Friday, October 5, 2012

A feast of crow

The term "eating crow" goes back a long way, at least to the mid-nineteenth century. The basic idea of the phrase is saying with absolute certainty that something will happen, then having it not happen, thus forcing an embarrassing admission of having been wrong. It's a humiliating result for the person who makes the prediction. The first known example of the phrase being used--in English--was in a short story in an 1850 edition of the Saturday Evening Post. It was presented as a foul-tasting, nasty experience.

In the Bible, Leviticus specifically forbids the eating of ravens or crows--Leviticus 11:15--depending on the translation, but "raven" was and is often used interchangeably with "crow," the former actually being a kind of the latter. And this is because the crow is a scavenger, a carrion bird. Thus, it is "unclean."

Any way you slice it, no one wants to east crow, literally or metaphorically. But we might need quite a few crows, come November 7th. Various pundits and journalists have been proclaiming the race to be over for several months now, but the First Presidential Debate brought a whole new round of such predictions. A few of these were in Romney's favor, but most were for Obama. Like this one by Jamelle Bouie:
The former Massachusetts governor won the first presidential debate. Too bad it won't change the campaign.
Bouie--like other pundits offering similar predictions--marshalls up the Kerry-Bush debates in 2004 as evidence for this prediction:
It’s worth looking back to the 2004 presidential debates. The unanimous opinion was that John Kerry punished George W. Bush. Whereas Bush was churlish, impatient, and aloof, Kerry was dynamic and aggressive. He came away from the debates with momentum and a boost in the polls.

Twenty-two days after the final debate, Bush won reelection with 50.7 percent of the vote.

Winning debates doesn't hurt, but it doesn't do much to help either.
That debate took place on Spetember 30th, 2004 at the University of Miami. Going into the debate, Gallup had Bush up by a whopping eight points. Yes, that's right: eight points. The first Gallup poll after the debate showed a tie between the two candidates.

The issue isn't whether or not the debate helped Kerry, it's how much the debate helped him. Between that debate and the actual election--two months later--other things happened. The debate didn't win Kerry the election, it is true. But--ala the Adminsitration's Stimulus claims--one could argue that without a win in this debate, Kerry would have lost by an even wider margin, right?

Of course, I'm taking it as a given that Bouie's claim--repeated by so many other leftist pundits--about who won this debate is substantially correct: Kerry punished Bush. Post-debate polls showed most felt Kerry had won, no doubt about it. One (CNN) had it 53% to 37% for Kerry. In contrast, CNN's post Obama-Romney debate poll had it 67% to 25% for Romney. So the question must be asked, is there a similar unanimous view about this debate? Does everyone agree that Romney--at the very least--punished Obama?

Nope. Not even close. Rachel Maddow, as I noted in a previous piece, was unable to tell who won the debate. Wolf Blitzer said it was a "pretty good night for Romney." Post debate stories--while acknowledging a "win" for Romney--were mostly about Big Bird, Jim Lehrer (the debate moderator), and Obama's lackluster performance. The liberal media narrative goes something like this: "Romney won, but he bullied Lehrer; Obama should have done x,y, and z; Romney wants to kill Big Bird!"

What about the narrative after the first Bush-Kerry debate? Well okay, Bouie is right: it was all about how Kerry stomped on Bush, how bad Kerry made Bush look. But no one was wondering why Bush didn't do better, wondering why he didn't use responses x,y, or z in the debate. That's our unbiased media, isn't it?

But the point is, Kerry benefited from the debate. He was all but finished before the debate and used the momentum from it as a starting point to get in the game, eventually doing far better than most anticipated back in August or September of 2004. And Romney--going into the debate--was much closer in the polls than Kerry. So why can't this first debate represent a similar starting point for Romney? It could. And that's what people like Bouie fear. Desperately fear.

For the sake of all those poor crows, I hope he's right.

Cheers, all.

No comments:

Post a Comment