Kilroy Was Here
January 14, 2004
Why Pundits Are Tsongas Democrats
In Slate, William Saletan gives his anti-endorsement of Howard Dean.
Is Howard Dean electable? Should you vote for him? My answers, after watching him for a year, are: 1) theoretically, yes; and 2) tentatively, no.
I'm not one of those pundits who thinks Dean is too liberal or too Yankee, that he's another George McGovern or Michael Dukakis. The reason pundits analyze elections in such simple terms is that we can't handle the complexity of real life. To us, liberalism is a set of policies. To most voters, it's an attitude. Liberals are condescending. Liberals are naive. Liberals have no moral anchor. Liberals are weak in the face of evil.
In 1992, Gov. Bill Clinton was reportedly saddened by the fact that the pundits and the college-educated seemed to be more supportive of Paul Tsongas, the sour-faced, dour, Massachusetts Senator.
Which leads us to the question, why do pundits support the underdog (or attack the frontrunner)?
I think the answer has to do more with the nature of punditry than with the elecatability of candidates. Pundits make their living not by stating the obvious, but by trying to come up with interesting and novel interpretations on current events.
As a result, pundits have a 'genetic' disposition to oppose the frontrunner. "Yes," Mr. Pundit may say, "the hoi polloi seem to think Joe Frontrunner is a great candidate, but take a look at his annoying habit A, or his surprisign past event B, or strange inconsistency C. Isn't in novel and interesting that the perceived frontrunner is the least electable."
For a pundit to say that the Joe Frontrunner deserved to be the frontrunner wouldn't be novel or interesting. It would be common and unintersting. And, let's not forget, career limiting. A pundit that uses Occam's Razor slits his own throat.
So, to me, it's no surprise that pundits, such as Saletan, would voice opposition to Dean in favor of Edwards (or Clinton in favor of Tsongas or GWB in favor of McCain). They have to for the sake of their jobs.
Unfortunately, the pundit conventional wisdom of defying conventional wisdom has the Godfather effect on the front runner. Everytime Joe Frontrunner tries to break out, the pudnits keep pulling him back in.