Politics & Policy

Consistency Is For Little People

A few thoughts.

When George Bush was elected president he said, “I do not like broccoli and I haven’t liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it and I’m president of the United States and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli.”

Well, I’m now the editor of the fourth-most-read news magazine website in America and arguably the second-most-read online magazine in America (if you’re willing to accept some odd statistics from PC Data). So, in the spirit of President Bush’s stance on broccoli, I don’t see why I can’t start drinking in the morning. Also, I don’t see why I should have to be married to the format of a single-topic column. So, hewing to the neoconservative doctrine that consistency is for little people — and the drinker’s credo that responsibility is for suckers, herewith a few thoughts:


Basset hounds rule.


A couple of times over the last year a bunch of Poindexters who can name pi to the 800th digit but can’t catch a softball without breaking their glasses claimed that the election was in the bag. According to their models, projections, charts, and others sorts of things that deprived them of dates in high school, these guys swore that Gore must win in November.

Famously, a panel of six out of seven professional election forecasters chewed Trident, but that’s not important right now. Six out of seven of them also predicted that Gore would win with between 52.3 and 55.4 percent of the votes cast for the two major-party candidates. The seventh guy chewed Freshen-Up, but he also said Gore would win with 60.3 percent of the vote. The headline in the Washington Post read: “Academics Say It’s Elementary: Gore Wins.”

Well, in an attempt to draw something positive out of the troubles in the Middle East and the fact that my stock portfolio has hemorrhaged more cash than an African treasury three days before an honest election, it should be pointed out that these predictions were wrong. Notwithstanding the unforeseen, it looks like Bush will win.

But wait a second; “notwithstanding the unforeseen” is among the dumbest phrases ever uttered. Because by definition the unforeseen is, well, not foreseen. Which is always the practical problem with such projections (and social science generally). They only take into account what is known and what is known always amounts to less than the complete picture. According to the slide-rule gang, Gore was bound to win because in an era of peace and prosperity the incumbent party almost never loses. Putting aside the tacky materialism implicit in such assertions, that’s probably true. But peace and prosperity suddenly seem less abundant. Now, don’t hold me to this, but during the period when Gore was way ahead in the polls, the stock market plunged 712 percent. Okay, that’s probably not accurate, but it does accurately describe how it felt clicking the refresh button on my portfolio like a cocaine-addicted monkey banging on his cocaine-pellet bar in a lab somewhere.

There’s another problem with such projections, and I know when I tell you what it is a lot of objectivist, rationalist, “A is for A” types will be even more disgusted with me than they already are. Such projections aren’t romantic. They suggest that events, arguments, and emotion are irrelevant; that a nation of individuals can be reduced to an algorithm (or in this case an algore-rhythm) by a bunch of guys in lab coats. Conservatism believes that life is too complex to be easily distilled by those Russell Kirk called “sophisters, calculators, and economists.” As Edmund Burke (turn studio applause-track to 10) wrote in Reflections, “The nature of man is intricate; the objects of society are of the greatest possible complexity; and therefore no simple disposition or direction of power can be suitable either to man’s nature or to the quality of his affairs.”

As a journalist (snicker, snort), I like the unforeseen because it makes my work more interesting. As a conservative, I like the unforeseen because it makes the sophisters, calculators, and economists look stupid.


I should say, however, that I do not particularly like the unforeseen as it’s manifesting itself in the Middle East. I will save my more serious remarks for another time and place (though you couldn’t find a hair’s breadth of difference between me and Charles Krauthammer on this topic and I refer all interested parties to read his columns). But I do think what’s happening over there is both tragic and extremely useful.

Last summer, at Camp David, Ehud Barak made an offer to Yassir Arafat that was irresponsibly generous. Barak put things on the table that generations of Israeli governments considered non-negotiable. Barak did what a lot of Israeli and American liberals have advocated for years: trust the Palestinians, be the better man, take the high road, make the real sacrifice, etc. So, Barak opened by offering Arafat everything. Indeed, if Arafat had begun by demanding what Barak had voluntarily offered, most experts would have said Arafat was being unreasonable. But, the Palestinian bluff was called and Arafat walked away choosing instead to foment violence as he always has (even the New York Times’ s Tom Friedman comes to this conclusion).

The tragedy is that people are dying and peace is much further off than many people hoped. The usefulness is that we are learning that now rather than later when the lesson could have been far more painful.


About two-thirds of National Review Online readers only come by once a day or even once every other day. I do not want to get technical here, but in industry-parlance you people are fools. Fools, I tell you!

I know that many of you work in veal-pen cubicles where lunchtime web browsing is all you can get away with without taking a Klingon pain stick in the Dershowitz. I know some of you only check us out over your morning coffee. I know that some of you just come in to NRO through Drudge to read my column. I know some of you only wander by in the wake of a presidential debate or a Star Trek movie. I know some of you visit only when some friend says, “Good lord! Would you look at what those troglodytes are saying now!” I know some of you are completely naked underneath your clothes right now — something that I find disquieting. But the important thing is that you people are missing a lot. We post new stuff all day long. In fact we post so much new stuff, you may miss other new stuff if you come in only sporadically.

Sure, there are ways to find stuff you might have missed (for example, did you see my piece on Captain Kirk and the presidential election?). On the home page, for example, the right side has a section called “New Postings,” where you can find — guess what? — the new postings. Further down, there’s a section called “Still Hot,” where you’d think you’d find pictures of Jane Seymour. Instead, you’ll find articles that we think are still worth reading. You could also scroll down to the bottom of the page — another thing you people don’t do enough of.

But this is all so imperfect, so inexact, so fraught with peril, like curing beef jerky in your sleeping tent while camping in bear country. The best, most intelligent thing to do is be more like the one third of NRO readers (flying monkeys) who loiter on the site like homeless people at Grand Central Station during the Dinkins administration. Not only will you see more cool stuff. You will help me maintain my extravagant lifestyle. So really, it’s a win-win situation.


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