THE BLOG
08/22/2012 07:28 pm ET | Updated Oct 22, 2012

A Legitimate Case for the Teddy White Rule

All right class, put away your smartphones and iPads and BlackBerries and pay attention, because you obviously weren't listening when I told you the other day why the Teddy White Rule is key to the 2012 election.

You there, wearing the Free Pussy Riot T-shirt: What did I say about the Teddy White Rule?

That Mitt Romney was going to pick Rob Portman as his running mate? No, not that. I obviously underestimated Romney's need to appease his party's troglodyte right by putting together a 3R ticket -- Romney, Ryan and Ayn Rand.

You in the back row, reading The National Review? You don't remember?

Well, let me refresh your memory. I said when people ask me if I think President Obama's going to be re-elected in November and if he'll have a Democratic Congress to work with, that I learned long ago not to predict what American voters will do when they enter a polling booth.

And then I told you what Theodore H. White, the Time/Life reporter and author of the The Making of the President books, who practically invented the art of political reporting, told me when I was a rookie reporter in the 1960's.

He said there are two cardinal rules political reporters should never forget. The first is to always report what you KNOW is happening and never predict what you THINK will happen.

The second is to always expect that unexpected and unpredictable events will happen that will turn the course of history, he declared.

White cited such history-changing events as the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963, President Johnson's surprise decision not to run for reelection in 1968, George McGovern's clumsy handling of running mate Tom Eagleton's history of mental illness in 1972, the secret White House tapes that led to President Nixon's resignation in 1974, President Ford's damaging denial of Soviet domination of Eastern Europe in 1976 and Walter Mondale's too-candid admission in 1984 that he'd have to raise taxes if elected in 1984.

White died in 1986, or he probably would also have singled out Michael Dukakis' wimpy response two years later when asked if he would favor the death penalty for someone who had raped and murdered his wife, or the first President Bush giving the impression he'd rather be somewhere else by checking his watch during a town hall debate with Bill Clinton, Al Gore's melancholy sighs during his 2000 debate with George W. Bush, John Kerry's ill-fated wind surfing excursion in 2004, John McCain's off-the-wall choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate in 2008.

Well, as I warned you, it's happened again, not once but twice, in Missouri and Israel, of all places. Rep. Todd Akin's devastating comment about "legitimate rape" and his refusal to end his race against Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill has both undermined Republican chances to regain control of the Senate and raised the kind of divisive social issues Romney and Ryan hoped to avoid this fall.

Then there was the mindless skinny dipping in the Sea of Galilee by Republican Kansas Rep. Kevin Yoder, which has shined the spotlight on congressional travel financed by powerful interest groups, especially those supporting Israel and raised Democratic hopes of recapturing the House, since many of the 80 members traveling with Yoder were freshmen backed by the Tea Party.

So please pay attention next time I talk about the Teddy White Rule because we're going to see more such unexpected and unpredictable events happen between now and November. And when they do, I promise I won't say I told you so.