When people ask why I blog, one of the reasons I give is the challenge of writing on the public highwire. One of the best ways to improve your writing is to do it every day in front of a crowd, knowing that if you screw up, everyone will see you screw up, and they will hoot about it. That constant scrutiny encourages every online writer to get his or her facts and analysis right before hitting "Publish."
But I still mess up. I'm sure you, dear readers, can cite more examples. But here are four political stories where I made the wrong call in 2012:
1. Carmen Toft, Menace to Society? No: Good Samaritan. Back in May, the press and the right-wing blogosphere erupted with reports that Carmen Toft, Planned Parenthood advocate and Democratic candidate for District 10 House, had been cited for drunk driving and careless driving after hitting a seven-year-old girl on a bicycle. The screaming morons of the right leapt to horrible conclusions... and I, lacking any other evidence than what the press was shouting, bid Toft's candidacy good riddance.
But did you notice there was never any follow-up in the press? Did you notice Toft never faced trial or conviction? There was no trial because there was no collision. Toft didn't hit the kid. Toft stopped to help a kid who'd fallen. The police screwed up, the press screwed up, and I screwed up. I apologize now. The pro-life fanatics who used this false story to bolster their worldview and insult an innocent woman likely will not.
2. Our Next Congressman, Jeff Barth! Democratic candidate for U.S. House Jeff Barth proved that I still suffer a pathological affinity for the underdog and an irrepressible passion for surprise and drama in politics. His popular, funny, and brilliant online campaign video grabbed national attention in a way that his opponent Matt Varilek never did during the primary or the general election. Yet as anyone looking at endorsements and campaign finance and ground game should have seen coming—heck, even as I could see coming as I endorsed Barth—Varilek coasted to victory in the primary, beating Barth 72% to 28%.
3. Our Next Congressman, Matt Varilek! I'm still chapped here. Kristi Noem had no record to run on. She'd shirked her job. She ran scared, in constant attack mode with negative ads ranging from false to laughable. Matt Varilek had more education and experience and clear ability to do the job of Congressman.
But I made one fundamental mistake: I was thinking like a Democrat. I keep thinking a campaign is a job interview, and that we are picking the person who can do the job best. Unfortunately, the candidates were interviewing for two different jobs. Varilek was interviewing for the job of Representative and policymaker. Noem was interviewing for the job of glamourous horseback icon of South Dakota values, political obstructionist, and party fundraiser. And she got the job. Noem gained voters in every county over her 2010 totals; Varilek lost voters compared to Stephanie Herseth Sandlin's 2010 counts.
4. Dan Kaiser, No Chance of Winning? Aberdeen, I thought you were smarter than this. Police officer Dan Kaiser tells you he picks and chooses which laws to enforce. He tells you he supports Ron Paul and nullification. He tells you he'd close Northern State University. Yet you elect him to one of your District 3 House seats. Oh well, Wolves: start filing your transfer papers!