I have just one humble suggestion in the aftermath of last night’s New Hampshire primary result.
Remember what you don’t know. Be very humble about future-gazing, or drop it altogether. The whole pundit racket has gotten out of hand.
“Pundit” is derived from a Sanskrit word for a wise, deep-thinking person. Wisdom is deeper than smarts. Wise deep-thinkers are humble. They know what they don’t know. And they know that they don’t know the future, including the future of the race of the for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
If we must talk about the future of that race (I mostly recommend against it), it should be done humbly with constant acknowledgement that it is mere speculation and that experience suggests most predictions will be wrong. And, if they are right, that will be more luck than genius. The future is a dark forest.
A few months or even weeks ago, the “pundits” believed, based on then-current polls that Joe Biden was the front-runner for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination and that the question was who else, besides Bernie Sanders, might emerge to challenge him. That punditry didn’t make it out of Iowa.
After failing to finish in the top three in either of the first two contests, Biden may be close to leaving the race. Or he may be restored to relevance with a strong showing in South Carolina that reinforces his strength among black Democrats, who make up a large and vital segment of the party. The next round or two of polling out of South Carolina will get more attention than it deserves. Biden’s actual showing in South Carolina will (probably) either restore him to relevance, or end his candidacy. I’m content to wait until the South Carolina results to figure out which of those it is.
Iowa (where Pete Buttigieg finished first by one measure and second by another), made Buttigieg the chief rival to Sanders for front-runnership, at least for the moment. A strong second place showing in New Hampshire keeps him there, for the moment. This is amazing and impressive. He’s gay. He’s short. He’s a military vet. He (at least his family name) is of Maltese extraction. He’s unflappable and appealing on TV. “Medicare for all who want it” is a clever slogan that straddles the line between the drive for universal coverage and those who fear too much “socialized“ medicine. Although such a proposal would have been considered far left before this cycle, it now entitles Buttigieg to occupy what’s called the “moderate” lane, which really means something like “less socialist than Bernie, who actually calls himself a socialist.”
As I’ve argued before, it’s ridiculous to allow two small overwhelmingly white states, Iowa and New Hampshire, which between them contain about 1.5 percent of the U.S. population, special rights to winnow the presidential field for the rest of the country. It would be likewise ridiculous to switch to any other two states. But at least the Iowa-New-Hampshire phase is behind us. Based on their top-two finishes in both of the first-two states, it would be reasonable (but also silly) to declare Sanders and Buttigieg the “front-runners” for the Democratic nomination.
Last night was Amy Klobuchar’s night to exceed expectations with a strong and surprising (although a few days ago she started getting some buzz) third place showing in New Hampshire, enough that she, Sanders and Buttigieg head, with wind in their sails, into the next contests in states with much larger minority populations (African-Americans in South Carolina and Latinos in Nevada). Klobuchar’s campaign announced that she’ll attend the LULAC Presidential Forum on Thursday in North Las Vegas before holding a town hall in Las Vegas later in the evening.
None of the three New Hampshire co-winners are particularly famous for their appeal to either of those large minority groups. And the pundits tell us that capturing both big majorities and big turnout among those minority groups will be vital to the Democrats’ chances of winning against Trump in November. But we’ll see. We’ll see whether Joe Biden stays in the race and, if he does, whether his alleged strength with minority voters can resuscitate his gasping candidacy.
Personally, I recommend against too much certainty that the eventual Democratic nominee will be anyone whose name is mentioned above. But it’s definitely possible.
I’ll close with a remark I recall from years ago, so long ago that I don’t remember the name of the guy or the show on which he said it. But the guy was not a regular on the shows. And this goes back to the era before 24-hour news cable networks, when there were far fewer such shows.
During the pundit round-up, the host asked the guy some version of “what’s gonna happen next?”
And the guy, to his eternal credit, said something like: “I don’t know what’s gonna happen next. And let’s face it, neither does anyone else at this table.”
And, he recounted later, as a reward for that outburst of humility and honesty, he was never asked back.
In “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country,” Captain Kirk delivers the remark that gives the film its title. Saith Kirk, to the chancellor of a faraway place:
“It’s about the future, Madame Chancellor. Some people think the future means the end of history. Well … We haven’t run out of history quite yet. … Your father called the future … the undiscovered country.”