Why Ezra Klein is dead wrong
Its been a while since I've posted at RedState, but after reading Ezra Klein's latest attempt to further the meme that Romney's debate domination didn't matter, it prompted me to author this entry. In the Washington Post, Klein proclaims that in a battle between "excitable pundits" versus "political scientists," he will "take political scientists every time."
Good luck with that. For the record, in a battle between pundits and political scientists, I'll take the American people every time. But, specifically addressing Mr. Klein's point, well, that dog just don't hunt (as we say here in the South).
The assertion has been advanced in various forms. This is the latest attempt, trying to advance the meme via data from years and years of polling diligently analyzed by leading political scientists. Basically, Mr. Klein states that, regardless of how "wee-weed up" (the President's words, not mine) pundits may get over the beat-down Romney delivered in the first debate, the data shows that, well, debates don't/rarely ever have mattered. Yes, that was written, and published by a major American news outlet by a prominent American writer (well, actually, a pundit). He even offers a graph to illustrate the point.
The graph is sited as having been derived from data compiled by two esteemed political scientists. The point seemingly contradicts the known fact that, according to most national polls, Jimmy Carter was actually leading Ronald Reagan going into the one and only debate of 1980. The data doesn't account for the fact that the three-way 1992 debate gave Bill Clinton the bounce he needed to win the presidency through plurality.
"Romney lied so bad that Obama couldn't respond" didn't work. "Altitude delusion" didn't work. So now what? Let's throw "science" in on the side of Obama. THAT should do the trick (I'd note the global warming was also once proclaimed as "science"). And while we're at it, we'll associate "pundits" with Romney. Everybody respects scientists, and hates pundits, right?
Well . . .
- Mr. Klein, the author of the story, is, in fact, a pundit.
- Just because you call yourself a scientist doesn't validate your point in and of itself (see global warming tangent above).
- Debates have, do, and will continue to matter.
Sure, debates maybe didn't matter as much in 1976, 1996, or 2004, to pick a few years . . . or did they? Many believe that Ford actually had the momentum to beat Carter until the "Poland" comment. In 1996, Bob Dole, bless his heart (also as we say in the South) wasn't as much a participant in a debate against Clinton as was Newt Gingrich. Problem was, Gingrich wasn't on stage. The debate was irrelevant because one of the candidates was irrelevant. Looking back at 2004, Senator Sir John Kerry was, to be honest, generally considered to be the winner of the first debate. But the fact is, with 2004, Kerry didn't win the debate so much as Bush lost it. In 1980, Reagan won the debate. In Romney-Obama round one, Romney won and Obama lost. So maybe the real lesson here should be that debates matter when one candidate is a real, actual winner.
I'd leave on one final note about "political science" in general. I've always thought that the idea of "political science" itself was a huge oxymoron. What we understand as "science" consists systems and ideas which can be proven or disproved. As Rush is fond of saying "there's no consensus in science"; it is either is or it isn't. Science is the pursuit of determining which it is and explaining why it is. The very fact that we acknowledge something like the Bradley/Wilder Effect exists should in and of itself go to show science does not and cannot create accurate explanations of elections. To put it another way -there is no polling in science. We don't analyze polling data to determine the interworkings of Quantum Mechanics, find dark energy, or create chemical reactions.
In the end, political scientists are really just pundits with more expensive college degrees and less telegenic personalities (although that could be argued in the case of Chris 'The Thrill' Matthews). Sorry Mr. Klein, but political scientists are no more qualified to "identify" the effect that individual occurrences have on elections that are TV hosts or my grandfather (actually probably less so in the case of the latter). As I stated before, in the battle of political scientists versus pundits, I'll take the American people. Time to quit the meme-generation, lick your first-debates wounds, and move on.
(BTW - My minor was in political science . . . it didn't require any math!)