Friday, March 09, 2007

The Pundit Class

Sometimes one runs across something in the press, which speaks the truth both eloquently and succinctly. Such is this excerpt from Rick Salutin's column in the March 9 edition of the Globe and Mail:

I hear the buzz ... in Ottawa is that Stéphane Dion is a dud. Makes me think of the buzz on previous Liberal leaders. In 1984, insiders said new leader John Turner had “the royal jelly.” He campaigned wretchedly and lost to Brian Mulroney. In 1988, they said he couldn't even control his own caucus. In that election, he brilliantly outperformed Mr. Mulroney and NDP leader Ed Broadbent, though he didn't win. In 1993, they called new Liberal leader Jean Chrétien “yesterday's man,” just before he won the first of three straight majorities. He didn't fall to the “refreshing” new face of Kim Campbell, who reduced her party to two seats. That same election, they said Preston Manning and his Reform Party had “peaked too soon” and would never amount to anything. In 2004, new Liberal leader Paul Martin had a “juggernaut” that couldn't be stopped. If you're a Liberal leader, you might prefer not to be anointed by these prophets.

(TC does think Salutin's point about Turner in '88 applies mainly to the TV debates.)

One could add almost endlessly to this: the pundit class devoted much of its space from 1978 to 1984 extolling John Turner's electoral virtues only to watch him start to unravel the moment he stepped back into the public arena; dismissed the importance of the Bloc Québecois in 1993; saw Stockwell Day as an unstoppable force in the summer of 2000 even after he arrived at a press conference in a wet suit demanding that MPs put in fewer days of work in Ottawa, and generally thinks the incumbent government will be re-elected (although they thought Chrétien would win only a minority in 2000). They dismissed Harper in 2004 and into the beginning of last year's election.

The Ottawa pundit class has made an abundance of errors in the past but seems unable to learn from them - a product of a perennially shallow outlook driven by such things as the most recent poll, regardless of sample size and usually described in the plural despite being singular. One can't always be wrong (like a stopped clock that is right twice a day), but when they occasionally develop original analysis that is insightful and anticipatory, it tends to seem like an accident. Their record over the years has been dreadful.

In the Saturday, March 11 edition of the Toronto Star this column by Thomas Walkom essentially makes the argument that it is too soon to write off Stéphane Dion. Walkom, however, is not based in Ottawa and not subject to its fevers. Hence his more judicious analysis. Well worth reading.

As for the fate of Dion, and Jack Layton who is also being dismissed by the pundit class: TC thinks it is way too soon to tell, but if there is an early election the Liberals are at a distinct disadvantage because they are still too early into the regime of their new leader to be ready organizationally and financially (something it should be noted that is not a problem for the NDP).

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