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Shocking? Hardly.

Our political pundits need to pause and take a deep breath. And several of them should also take a long and very cold shower.

Again and again I've heard Hillary Clinton's victory in the New Hampshire primary described as "shocking." As if this slim victory by a deep-pocketed and firmly-entrenched member of the Democratic Party establishment, who just a week ago was considered the front-runner for the nomination, was at all surprising or unprecedented. The presumptive journalists on ABC's "Nightline", particularly the breathlessly giddy George Stephanopolous, fell all over themselves last night basking in Hillary's win. Stephanapolous (whose objective credibility in any matter related to the Clintons, of whom he is a longtime crony, is highly suspect) was particularly enthused, so much so that he probably needed a change of underwear after the broadcast. I heard the word "shocking" used at least half a dozen times during the broadcast's first fifteen minutes, before I finally rolled over and went to sleep.

No, this wasn't at all "shocking." Shocking would have been Hillary winning New Hampshire by 25 points. Shocking would have been Bill Richardson winning the primary by any margin, after his poor showing in Iowa. Shocking would have been John Edwards dropping out of the race and throwing his support behind Ron Paul. Shocking would have been 25% of the Democratic voters even knowing who the hell Mike Gravel is.

An analogy to this would be an imagined Bjorn Borg-John McEnroe tennis match in 1980, during their prime. Borg takes the first set with a particularly strong performance, but McEnroe recovers to win the second set with an equally strong comeback. McEnroe's win wouldn't have been considered shocking or even surprising - instead, it's simply two mighty competitors at the peak of their powers, splitting the first two sets. It's really no different with Obama winning in Iowa and Hillary in New Hampshire - two strong competitors playing it even.

I continue to be amazed at the cheerleading and superficiality that passes for journalism these days. It almost seems like the journalists want there to be "shocking" "upset victories" in the political races - rather than acknowledge reality in characterizing Hillary's New Hampshire win as unsuprising and even predictable - to bring undeserved legitimacy and dignity to their self-appointed roles as prognosticators and sages. It's as is they're saying "The political process is so chaotic and unpredictable that society is truly fortunate that we're around to provide wisdom and perspective."

No, pundits, our society is not so fortunate. For it's that perspective of yours that considered Hillary to be the front-runner for the Democratic nomination just a week ago, but as soon as Obama won in Iowa your perspective careened 180 degrees and King Barack was all but crowned in coronation. And now you profess to have deep insights into how the rest of the long presidential primary season will play out. Those insights, of course, are gleaned almost entirely in the echo chamber of TV studios - the likes of George Stephanopolous and Tim Russert and Donna Brazile all swapping interchangeable notes - and from "scientific" poll results (the same polls, of course, that had Hillary winning Iowa and Obama winning New Hampshire) and the windy ponderings of overpaid political consultants, and not at all from pounding the pavement and talking to everyday people. You know, doing actual journalistic work and communicating with the people who are actually voting in the primaries. Pundits, you might consider trying this approach the next time you want to claim to be any sort of experts.

Just a thought.

January 9, 2008 in Current Affairs | Permalink