- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 2, 2000

At this point, the conventional wisdom of about this election is that there is no reliable conventional wisdom. No election in modern memory has proved more pundits wrong at one point or another than this one, myself included. This is delightful news; anything that shakes up the intellectual complacency of the punditocracy is healthy.

Why? Because the conventional wisdom - i.e. the consensus of Washington experts - is often just a bunch of flattery for those in power at any given moment. Conventional wisdom simply says, "This is the way things are and my safest bet is to say that things won't change."

For example, if a candidate is up a few points in the polls or has "momentum" - which simply means he is rising in the polls - Washington fortunetellers all of the sudden start saying, "It's hard to see how he can be stopped." If the polls suddenly turn around and a losing candidate looks like a winner, the pundits will switch back and say such a result was inevitable all along.

George Orwell recognized this phenomenon during Wold War II. He observed that intellectuals and journalists had an uncanny ability to switch their predictions 180 degrees, depending up the events of the day.

If the Germans took a city, the pointy-heads immediately concluded the Germans would keep the city for all time. If the Allies took city back, the chattering classes assumed it would be ours forever. Indeed, Orwell pointed out that intellectuals were far more likely than working-class people to change their minds - based upon the morning headlines - about who would ultimately win the war.

Such turn-on-a-dime journalism happens all the time. When George W. Bush was trouncing Al Gore by double digits, Bush's media coverage was almost fawning (especially for a Republican). But after Al Gore gave his "I'm my own man" speech at the Democratic Convention and nearly swallowed his wife's head with that monster smooch, his poll numbers shot through the roof.

Suddenly, George Bush's coverage couldn't have been nastier. And journalists were jumping at the chance to help Al Gore show off his new persona.

Of course, this isn't always a conscious effort to suck-up to the powerful. It has at least as much to do with the limits of the human imagination, especially in a town like Washington where people's jobs are deeply connected to the perception of power.

As Orwell wrote in 1946, "Power-worship blurs political judgment because it leads, almost unavoidably, to the belief that present trends will continue." If your professional security hangs on present trends, it's a bit painful to imagine them taking a U-turn.

But this election has been a wonderful tonic for such muddle-headedness. For the first time in decades, the lead in the polls has switched back and forth between candidates after Labor Day, making polls less reliable.

Just a month ago, it was hard for most "experts" to imagine that Green Party candidate Ralph Nader could build a viable insurgent campaign to Gore's left. Now, Nader is a force to be reckoned with.

After the Million Mom March, we were assured that gun control would be a defining issue in this election. It is, but in the other direction. Anti-gun control voters in Michigan and Pennsylvania are some of the most important constituencies in America right now.

The conventional wisdom held that "peace and prosperity" would catapult Gore into office. Even if he wins, no one sees such a catapult anywhere. And all of the sudden, an army of pundits are as confused as a big dog whose food bowl has been moved.

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