Monday, January 2, 2017

Confusion about Confusion

Following the success of a presidential candidate whose electoral victory hinged, in part, on sowing confusion, there should be no confusion about his motives and methods. But key members of the mainstream political press keep telling the rest of us how confusing this all was for all of us.
The latest example is Chris Cillizza in WaPo, who says :"We need to prepare for abnormal being the new, normal, politics-wise." So frightening that the folks whose job is to explain exactly what is happening failed miserably at the job throughout 2016, but the best they can come up with is that no one could have known. It's all so confusing. This is simply false. A host of analysts and writers including those at Washington Monthly, Krugman at the Times, and Mary Matalin saw clearly that the Trump phenomenon was a natural outgrowth of longstanding Republican Party tactics in political campaigns.
So, for Cillizza, mistake number one is the title. The logical result of a decades long strategy is not "abnormal". 
First sentence: "2016-a year politicos will circle as the most amazing, unpredictable and confusing in modern memory - is officially over." Sorry, no. Not confusing. 
Then, "It's easy-and comfortable-to assume that 2017 will be a return to the natural political order." False. Then you continue to say "Count me skeptical." OK, nice straw man you set up for yourself there. Waiting for some insights.
But then you say "I think we'll see more Trump-like figures in politics, not less. And that a return to some sort of normal never really comes." OK. Close enough. We actually had such Trump-like figures, but DT outdid them at their own game because he was better at it.
On to the meat - Cillizza's lessons:
1. "The old rules don't apply." No. Actually the rules, meaning, the laws of physics in politics never change. The lessons (not "rules" as you call them) that political journalists draw from covering campaigns are not set in stone if the campaign landscape changes. For example, the attack on Sen. John McCain is cited as a sure campaign-ender under these so-called rules. But think back to Sen. Joseph McCarthy's attack on the Senate floor against Gen. George C. Marshall in 1951. Trump shares many qualities with McCarthy.  The speech against Marshall includes the oratorical device of multiple repetition of charges, over and over in a hypnotic cadence, to make the accusations stick. Like McCarthy's attack on Marshall, a man of extraordinary prominence in American life who commanded enormous respect, Trump's attack on McCain had the subtle effect of putting him above McCain in a roundabout way - if he had the nerve to attack someone so prominent, so often considered beyond reproach, logic suggests there must be some justification for the personal attack and therefore, he - McCarthy or Trump - commands greater respect for being so bold to make the charge.
source: wikipedia

2. "The establishment is dead (or dying)." Maybe, but Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan are about to get almost everything they could possibly want, so reports of the death of the establishment are premature. The example of DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz conveniently omits the impact of the Russian emails hacking. Maybe #2 should be: Putin and the Russians will continue to exert enormous influence on American political compaigns, American government, and politics throughout Europe.
3. Polling has major problems. True that technological changes in phone and online polling mean there are challenges with sampling, but I disagree that "pollsters got a bad rap in 2016 because they "missed the final margin between Trump and Clinton by far less than was initially assumed."

The Brexit polls in the final week clearly showed a tight vote, but the U.S. presidential race prediction analysts consistently projected a Clinton victory with 90% probability or much higher (except Nate Silver). Those prognosticators had an obligation to caveat their results with a footnote about the unpredictability of certain events that could swing the election, such as the FBI interventions in the final week. Also, why do these post-mortems so often avoid mention of voter suppression even when the writer believes these efforts may have a material impact on results?

So from now on, when any political writer tells us that 2016 was "confusing" or that Trump or a campaign is "abnormal", we need to be skeptical of the accompanying analysis.

No comments:

Post a Comment