Wednesday, December 31, 2008

From the Beltway Pundits' Mindreading Textbook Comes...

This post by Swampland's newest "contributor" Amy Sullivan almost perfectly illustrates the chattering class' inability to distinguish facts from their own imaginations:

Showing he's still really good at thinking things all the way through, Blago has picked Roland Burris no doubt in part because he thinks Senate Democrats would have a tough time refusing to seat a man who would be the Senate's only African-American member. He's right to think they wouldn't be thrilled about it. But they're even less thrilled about lending any legitimacy to Blago himself or accepting a replacement for Obama who would have an uphill battle retaining the seat in 2010.

Although Burris was the first African-American elected to statewide office in Illinois as the state's comptroller, he has struggled in campaigns as well, losing races for governor, U.S. Senate, and mayor of Chicago. Even Blago has expressed concerns about Burris' electability. In a 2002 radio interview on V-103's Cliff Kelley Show, after Blagojevich defeated Burris in a primary contest for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, Blago said that the color of Burris' skin "hurt him" at the polls.

It's a quirky strategy, appointing a candidate you don't think can win. But I'm sure it will turn out just as well as Blago's other creative efforts.

As I say to Amy Sullivan in my commentary, that sure is a lot of mind reading going on. Does this person truly believe that these simple conjectures are actually verifiable in any way? Yes, if what constitutes "verifiable" in your world is the merely plausible as represented by your colleagues' cocktail party chatter/cable news show round-table.

A cursory reading of her blather prompted this comment from me:
Amy Sullivan:

That's sure a lot of mind-reading in this post.

Is there any information to be had out there for some intrepid political reporter to discover that might indicate why Roland Burris has had a less-than spotless win track record in Illinois? Might that information have something to do with less-than-pure factors in Illinois pushing back against Burris' clean politics? Or maybe the races in which he ran had more to do with demographics issues?

After reading your post, I don't know the answer to these questions, and apparently you don't even care to know. Perhaps you might be so good as to provide something more in the way of background and insight than this rather facile cable news-talk segment.

Thanks in advance for not settling for the least insightful, most easily repeated storylines, Amy Sullivan.

What I didn't mention in my comment was the particularly egregious conflation of Burris' gubernatorial primary defeat with "Burris' electability" in general. Let's set aside for a moment an examination of the sheer ludicrousness of Amy Sullivan's quoting Governor Pay-to-Play McConflict-of-Interest in support of any candidates' prospects at the polls. If we look squarely at this post's message, we get to see an incredible sleight-of-hand take place: Burris' defeat in the Illinois Democratic machine's primaries somehow morphs into "electability" in general.

When Amy Sullivan writes "losing races for governor, U.S. Senate, and mayor of Chicago", she somehow neglects to mention that these were Democratic primaries, and not actual statewide races for these offices between a Republican and a Democrat. Perhaps she doesn't know. I have no idea.

In the possibility that she doesn't appreciate the difference in Illinois between a Democratic primary and any other race, let's look at who won these primaries, shall we?
From 1979 to 1991, Burris was elected to the office of Comptroller of Illinois. He was the first African American to be elected to a statewide office in the state of Illinois. Burris was an unsuccessful candidate for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in 1984, losing to Paul Simon who went on to defeat incumbent Senator Charles Percy.

From 1991 to 1995, he was Attorney General for the State of Illinois, where he supervised over 500 lawyers. There, he was the second African American elected to a state office of Attorney General in the United States.

In 1994, he was an unsuccessful candidate for the Democratic nomination for Governor of Illinois. While Burris had been favored for much of the primary campaign, he and Cook County Board President Richard Phelan were both defeated by State [Comptroller Dawn Clark Netsch, who had a strong late showing in the final weeks of the campaign despite being seen as the underdog. Netsch would go on to defeat the following November against incumbent Republican Governor Jim Edgar in an election where Democrats lost every single race for statewide office.

In 1995, he ran for mayor of Chicago, losing to incumbent Richard M. Daley. In 1998 and 2002, he again unsuccessfully sought the Democratic Party nomination for Governor of Illinois, running in 2002 against, among others, Rod Blagojevich. In 1998, Burris famously caused a controversy by referring to his Democratic primary opponents -- Jim Burns, Glenn Poshard (who eventually won the nomination) and John Schmidt -- as "nonqualified white boys."[6] While arguably true, the statement was considered racist by many and backfired politically.

OK now, if Wikipedia has this right, Burris lost the US Senate primary in 1984 to one of the most revered of Illinois' Senators, then won Attorney General over the Republican, then lost a three-way primary for governor in an election in which no Democrat won their election, lost an unwinnable primary to Chicago's reigning Daley Machine heir, then lost another primary to Blagojevich, perhaps because of the racial overtones in his/the campaign (to which the Governor alluded in his radio interview).

In my mind, none of this speaks to Burris' "electability" whatsoever. I'm from Chicago, and believe me, this track record says a lot more about politics in Illinois over the past few decades to me than it does about Burris' capability of winning that US Senate seat in an upcoming election.

Beyond even the silly mind-reading parlor tricks on display, Amy Sullivan's post captures the rank ignorance of the storylines upon which our pundit class settles in order to create consensus around their own inane readings of our nation's politics. She apparently just couldn't be bothered to consider actual facts and actual history before weighing in with a regurgitation of the Village consensus that Burris shouldn't be capable of winning a contest should his appointment stand.

None of this is remarkable in any way, apart from that it serves to demonstrate just how little thought, research or context goes into these peoples' formulations of their inane opinions about our politics. Amy Sullivan is not necessarily the worst offender, nor this post the worst example of this tabloid clique's collective guilt, but nevertheless we should be reminded of how much public push-back we need to do on an ongoing basis to correct their ongoing failure.

Welcome to Swampland, Amy Sullivan.


danno said...

I don't know if you are familiar with Amy Sullivan's "work" over at the Washington Monthly Political Animal blog or on BeliefNet but, trust me, you will soon realize she IS the worst offender of "just how little thought, research or context goes into these peoples' formulations of their inane opinions about our politics."

Swampland has truly made a poor choice in selecting her.

stuart_zechman said...

Thanks for your commentary, danno.

Do you happen to have a link to the most typically vapid of her articles?

PhD9 said...

Do you happen to have a link to the most typically vapid of her articles?

Have at it!

stuart_zechman said...

Thanks a bunch for the link. I'll probably enjoy it as much as I would a Happy Meal.

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