Commentary Magazine


Thanks for Proving the Obvious

Nate Silver, the liberal political blogger, has built a reputation as a valuable writer who has successfully transferred to politics the research and analysis skills he learned in the field of baseball statistics. Among the many disciples of the seminal baseball stat genius Bill James, Silver now seeks to apply the same sort of rigorous dissecting of data to polls and voting results, albeit with the sort of liberal twist that readers of the New York Times, which now hosts his FiveThirty Eight blog, appreciate.

And just as Silver and his fellow SABRmetric geeks have gradually taught the baseball world to stop ignoring the obvious truth that on-base percentage is more important than batting average, he sometimes has the task of convincing his fellow liberals of equally obvious, if inconvenient, facts. It is in that spirit that his long post today proves statistically that Democratic members of Congress who voted for ObamaCare suffered at the polls. If such a thesis seems so obvious that it doesn’t even require statistical proof, the decision of House Democrats to re-elect Nancy Pelosi as their leader and the liberal push for Obama to double down on his hyper-liberal expansion of government power illustrates the left’s instinctual desire to prove that the verdict of the voters should on no account be seen as a rejection of liberalism. So as pedantic and painfully obvious as his essay on the subject may seem, it is not without educational value for those on the left who may be susceptible to reason.

Those who enjoyed Silver’s work on baseball could also appreciate his piece this past weekend on the presidential prospects of Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. Employing the SABRmetric term of art, “league average,” which references a theoretical player against whom a real athlete’s production may be judged as either above or below “replacement level,” Silver seems right on target when he characterizes the presentable but unremarkable Minnesotan as the sort of player who never amounts to anything special: “Mr. Pawlenty is in danger of becoming the Gregg Jefferies of politics: the perpetual prospect who never blossoms into more than a league-average politician. And — although there are a few exceptions (Mr. Kerry might be one) — league-average politicians do not usually become their party’s Presidential nominees.”