The Magazine

The Pomo Primary

From the March 15, 2004 issue: Postmodern candidates talk like handlers, and voters talk like pundits.

Mar 15, 2004, Vol. 9, No. 26 • By ANDREW FERGUSON
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It was even more obvious when the pundits of "Late Edition" took themselves as the subject of their own commentary. Of course, this year the echo chamber was enlarged to include bloggers, whose primary purpose seems to be self-reference, opinions about opinions, with Instapundit linking to a nugget from, who's riffing off a comment posted 40 minutes ago by the Bloviator in response to an insight posted 45 minutes ago on, which had been quoting Instapundit's thoughts on Bloviator's earlier post. The inbreeding has become so commonplace that even bloggers have stopped commenting on each other's comments about it.

In the pomo primary everybody was thinking like a pundit, especially voters. How else to account for the instant cliché of the season, "electability"? Since the first seeds of self-government sprouted in the Agora, this is surely the strangest rationale yet devised for choosing one candidate over another. Voters voted for someone because they thought voters would vote for him. It is second-order reasoning, a meta-rationale, a judgment about a judgment about a judgment. It will make your head hurt if you think about it too long.

Fortunately we won't have to think about it much longer. (I have spoken.) The reflexivity that made this primary season so weird is what happens when a pastime, like politics, loses its general audience and shrinks, cult-like, to a minority obsession: a bit more popular than clog-dancing, much less popular than motocross. But by fall the weirdness will drop away, as politics leaves its self-referential cocoon and emerges into the harsh light of that other, larger world, where nonpolitical people live. I don't know what the harsh light will reveal, but I can guess. Is it possible that electability will no longer be a good reason to elect a candidate whose message is his message?

Andrew Ferguson is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard.