What Consensus Can’t Tell Us

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So there seems to be a consensus now in the press about the state and direction of the Democratic race, judging by the saturation level of stories telling us about Hillary Clinton’s dire straits. With the Democratic contenders debating for the last time before the Iowa caucuses as I write (I’m on a train, so not watching), it seems like a good time to note that — trends, media mood swings and polls notwithstanding — this thing ain’t over. Not only that, but there’s a good chance that today’s stories — the ones that suggest Hillary is tanking in Iowa, that her campaign staff is in turmoil, and that even New Hampshire won’t save her — are as likely to be lagging indicators as they are accurate prophesies. Which is not to say that I think Hillary has staunched the bleeding or Obama has plateaued or Edwards has got his mojo back. I don’t know. And I’m not saying that the stories about Clinton’s woes or Obama’s surge are wrong. I think they’re probably right. But what happens when everyone in the media writes or broadcasts the same story is that the sheer throwweight of observation about what’s happening now becomes predictive about what will happen later. And if we learned anything from 2004, it’s that outcomes in Iowa can’t be predicted three weeks in advance any more than they could have been when the conventional wisdom held that Hillary was marching inexorably to victory. Having said that — who’s winning the debate?