Commentary Magazine


The Election of Unintended Consequences

The New York Times is learning about unintended consequences. Having run a shoddy piece about John McCain’s supposedly questionable judgment, the paper now finds itself having to defend its own integrity.

In response to overwhelming reader disapproval, Times executive editor Bill Keller wrote:

I was surprised by how lopsided the opinion was against our decision, with readers who described themselves as independents and Democrats joining Republicans in defending Mr. McCain from what they saw as a cheap shot.

The boomerang effect of this non-scandal and the way it has redistributed sympathies recalls another recent phenomenon that unfolded this primary season: the Clintons’ failed exploitation of identity Democrats. Hillary decided that winning the Democratic nomination was a crude matter of mathematics. Getting all of the white vote and most of the Hispanic vote would do the trick, and playing on those groups’ prejudices would secure their support. She and Bill intentionally isolated the white vote, pandering to a section of the electorate they thought would somehow fear Obama’s nomination. Not only did she begin to lose support amongst blacks (which presumably, she thought she could survive), but whites and Hispanics saw the effort for what it was and were repelled. In two months time, the Clintons gave Obama heaping chunks of every demographic group.

Could it be that the McCain flap marks the beginning of the New York Times’ trip Hillaryward? Times sales are already ailing, and if the paper continues to dig in on this discredited position it won’t help matters.

As for the Democratic candidates, they should note there’s another boomerang on its return: the Iraq war. The more Obama and Hillary attempt to garner partisan credibility by distancing themselves from the war that’s being won, the worse that boomerang will sting one of them in November when McCain gets his due for always supporting the effort. The law of unintended consequences is taking no prisoners this election season.