It takes a certain kind of person-ality, largely of the xy persuasion – diversity! – to boldly state a case that some might label ‘opinion’ (simply because they disagree), and stick to it, through thick and thin, feast and famine, boom and bust. Forge on in the face of adversity and derision, unmoved, undeterred. Like a pit bull, jaw tightly clamped down on the facts of the matter, refusing to be persuaded to the contrary regardless of any whimsical change in the fickle weather of modern civics. Beat them between the eyes with a lead pipe all you want. They will not let go. Ever.
Stalwarts of common sense and conventional wisdom. The bulwark against hack partisanship and the empty radicalism of aggrieved and juvenile feelings. Ego, super-sized when times demand, corralling our collective id, a cool and calm wind over the raging, roiling, turbulent sea of unruly public discourse.
Because politics must always be mediated. Otherwise, anarchy. Where anyone could just chip in with their two cents, never adjusted for inflation. Weighty matters need chopping up into bite-size pieces. Mass communication threatens to drown us all, drown out the most important voices that need be heard.
Dispassionate, above the fray, pundits offer up objectivity in its purest form. Theys calls it likes theys sees it, to use the everyday vernacular. Neither here nor there. Just is. Distilled moderation, filtered through a hepa of detachment, intellect, a savvy nose for news and heady way with turns of phrases, and official access. In the knowing.
Theirs is the unofficial official word.
From god’s lips, in the most secular of senses.
Deeply embedded in a world addicted to change. Yes (but) men. Confirmers of the orthodoxy but hardly conformers. Challengers of unestablished cant. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. If it is broke? Is it, though? Maybe it’s working exactly as intended. Maybe it’s working in a way you don’t fully understand. Here, let me explain it for you.
Pedantry is a lost art for most. Much maligned these days, there used to be an appreciation for the mastery of scrupulous thoroughness, for knowing when the ‘is’ needed dotting and the ‘ts’ crossing. Attention to detail in all things right down to their finest grain, to the most intact strand of hair. There’s power in that, having information at your fingertips. The power of rebuttal and refutation. The power to expound. Why do you think the devil himself spends so much time in the stacks?
To change hearts and minds.
Is there a more noble calling?
It was Burke who said, ‘The only change worthy of pursuing is the change of a crack’d mind’. Burke or Johnson. Either way, it was once said.
The easy aspect of punditry is the being right, no, correct, right signifying an ideological bias which is anathema to the craft, correct meaning accurate and truthful, and not of the political variety, politically correct, p.c. Being spot on, in other words. What a pundit is and does and delivers. A Spot on! from the reader. A Bang on! A Hear, Hear! and Huzzah! and the like.
It is practically impossible to miss your mark when the task at hand is to reinforce preconceived notions. Despite what some purists may claim, the job is not to enlighten but rather to encourage. Encourage what? Consensus, mostly. To encourage agreement. The true masters in the field succeed wildly at this while also managing to create disagreement so vehement and ferocious that it actually increases readership, viewership, eyes on the page/screen. A Can you believe what he wrote/said? response is as valuable and sought after as any metaphorical pat on the back and a Job well done, sir!
There is no wrong way to be right for a pundit.
It is only the appearance of being wrong that makes for sticky challenges. The ability to thread that needle, finding the glimmer of daylight shining through the storm clouds of misjudgment and blind allegiance, is what separates the wheat from the chaff in the world of punditry, the pure professionals from the rank amateurs. Experience teaches one to never paint oneself into a corner, always leaving a little wiggle room when daily events break in unforeseen ways. They say is a time-tested escape hatch, It has been said, another in a similar vein. How was I to know?! They said… Do you have a crystal ball?!? All the evidence I had at my disposal suggested… Don’t shoot the messenger. And so on, and so forth.
Subtle finger-pointing is another approach to keeping a pundit’s record clean. I didn’t get it wrong, you demure gently. Perhaps you misread or misinterpreted what I wrote. Perhaps your understanding of Michael Oakeshott isn’t as exhaustive as you think it is. Sly, gentle bellicosity works wonders as a pushback feature.
Full-frontal mea culpas are always a last resort. I got it wrong! undermines credibility, an unwelcome admission of fallibility. In this world, only the truly infallible, like the Pope, can admit to imperfection. If you were wrong about this, a reader/viewer might ask, what else have you misled us about? Trust lost is a grueling process to regain.
Instead, the great ones nimbly slip responsibility for miscalculation by invoking deus ex machina. A bolt of lightning from out of the blue. Who amongst us could’ve seen that coming?! they’ll proclaim. I am shocked, I tells ya. Shocked!!
A hypothetical example,
A certain politician, long since put out to electoral pasture, but in his day, a public figure you lionized. Give him a chance, fellow citizens, you implored. He’ll be alright. Where he wants to take the polity, is the place we need to go. After decades and decades of big government mismanaged overbearance, we need to get back to basics. Individual responsibility. Family values. Tough on crime, law and order. Exclusion before inclusion.
Only to re-emerge as a friend of ham-fisted, illiberal, xenophobic, homophobic, authoritarian types, promoting a strange strain of ‘international democracy’.
He didn’t used to be like this despite signaling that’s exactly what he’d be like if given long enough in power.
“That is not it at all,” you write. “That is not what I meant, at all,” quoting another reactionary voice that doesn’t really sound like it, not at all.
You proclaim, as if the betrayal is personal, the reversal, an unfortunate change of fortune for someone you once admired. How could he? If only I had known. It’s not like I have a crystal ball!
The fault, dear readers, lies elsewhere.
Sweep it all under the rug and move on. Nothing to see here, folks. What’s on today’s menu?
All theoretically speaking, of course.
Such turn of events rarely, if ever, happen in real life.
Because true punditry taps into that which is eternal: unwavering self-importance and self-aggrandizement, basic human traits dating back to the cave painters who took it upon themselves to show everybody else how life truly was and how they should be living it. The original ‘thought leaders’ as the kids say these days. Analyzing entrails to perceive future events is “an ancient belief”, Cicero wrote, “handed down to us even from mythical times and firmly established… that divination of some kind exists among men… the foresight and knowledge of future events… by its means men may approach very near to the power of gods.”
Very near to the power of gods, indeed.