Let me remind you that we have to put up with presidential candidates until Nov. 4, and the snow of February hasn't even begun to melt. We also have to put up with pundits. I suggest we ration our exposure to both to avoid terminal boredom.
It's true that yours truly can be classified as a pundit. I, however, along with my print brethren, am lucky. I only have to practice punditry three times a week at about 650 words a pop. That limits the opportunity to make a fool out of myself.
Actually, I loved the days when I was just a reporter. All I had to do was collect the facts and state them in simple, declarative sentences. Candidate Puffy received so many votes; candidate Huffy received this many. Puffy said this in his victory statement. Huffy said this in his concession speech. Then I was through and could go get a drink. I didn't have to analyze, comment on or speculate about the election, its outcome or its possible consequences.
The cable-television pundits have a much worse job. They are given an hour — sometimes several hours, as on election nights — and they have to yap the whole time until the clock mercifully frees them from the necessity of knocking the enamel off their teeth.
Since the average person talks about 120 words a minute (Chris Matthews is probably closer to 240), it doesn't take long to speak when the facts are few. Trouble is, the pundits run out of facts before they run out of time, and they have to keep yapping. I'm afraid I've already filled my quota of listening to yaps, so until the Little League World Series begins (some of the best entertainment on television), I'll just give the tube a rest.
One of these days, we may elect some people intelligent enough to shorten the campaign process. Eight weeks of campaigning from start to finish should be enough. If people knew in advance that it would be a short campaign, they'd pay attention. As it is, we certainly have the longest political campaigns of any country on the face of the Earth.
If these long campaigns gave us detailed information about the candidates, their philosophies and their proposals, they might be worth it, but of course they don't. The campaigns are as repetitious as the pundits. So-called debates are a farce. They are more like a quiz show, and the moderators have the power to give the airtime to their own favorite candidates. Most of the speeches are without substance.
A favorite technique of political speeches these days is to list problems in the form of promised solutions. For example, "We are going to make health care affordable; we are going to repair our public education system; we will end the war, balance the budget, cut taxes, cure cancer, repair our infrastructure, preserve the environment and stop global warming." Exactly how these miracles are to be accomplished is never mentioned.
It would also be a good idea to ban paid advertising. Since both public radio and public television are allegedly publicly owned assets, they should be required to give every candidate an equal amount of time. Speechwriters and campaign managers should also be banned. If a candidate can't write his own speeches and manage his own campaign, what good is he? These professional manipulators, along with pollsters, are a relatively recent addition to our political process.
All candidates should sign a contract making specific promises to do certain things (their choice) and to resign immediately if they break any of those promises. Old "read my lips, no new taxes" Bush the elder broke that promise. He didn't resign, but the people resigned him at the next election, and we got stuck with Bill Clinton.
A definition of pundit, by the way, is a learned Hindu. I guess I don't qualify after all.
February 18, 2008
Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.
© 2008 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.