The Washington Post apparently asked various luminaries to name one thing the world should just get rid of (sadly, none said "jeggings") and Donna Brazile offered a suggestion that would afford her considerably more free time: let's get rid of the pundits!
If a single move could restore civility to politics, that is it. Get rid of the left-vs.-right commentators who are just out scoring points for their team. This sort of opinion-mongering is not only boring and predictable, it is destructive of the truth. If your only credentials are "GOP shill" or "Democratic hack," you've no business cluttering up the airwaves or the op-ed pages. My momma always told me that if you don't know what you're talking about, it's best to keep your mouth shut. That's good advice.
Whom do we put in their place? I say replace the pundits with people who have genuine expertise -- whether from their academic work, professional life or personal experience -- on the key issues of the day. Instead of partisan talking heads or mad hatters from the "tea party" preaching their views on, say, health care and taxes, let's hear from doctors and insurance professionals, or the number-crunchers from the Congressional Budget Office. They're much better equipped to help viewers, listeners and readers wade through the facts, arguments and data.
I suppose that if this were to come to pass, the world would be a more pleasant place in which to live, and cable news shows would have a lot more time to cover more substantive things. Over at TAPPED, Paul Waldman suggests something less extreme:
If, on the other hand, you wanted to fill up a day's worth of programming with people who could actually explain things, it would be tremendously difficult. But it wouldn't be completely impossible, and it could prove quite popular. So what if the cable networks did an experiment. Let's say they set aside one day a week as the day of explanation, with no pundits or advocates allowed. Instead of bringing on a pair of congressmen to debate whether the Obama administration is being tough enough on terrorists, they'd bring on a couple of experts on terrorism to explain where we are in battling al-Qaeda. Instead of bringing on a "Democratic strategist" to argue with a "Republican strategist" to fight about which party is awesomer as we approach the November elections, they grab a couple of political scientists to discuss why people vote the way they do in off-years.
The truth is, I don't really mind hearing pundits opine as long as they are discussing substantive policy issues. What I think has no value whatsoever is enjoining pundits to talk about the "who's up/who's down" factor in policymaking. In the first place, it basically serves to enforce the idea that the most important factor in making law is how it will impact the re-election of legislators. As the health care debate proved, the media is capable of subsisting for a long time without ever addressing how policy impacts actual Americans. (I remember having a good laugh at CNN's Lisa DesJardins, who spent the final hours of the health care debate frantically tweeting about what the law does -- work that really should have been done months prior!)
But beyond that, it's really just valueless blather. On any issue of the day, you know in advance that the Democratic hack is going to say that a decision will benefit Democrats and the Republican hack will say the opposite. I especially hate the on-air proliferation of so-called "political strategists!"
When a "political strategist" comes on the tube to talk about how Politician X is going to pay at the polls for Policy Y, the hack-to-English translation is: "I am nowhere near as informed about the issue as I should be, because I work at a factory of vapid talking points. But since I am paid to offer banal criticism of the other guy, I am going to try to overcome my gaping personal deficits and lack of overall policy knowledge by lazily assigning my opinion to 'voters.' Eventually, my hack organization will find poll results to cherry-pick to bolster my claim, or we will manufacture some."
It's like cable news thrives on staging utterly predictable encounter sessions. Eventually, elections play themselves out, and no one is ever held accountable for being wrong.
Curiously, this is something in which Brazile still sees value, saying "there is insight to be gained from the dark, secret knowledge [pundits] hold from their decades pacing the political corridors." But that knowledge typically only holds any real currency among the circles of friends in which those pundits flit. Let them share their "dark, secret knowledge" with one another at their cocktail parties. There should be a high critical bar that needs to be surmounted before that stuff gets on teevee.
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