Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Why James Carville Deserves Respect

I don't normally pay attention to the Sunday morning news shows, so of course I'm seeing this second hand. But the idea of James Carville smashing an egg on his face raises my level of respect for him.

There are others, such as Wonkette, who find this idea juvenile, or shameless. I disagree. I think Mr. Carville recognizes a couple of punditry principles that commentators on both sides of the spectrum should keep in mind:

1. When you get it wrong, you must say so. Carville was reacting to a clip of his predicting a John Kerry victory. I can't think of too many people on either the right or the left who are willing to freely admit that they got it wrong. Certainly some will--the folks at Salon.com come to mind--but whenever they write that they were wrong, I always get the impression that they'd rather have a root canal.

2. When you get it wrong, you must do penance, in the same forum that you operate in. Carville did this sort of thing in 2002, when he put a wastebasket on his head to show his reaction to the midterm election results. It's a public, graphic acknowledgement of imperfection.

This type of public self-flagellation has two effects. It shows the viewer that the humbled pundit has the strength of character to accept a loss of face; after all, if people are going to laugh at you for your error, you may as well give them a good reason.

More importantly, a public act of contrition enables the pundit to move on to the next area of interest. The act is essentially a form of closure that says, "I worked hard to make X happen. It didn't. This is the price I accept for failure. Let's go to the next topic."

And people will accept it, because they know it takes a great deal of courage to lose face in so graphic a manner.

I suspect that if Dan Rather had smashed an egg on his forehead when he reluctantly apologized for the forged TANG memos of the summer, Rathergate would be a footnote by now rather than a Damoclean sword on his career.