Pundits With “Moldy” Assumptions

Time’s Joe Klein explains why political pundits (and he uses “we” in the explanation) had such a different-seeming insta-reaction to last night’s debate than did “regular” people polled (with some pundits concluding something like McCain had best debate yet and many people polled concluding something like, Obama “won.”). In part:

Journalism is, naturally, about the past. We are much better at reporting things that have happened than in predicting the future. We never seem so foolish or obnoxious, especially on TV, as when we accede to the constant demand for crystal-balling. But the obvious danger inherent in journalism is that we tend to get trapped in the assumptions of the past. Too often this year, my colleagues—especially those who are older than me, but also my fellow baby boomers—have seemed a bit moldy in our questioning of politicians: What are you going to do about budget deficits? What are you going to do about entitlement programs?

These are valid questions, but less relevant in a financial crisis that will probably lead to a severe recession…

Klein writes that pundits have:

been conditioned by thirty years of certain arguments working—and John McCain made most of them last night against Barack Obama: you’re going to raise our taxes, you’re going to spend more money, you want to negotiate with bad guys, you’re associated somehow—the associations have gotten more tenuous over time—with countercultural and unAmerican activities. …

Again, these arguments have “worked” for a long time…[McCain] thought that merely invoking the magic words “spread the wealth” and “class warfare” he could neutralize Obama.

As did, Klein suggests, some pundits. “But,” Klein concludes, “those words and phrases seem anachronistic, almost vestigial now.”

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.