Feature

Editor's Letter: Why pundits misjudge

Presidents are powerful men, but not everything that happens in the world is within their control.

Suppose for a moment that a large swell had hit the USS Bainbridge just as the three Navy SEALs were squeezing off their shots at the Somali pirates’ heads, making one of the bullets go awry. The surviving pirate surely would have killed Capt. Richard Phillips. Back in the U.S., those with a dim view of Barack Obama would brand the attempted rescue a “fiasco,” betraying Obama’s fecklessness and lack of inner steel. As it happens, the SEALs’ aim was true. So this week, some pundits are lauding Capt. Phillips’ rescue as a demonstration of the president’s competence and coolness. I hate to spoil the fun, but it’s a bit unserious, don’t you think, for either critics or admirers to judge a president on the basis of a sharpshooter’s aim?

But this spasm of instant judgment—this macroanalysis of micro events—is now standard operating procedure for a punditocracy that must reach definitive historical verdicts every four hours. The vagaries of the economy, the internal dynamics of distant nations, even the sexual behavior of teenagers (that’s a shout out to you, Bill Clinton!) are seen as direct manifestations of White House policy, as if presidents were demigods with unbounded influence on the world of mortals. Is the stock market down a few hundred points? Obviously, investors are taking a dim view of Obama’s economic rescue plan. What’s that—the market’s back up a few hundred points? Clearly, Obama’s brilliant plan is working. Presidents, of course, are very powerful men, but men they remain, and much of what happens in this infinitely complex world is beyond their control. It’s so much simpler, though, and more entertaining, to pretend otherwise.

William Falk

Recommended

Gang kidnaps U.S. missionaries in Haiti
Police patrol the streets in Haiti
kidnappings in haiti

Gang kidnaps U.S. missionaries in Haiti

Sicilian Catholic diocese bans godparents
Baptism at Vatican
'It's an experiment'

Sicilian Catholic diocese bans godparents

British lawmakers gather to mourn slain MP David Amess
Keir Starmer and Boris Johnson
Democracy in a world of violence

British lawmakers gather to mourn slain MP David Amess

British officials mourn death of MP David Amess
David Amess.
rest in peace

British officials mourn death of MP David Amess

Most Popular

The American 'Great Resignation' by the numbers
Help wanted sign
Help Wanted

The American 'Great Resignation' by the numbers

Madonna makes Jimmy Fallon sweat, remove coat in 'disturbed' interview
Jimmy Fallon and Madonna
'Life is not just about interviewing kitties'

Madonna makes Jimmy Fallon sweat, remove coat in 'disturbed' interview

Queen expresses irritation with world leaders talk but 'don't do' on climate change
Queen Elizabeth II
God Save the Green

Queen expresses irritation with world leaders talk but 'don't do' on climate change