Monday, August 21, 2006

Are Political Pundits Smart Enough to Advise the Nation?

Pundit is defined as ‘someone who has been admitted to membership in a scholarly field, an initiate, a learned person, savant.’ In politics? Are you kidding?

Joescarborough
According to Peter Baker’s recent WaPo article-Pundits Renounce the President;
For 10 minutes, the talk show host (Joe Scarborough) grilled his guests about whether "George Bush's mental weakness is damaging America's credibility at home and abroad." For 10 minutes, the caption across the bottom of the television screen read, "IS BUSH AN 'IDIOT'?"
This from a conservative ‘political pundit,’ which seems to me an oxymoron. Pundit is defined as ‘someone who has been admitted to membership in a scholarly field, an initiate, a learned person, savant.’ In politics? Are you kidding? No Maureen Dowds or William Kristols to be found in that descriptive phrase, for sure. Even less, if the hue and cry is to be believed, are to be found out there in the blogosphere.
Which, of course, includes me.
Richlowry Further along in the article, Baker quotes Rich Lowry, editor of The National Review;
"Conservatives for a long time were in protective mode, wanting to emphasize the progress in Iraq to contrast what they felt was an unfair attack on the war by the Democrats and media and other sources. But there's more of a sense now that things are on a downward trajectory, and more of a willingness to acknowledge it and pressure the administration to react to it."
I’m very uncomfortable with Rich's ‘more of a willingness,’ when what we’re talking about is not an academic paper, but the destruction of a large part of the Middle East and America's international reputation as well. Pundits owe more to readers (and listeners) than ‘contrast’ against the other side of wrongheaded policy. It was and remains wrongheaded and it’s not as if there were no voices pointing out the wrongheadedness. Rich Lowry, who looks about fourteen and acts like a seventeen year old, talks about major international screwups as if they were a critique of last week’s Yale-Harvard game.
Lowry's magazine offers a powerful example. "It is time to say it unequivocally: We are winning in Iraq," Lowry wrote in April 2005, chastising those who disagreed. This month, he published an editorial that concluded that "success in Iraq seems more out of reach than it has at any time since the initial invasion three years ago" and assailed "the administration's on-again-off-again approach to Iraq."
Which only goes to prove that kids shouldn’t be allowed to play with matches or national political magazines.
"It is time for the Bush administration to acknowledge that its approach of assuring people that progress is being made and operating on that optimistic basis in Iraq isn't working," the editorial said. Lowry followed up days later in his own column, suggesting that the United States is "losing, or at least not obviously winning, a major war" and asking whether Iraq is "Bush's Vietnam."
If it is, it is Lowry’s Vietnam as well. He might look himself squarely in the mirror and acknowledge that his cheerleading and the Bush administration’s ‘assuring people that progress is being’ are identical missteps. Lowry, a 1990 graduate of the University of Virginia is supposedly one of the youngest and most influential conservative commentators and analysts in the country. Which I suppose qualifies him, under Bill Buckley's overlarge umbrella, as a pundit, if a not very bright prognosticator.
Bushbuckley Lowry has edited William F. Buckley's National Review since 1997. Bill must be too chagrined at where neo-conservatism has taken the country to come around to the further step of lifting this kid’s pundit-license. National Review suffers as a result and one can only surmise that the magazine has no viable future beyond it’s founder’s retirement.
Scarborough again;
… who questioned the president's intelligence on his show, "Scarborough Country." He showed a montage of clips of Bush's famously inarticulate verbal miscues and then explored with guests John Fund and Lawrence O'Donnell Jr. whether Bush is smart enough to be president.
Williamkristol More properly, the question is whether the punditry of the likes of Joe Scarborough, William Kristol, Rich Lowry is intelligent enough and intellectually curious enough to lead debate in any meaningful way. What purpose do the Ann Coulters and Rush Limbaughs of the so-called conservative media serve?
George Bush is far more honest. He came to us as an intellectually incurious candidate, who had a great smile and a frat-house sense of humor, but who had never crafted a success of his own. He’s doggedly Anncoulter done the wrong thing, supported the wrong priorities and elevated the wrong people to positions of power. But the writing was always on the wall. Is he too dumb, partisan and unreflective to lead the country? Probably, but that has never been a deterrent to election in this country.
Rushlimbaugh Are the pundits too dumb, partisan and unreflective to lead public opinion? Without doubt. The difference is that they are supposed to offer up more than invective. Punditry requires a supportable position, well argued, no matter the philosophy.
The citizenry has been played for fools and it’s taken five years for that to sink in. Now the political and media elite will pay a price. Both are running for cover and neither are likely to find it. But they’re pointing at each other, as if the fault were to be found outside their own particular responsibilities.
When you hear the word ‘pundit,’ it’s time to hide the silverware.
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Some other people's thoughts on punditry;