Learning as an amateur pundit

Although I always suspected that I was a political junkie, I only had unmistakable confirmation of my obsession these last couple weeks. Laura knows how much like to talk about politics. One of the fascinating aspects about political culture is that everyone seems to have an opinion, whether it is well-founded or not. I also have opinions, some of which are based on deep thinking and care for the reality of the world — and others that are probably just unexamined prejudices. I do tend to be reticent about expressing my opinions about things that I’ve not through very carefully. Overall, I’m pleased with my disposition towards careful, thoughtful expression.

The downside though is that you can learn a lot by actually just saying what you believe, without worrying primarily about whether you have all the facts and reasoning straighten out. I find it difficult to say what I feel in my gut to be true if I haven’t had a chance to carefully think everything through. The problem is that some matters are so complicated that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to reason everything through Before saying anything at all. The end result would be confused silence.

The upshot of this musing: make a prediction on something relatively minor and then to see how my prediction bears out. OK — I’m pretty keen to watch tonight’s vice presidential debate, wondering how it will affect public perception of Obama/Biden vs. McCain/Palin. Let me guess what will happen:

  • I don’t believe that Sarah Palin is adequately prepared for the job of vice-president, as evidenced by her weak answers during her interview with Katie Couric. However, I think she’ll do quite well in tonight’s debate. She’ll be able to come across as very personable in her prepared remarks, and I think she’ll be successful in staying vague in areas she doesn’t know much about. I expect her to be well prepared. I think that Joe Biden, in trying to exercise restraint in not indulging his trademark loquacious, won’t be able to put Palin in a bad light. I also don’t think the moderators of the debate will be too effective in highlighting Palin’s shortcomings.
  • I don’t expect Joe Biden to say anything really silly. In fact, I’m concerned that item will be to restrained because he might get dinged for appearing to be overbearing (too knowledgeable???)
  • It’s too bad that we are wondering about matters (such as whether Biden or Palin will slip up), stuff that really shouldn’t be the focus of our attention. I don’t know much about Joe Biden, but was deeply impressed with him when I heard him on Sept 11, 2001, urging the country to remain calm and exercise restraint.
  • Overall I don’t think this debate will shift things too much in terms of the public perception of the two tickets, though some think it might.

This is what I think will happen, though I’m far from confident that I’ll be correct. I may have to eat my words! I’m struck by how much my expectations for this debate — and my whole framing — have been strongly influenced by media coverage and analysis. The interesting thing for me will be to compare the predictions with what actually happens and analyze where and how I predicted correctly and where I didn’t. (The outcome of tonight’s debate isn’t necessarily the most important thing for me to be pondering today but it was the first thing I reached for as the subject of my amateur punditry.) I hope that this process of making predictions and seeing how I do will help me become a more insightful — and humble — analyst of the world.

P.S. I’ll have to compare my views with something like Cue The Comeback:

    So, my advice to Governor Palin is to stop letting your fussy handlers freak you out. You’re going to do just fine. You won’t be on that stage alone. Biden is bound to open himself up for at least a couple of good scoldings. The media is poised to write your comeback story. Your base is going to love you no matter what. And if things do happen to go badly, you can always claim that Ifill wanted to take you out as a way to sell more books. All things considered, there’s really no way you can lose. Unless this Ifill book dust-up compels the debate commission to replace her with Katie Couric tomorrow night. Then you’re pretty much screwed.