Matea Gold of the Los Angeles Times writes:

The president’s reelection campaign was unhesitating, and methodically built its case against his challenger with unrelenting, biting attacks. From the moment the Republicans hit the airwaves last spring, they pressed the argument that Kerry would be too irresolute as president to keep the country safe.

What’s the point here (besides the fact that Matea Gold writes more concisely than Campaign Desk)?

We’re seeing the beginning of the process by which the press sets in cement an accepted storyline about the campaign. We now know that in 1988, Michael Dukakis lost because he came across as a liberal wimp, and that four years later, George H.W. Bush lost because he appeared disengaged and out of touch. Soon enough, every political junkie will be aware that Kerry lost because he allowed himself to be painted as a flip-flopper.

No doubt there’s a grain of truth to these narratives, as far as they go. But had 68,242 Ohio votes gone the other way, the press would now be explaining, with the faux authority of hindsight, how Kerry’s performance in the debates undercut Bush’s attempts to paint him as irresolute.

Throughout the campaign, analysts noted things that each campaign did well and things each did poorly. Now that Bush has won, the things that his camp did well and that Kerry’s did poorly are trotted out by pundits (and not just the LA Times) as “explanations” for the result.

That’s not analysis, that’s being wise after the fact.

Zachary Roth

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Zachary Roth is a contributing editor to The Washington Monthly. He also has written for The Los Angeles Times, The New Republic, Slate, Salon, The Daily Beast, and Talking Points Memo, among other outlets.