Heaven help me, but I'm going to take issue with a political satirist.
And not just any political satirist, mind you, but Jon Stewart
himself. On his Monday show, Stewart lampooned the tendency of
journo-punditocrats to opine that the interpretation of the election
matters as much as the election itself. The humor was based on the
premise that both sides will have their spin, pundits will dutifully
select whatever spin fits the moment, and then, even though they know
they're not telling the truth, will focus the collective mind in such a
way as to perpetuate a distorted meaning of the election.
Hey -- a stopped clock is always right at least twice a day. To read election results is to interpret them. Interpretation is an active and iterative process. And the results of one set of elections -- after being interpreted -- often influences how the next set of elections are run.
But it's important for analysts to get it right. It's important for good analysts to recognize, as many don't seem to want to do, that it's in the parochial interests of moderate Hill Democrats to interpret Virginia and New Jersey as a plea for Washington to step on the brakes or clear the slate or whatever temporal slowdown metaphor they want to use. It's in the parochial interest of Republicans to interpret New Jersey and Virginia as a harbinger for the Democratic agenda in 2010 and 2012. And it's in the self-interest (and self-identity) of Virginia and New Jersey voters to assert that their election had nothing to do whatsoever with sending a message to politicians who weren't a ballot but were, instead, about local issues.