Monday, March 25, 2013

The March Madness of the Invisible Primary. And Sister Fest.

Each year I go away with the most wonderful person in the world, my sister Monica, for what we call “Sister Fest.” This is less a “Girls Gone Wild” bacchanalia than a break from dishes and laundry, but it’s something fun and highly anticipated. We are sometimes joined by our other “sisters,” close friends who go way back with us and who we call family, but this year we went solo and we went rogue. While in the past we have hit various cities with hurricane-force consumerism, this time we went… to the Borgata in Atlantic City. I had never been to a casino before – it was just like a spa, right?
            Wrong. Apparently, it is not like a spa, except if you are in search of services called “aggression” and “lung cancer.” Since I don’t gamble and smoking is my biggest heebie-jeebie I am, perhaps, not the prevailing Borgata customer. But Monica and I have fun wherever we are, and last weekend we had fun at the Borgata too. We landed in the one non-smoking bar where a mass of people were watching the start of March Madness on HUGE television screens. Everyone was cheering for Marquette. I do not know why. When Monica went to the bathroom and I found myself bored, I cued into the game and began to cheer for Davidson. The nice guy next to me asked if I had gone there, and when I answered: “No. It’s just a better school than Marquette” I triggered an avalanche of condescending lessons on how to pick a winning team for a bracket. The thing was, all of the reasons that were sold to me as the “real” reasons to pick a winning team seemed almost as arbitrary as mine: Fealty towards an alma mater, a geographic region where the school was located, the team’s ranking (this, clearly, less arbitrary) etc. because in the end – someone makes a great shot, someone loses a big shot, or someone gets shot and the prognostication goes to crap. The late Don Frazier, my wonderful faculty mentor whom I miss every day, once said about his beloved Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl: “They’re predicted to win. But that’s why they play the game.” All of this, of course, made me think about politics and the Invisible Primary. 
            No less an authority than the WaPo’s Fix has now bracketed the 2016 presidential potentials. This is as much fun for politicos as the real March Madness is for sports nuts, because it allows us to consider some wild match-ups. But at the exact same time it’s even sillier than bracketing the college hoops teams because if the sports stuff is slightly predicated on guess work, then the 2016 picks are entirely built on confirmation bias. This is the phenomenon that says we seek out and receive information that corroborates what we already think, and it explains certain strange actions – like Sheldon Adelson funding so much of Newt Gingrich’s 2012 campaign. He really thought Newt had a chance? Really? Anyway, confirmation bias is the thing that makes us look at our Invisible Primary contenders and eschew those we think wanting or embrace those whom we think to be winners. The truth? It’s WAY too early to bracket anything, because the money’s not there.
            Forget the Super PAC mishegoss – I’m talking hard money donations and of course those aren’t in yet because you need to file first with the FEC in order to raise real money. The money accrued during the I.P. is clutch, and this is just like the March Madness basketball rankings: It is perhaps the most compelling factor that will contribute to a candidate’s success, but it isn’t a given. In other words, if you start out with a huge bank you go into a long and expensive primary period on solid ground. You can run ads up the wazoo, fly all over the place, walk the length of New Hampshire if you want to (but you don’t. Right, Lamar Alexander?). It’s one solid predictor of success, because it shows existing fund raising skills and predicts solid name recognition and campaign success. But just like the basketball rankings, it doesn’t guarantee anything: You still have to play the game. And just as there have been upsets in March Madness, there will be upsets in the primaries, both Invisible and highly visible. It’s why we play the game. So right now, I look to the political brackets the same way I looked to the March Madness brackets – I select my winners based on some fact and a hearty amount of favoritism. I'm looking at you, Joe Biden.
            Monica and I abandoned the Borgata early because she got sick and I flatly refused to gamble, but our Sister Fest resumed at her house where I still rejected laundry and dishes and we continued to have fun. Just like the sports fans love March Madness, and just like we poli-sci-riffic fans love the Invisible Primary, I love Sister Fest. It’s the one event where no predictions are necessary, because the outcome is inevitable.  

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