National Commentary

Nicholas F. Benton: The Lesson of New Hampshire

If any of the media pundits who acknowledged they were completely wrong in handicapping the Democratic primary in New Hampshire last week had any self respect, they would have followed their post-mortem, self-effacing admissions of ineptitude by saying something like the following:

“Since it’s obvious we blew it so badly, you’d be a fool to continue listening to anything we have to say. Therefore, why are you still watching? We suggest you switch to the Comedy Channel or some other form of amusement that doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not.”

But no, alas few of us stopped listening, and they surely didn’t stop talking. It’s not getting it right, or even telling the truth, that matters so much to them, it’s having something to talk about. Apparently, their corporate bosses don’t care either. No heads rolled.

Just as in the case of the 21st century’s first great blunder, a war predicated on weapons of mass destruction that didn’t exist, everyone shrugged their shoulders saying, “Well, we ALL got it wrong!” That’s supposed to make it OK?

So, let’s see, what else have they gotten wrong in the last week? Could it be the explanation they all gave for Hillary Clinton’s unexpected victory over Barack Obama?

They all attributed it to Hillary’s “human moment” the day before the primary, when she teared up answering a question about the toll of the campaign on her personally. “This showed her human side and that’s what voters were waiting to see,” they’ve all nodded furiously in agreement.

In an amazing show of gullibility, the American public bought it. They bought it from the same stooges who’d told them the day before that Obama would win by a double-digit margin.

What great philosopher said, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me?”

Obviously, the casual American public is willing to be fooled by their media Pied Pipers over and over and over again.

Clinton did not win because she wept, although there was nothing wrong with that and it did have a certain endearing quality to it.

Voters are not that shallow, especially the seasoned voters of New Hampshire. The incident may have helped, but it was not decisive for Clinton. Those who showed up at the polls knew they were playing a very important role in selecting the next president of the U.S. They were keenly aware of the fact that if Obama won in New Hampshire, it could set in motion an irreversible process toward his nomination, making their responsibility, either for or against him, even greater.

They trekked to the polls last week also knowing that Sen. John McCain was the strong favorite to win on the GOP side and become its party’s frontrunner nationally. They not only had to assess the Democratic choices, but also in light of whom they’d likely face in November, and how the match up might pan out.

So what did the vote totals actually tell us? First of all, the total projected for Obama turned out to be almost exactly what he actually got. He did not lose any supporters who’d already decided to vote for him.

On the other hand, clearly Clinton gained far more votes that the polls indicated she would.

Where did she get them? Again, it is evident they came from those who’d indicated earlier they were going to support either Edwards, Richardson or another less-likely candidate. They also came from folks who changed their mind about being a “likely voter,” and actually came to the polls. These were folks motivated by the conviction that Clinton stood the best chance to win in November.

Contrary to the pundits’ continued insistence that the presidential race is like a soap opera, rooted in shopper tabloid-like fixations on personal emotions, egos, ambitions, weaknesses and dark sides, in reality it is about much more substantive matters, such as whether or not a Democratic agenda emanates from the White House next year, or not.

Oh yeah, that.

By and large, once in the voting booth, citizens take what they do far more seriously than the media does. They certainly did in New Hampshire.