Bret Stephens, Nov. 8 “The Midterm Results Are a Warning to the Democrats”
For months we’ve heard from sundry media apocalypticians that this year’s midterms were the last exit off the road to autocracy. On Tuesday, the American people delivered a less dramatic verdict about the significance of the occasion.
In a word: meh.
Are you interested in seeing Donald Trump voted out of office in two years? I hope so — which is why you should think hard about that “meh.” This week’s elections were, at most, a very modest rebuke of a president reviled by many of his opponents, this columnist included, as an unprecedented danger to the health of liberal democracy at home and abroad. The American people don’t entirely agree.
We might consider listening to them a bit more — and to ourselves somewhat less.
The 28-seat swing that gave Democrats control of the House wasn’t even half the 63 seats Republicans won in 2010. Yet even that shellacking (to use Barack Obama’s word) did nothing to help Mitt Romney’s chances two years later. The Republican gain in the Senate (the result in Arizona isn’t clear at this writing) was more predictable in a year when so many red-state Democrats were up for re-election. But it underscores what a non-wave election this was.
It also underscores that while “the Resistance” is good at generating lots of votes, it hasn’t figured out how to turn the votes into seats. Liberals are free to bellyache all they want that they have repeatedly won the overall popular vote for the presidency and Congress while still losing elections, and that the system is therefore “rigged.”
Stephens goes on. And on, about how it is clear that the resistance failed. Apparently the resistance is now the Democratic Party. Or something. He doesn’t seem to be interested in defining his terms. He throws in a few strawmen and a But Louis Farrakhan! He talks about the Senate and pokes fun at O’Rourke. He warns that if they — Democrats/the resistance/people who are mean to Trump voters — don’t stop all this darn resistancing, Trump will win again.
In short, it was pretty much what one would expect from Stephens.
A 37-seat swing gave Democrats control of the House—a definite gain, but still less than the 63 seats Republicans won in 2011. Yet even that shellacking (to use Barack Obama’s word) did nothing to help Mitt Romney’s chances two years later. The Republican gain in the Senate (the result in Arizona isn’t clear at this writing) was more predictable in a year when so many red-state Democrats were up for re-election. But it underscores what a non-wave election this was.
MMFA notes that not only are the stats still wrong, but more importantly, tweaking the stats does the opposite of shore up Stephens’ case.
The 28 jumped up to a (still low) 37, and the “wasn’t even half” has been disappeared. But the “non-wave election” diagnosis remains preserved in amber. With each update to the number of flipped seats, Stephens’ already bad analysis just gets worse.
The still more serious problem that flows from both of these issues is that pundits who fail in these ways are hardly ever held to account, and thus self-serving, half-baked analyses keep showing up in op-ed pages and on cable news. For Bret Stephens, “accountability” takes the form of quiet changes to his column that leave its conclusions intact even as it gets more wrong with each update.
It’s all true, but I find the decision to update the article at all to be deeply puzzling. Even though the NYT pays Stephens to clog up its opinion page with dimwitted sludge, it wants to be taken Very Seriously. But this isn’t the action of a serious organization. It’s sloppy and dumb and so very pointless. No one who reads his stuff expects accuracy.
As an aside, I do wonder about the process of making such updates. Is the NYT so sloppy that any writer can go in and update his or her articles without asking, or is it such a collection of hacks that an editor is approving his decisions to update the piece? Since the paper no longer has a public editor, I’ve dropped a line at the Reader Center. I’m not holding my breath for a response.