160/20 Hindsight

160/20 Hindsight

160/20 Hindsight

A campaign blog.
Jan. 9 2008 1:07 PM

160/20 Hindsight

If there’s anything to be gleaned from the last 24 hours, it’s this: Never doubt the pundits’ inability to predict something in the future; never underestimate their ability to explain something in the past.

Now that it’s over, a zillion theories are circulating as to how Hillary bent time-space to win last night’s primary. We have one or two . Kaus has four . Mark Halperin has a thousand more .

But I’m wondering how/if this is going to change the way media report these things. In the Obama media room yesterday, everyone was drifting around in a What happened? daze. Everything we knew was wrong. All the indicators—even the reliable ones—pointed to an Obama victory. That’s why, whatever explanation the thinkers settle on, it’s still going to be colored by the upending of reality that occured last night. What says the data informing the explanation are any more accurate than those informing the prediction?

Sure, there’s compelling statistical evidence that Hillary’s debate performance and her moment of vulnerability boosted turnout among women voters. (Fifty-seven percent of Democratic voters were women; Hillary beat Obama among that demographic by 12 percent.) And in my experience, the anecdotal evidence confirms this: I’ve been told by various women over the past day that if I didn’t have a Y chromosome, I’d understand.

But if any pundit had factored women's emotional response into their pre-election predictions, they would have been laughed out of the room. The counterarguments would have been: Voters aren’t stupid enough to take her weeping seriously. Her debate performance wasn't that great. Obama’s Iowa mo’ is too strong. Clinton hasn’t had enough time to mount an effective counterattack. The counterattacks she has launched just look desperate. And last but not least, the polls are unanimous in favor of Obama.

There’s no small amount of hostility toward the media for botching New Hampshire. But let’s keep in mind that any prediction based on the explanations currently circulating would have been, in the pre-election climate, a crackpot theory. And, irony of ironies, for all the accusations that the press was conspiring against Hillary, consider this: If it’s true she surged because of her tears, then she has the media to thank.

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Update 2:24 p.m.: Irony overload: Remember the woman who asked the question that made Hillary cry? She voted for Obama .