President Barack Obama looks like he'll win re-election. Obama looks like he can lose. Michele Bachman could never get the Republican nomination. Michele Bachmann could be the surprise GOP nominee. The political class would never allow a debt ceiling default. A debt ceiling default could happen.
Where does the ever-shifting conventional wisdom come from? A little known secret: it's quietly created and packaged by Harry Saslavsky of "I Say U Say Corp." Saslavsky writes and distributes the conventional wisdom themes used by seemingly all-knowing pundits. Most editions have short shelf lives. You hear them, then suddenly never hear about them again.
I got a rare interview with Saslavsky during a bad week for him: Orders were down.
"It's that Mark Halperin who works for TIME and is a talking head on MSNBC," he grumbled. "On Morning, Joe, he called Barack Obama a d-word almost spelled like 'duck' and was indefinitely suspended by MSNBC. He was one of our biggest distributors of Washington conventional wisdom. Thank God he's still doing his Time internet page!"
"What is the conventional wisdom?"
"It's what pundits or experts say based on often unverifiable assumptions stated and accepted as fact. Conventional wisdom doesn't work, unless it's proclaimed with arrogant, smug certainty."
"Is your product durable?"
"Highly. Conventional wisdom edges out contradictory information and leaves little seeds that sprout later. The product only vanishes when it totally falls apart, or is willingly discarded by the user. But these days,it can still thrive on talk shows, internet sites, and Twitter long after it has been scrapped or outdated."
"How long has conventional wisdom been around?"
"It has been been around before people were sure the world was flat. The actual term dates back to 1838."
CNN's John Avlon points to a May Gallup poll indicating a majority of Americans want a third party, plus another poll finding 41 percent of Americans are self-described independents. If more Americans are independents is that less fertile ground?
"Independent indeshmendent. As long as they buy the latest conventional wisdom I peddle and my customers distribute, I'm satisfied. And most will: accepting conventional wisdom eliminates tiring independent thought, inquisitiveness and skepticism ..."
"So you only sell conventional wisdom narratives?"
"Oh, no we also created conventional talk show guest performance guidelines. National Interest columnist Dick Polman grasped our guidelines in his Public Interest column when he wrote about Halperin's suspension:
'"Guests are expected to be bold and provocative, to talk trash, to walk the ill-defined line without ever quite crossing it. It's a tough environment for those journalists who are uncomfortable dispensing off-the-cuff opinions, because, if they are too measured in their remarks, they won't be invited back ... Halperin is taking the hit for a political/media culture that perpetually goads its talkers to push the boundaries of acceptability, even as those boundaries keep receding.'"
I asked him what was in a huge stack of cartons piled to the top of the ceiling.
"Rugs. Newspaper editors correct errors or run analyses later on to correct a patently wrong analysis. Many TV and Internet pundits buy rugs, so they can quietly sweep inoperative conventional wisdom under them."
"Who's your company's biggest buyer of rugs?"
"Matt Drudge. He almost never runs corrections. Things just disappear from his site."
"Who's the country's biggest buyer of rugs?"
"William Shatner. But those go on his head."
Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist, who has appeared on cable news show political panels and is Editor-in-Chief of The Moderate Voice, an Internet hub for independents, centrists and moderates. He can be reached at email@example.com.