Sunday, June 1, 2008

We Don't Need No Stinking Numbers

Jay Rosen and many other press critics have long decried (terrible word, but very handy in journalism) reporting about elections as a horse race -- the obsession with numbers and what the numbers mean and what other numbers would mean.

Part of the criticism is that it is lazy. And it is. I'm neither proud nor ashamed of admitting that, very often, the stories I enjoyed writing most were based on clear facts from a printed page that I could attempt to explain in prose poetry. And there are no clearer facts than those expressed by numbers. Ask any math teacher.

The other criticism is that it squeezes out reporting on "things that matter." We talk about how well candidate Jones has done in the latest poll, so we don't report about candidate Jones's position on health care. Health care is hard. Have pity.

I've been modestly sympathetic to the view that horse race coverage ill serves the electorate but, as with anyone who has a mild addiction to politics, I do enjoy the numbers and intelligent talk about them.

But given where the Democratic nomination race is, this must stop now. The numbers no longer matter. They haven't mattered since it became a mathematical impossibility for either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton to get the nomination based on votes by voters.

On this subject, Hillary has this exactly right: any credible candidate in an election that will be decided by party insiders not only should stay in the race, but has an obligation to.

Her arguments may ultimately not resonate with the super delegates. The choice of either candidate by this elite voting block may be determined by the negative consequences of the alternative rather than by a compelling positive.

But it is what it is. The fight now is among a few hundred "wise" people, whether we or the cable analysts like it or not. And, unless we can do 24/7 brain scans on these folks, there is nothing for us to talk about.

The numbers don't matter anymore. Let the debate begin.

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