Monday, March 10, 2008

Help Wanted: Pennsylvania Pundits

Hillary Clinton's Childhood Vacation Spot in Pennsylvania

Another reason not to watch television during presidential campaigns is that what was once perceived as “real” has become increasingly “unreal” as the punditry game has gone professional. There are major league pundits, minor league pundits, little league pundits, and even pee-wee pundits. Pundit means “learned ones.” One may question that notion as the television stations featuring pundits seem incapable of expressing the middle ground of any issue.

Punditry is extreme by modern definition, representing views that are to the left of Che Guevara or to the right of Rush Limbaugh. Labeling every critical governmental policy statement as “support for terrorism” keeps people glued to their tv sets. So does the laundry list of alleged U.S. government conspiracies beginning with the purported Roswell, New Mexico flying saucer crash and continuing to the alleged conspiratorial attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Few pundits are paid in dollars. Most get paid with pats on the back from their relatives and friends and a mug with a network logo on the side. Still, punditry can have other benefits like book contracts or small market media jobs. If you’re a bottom tier pundit, you can go to pundit school or buy ads to promote yourself. It’s not unheard of for fledgling pundits to spend thousands in advertising promoting their own punditry. Some pundit trainers and advisors recommend that you send donuts and good will cards to television producers who may eat the donuts and remember your name.

A Wall Street Journal article from 2006 tells of a New York City school with a course in amateur punditry giving advice in “how to build up your profile.” The article tells of a popular CD title for would-be pundits called “How To Get Booked on ‘The View.’”

According to the same Wall Street Journal story, Newt Gingrich gets paid when he comments on the Fox News network, and Jonathan Alter gets paid, too. I don’t know if Michael Smerconish will be paid for his appearance this morning on MSNBC’s Morning Joe with Mika Brezinski. I would guess he is, considering Pennsylvania’s sudden prominence in the upcoming April 22 primaries.

Most political pundits know that Mika Brezinski’s father and former Carter advisor, Zbigniew Brezinski, is working for Barak Obama, and those who don’t will soon hear it because MSNBC host Joe Scarborough mentions it often. Mika responds guardedly that she has a brother who works for the McCain campaign, too, so there! Fair and balanced, like Fox News, she implies. It must be no fun to have a loose cannon like Scarborough rolling around on your deck.

The “Morning Joe” program on MSNBC is today awash with Class B pundits: Howard Wolfson, on behalf of Hillary Clinton and David Axelrod for Obama. A plethora of lesser pundits appeared in the spaces between. Michael Smerconish is an upcoming Class B pundit who is sure to make it one day to the A-list.

Smerconish’s appearance on MSNBC was a graceful gesture by the producers—the Philadelphia lawyer, professional pundit, and radio talk show host pitched really hard over a year ago to get the job currently occupied by the bombastic Joe Scarborough.

Compared to Scarborough, Smerconish is studied and intent. Smerconish’s appearance on MSNBC is expected to be regular as he tries to interpret Pennsylvania voting patterns for the national media.

Smerconish didn’t say much that hasn’t already patterned. Pundit commandments dictate that Obama rules the big cities, something that is not entirely true. Hillary Clinton was helped considerably in Ohio cities by African-American congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs-Jones who appeared beside Clinton during her Ohio victory speech.

I partially agree with the Michael Smerconish “prediction” that Obama will win big in cities like Philly and Pittsburgh whereas Hillary will win the Pennsylvania heartland. The rural hamlet of Lake Winola, Pa was the summer vacation spot for Hillary Rodham Clinton and her family, a connection still fondly remembered by many Pennsylvanians.

Another consideration is that Pennsylvania cities have a lot of blue-collar support of mixed ethnicity, and a Hispanic vote that ranges between four and five percent. Ethnicity in Pennsylvania may mean Hungarian, Italian, Czech, Lithuanian, Lebanese, as much as it refers to Spanish or African-American origin.

Lots of pundits are merely re-stating the pattern of 90% African American voters going for Obama in some states. I like to think that the African American voters of Pennsylvania will vote outside the predictable pattern as did the voters of Iowa and Vermont. There’s something very ill about voting along strictly ethnic lines—even the sport of boxing has long ago progressed beyond that.

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