As part of my futile war on bad analysis, I give to you today a piece at Salon by H.A. Goodman titled “Hillary Clinton just can’t win: Democrats need to accept that only Bernie Sanders can defeat the GOP.” The thesis of the article, as you may have surmised, is that Bernie Sanders is a better general election candidate than Hilary Clinton. As usual, I am not taking sides on the conclusion, just the reasoning, and here we have a particularly bad example of the latter.
According to Goodman, in the leading sentence of his second paragraph:
Bernie Sanders is the only Democratic candidate capable of winning the White House in 2016. Please name the last person to win the presidency alongside an ongoing FBI investigation, negative favorability ratings, questions about character linked to continual flip-flops, a dubious money trail of donors, and the genuine contempt of the rival political party.
If this is supposed to be a compelling argument, then Goodman doesn’t have much of a case. There have only been 43 Presidents (and 44 presidencies) in the United States since its inception. If you exclude white and male, virtually any description of a President leaves him looking different than his peers (excepting lawyer, Virginian and farmer). For example, please name the last time a Jew won the presidency? When was the last time a socialist won? Or we can string adjectives together to make it sound as if we are dealing in precision: please name the last time a New York-born Jew, who graduated from the University of Chicago (though clearly not from the economics department) who is an avowed, socialist, who was played by Larry David on Saturday Night Live won the presidency?
I don’t know whether Goodman will be proven right or wrong that “Vermont’s senator will become our next president,” but I do know that if this is the level of analysis behind his prediction then it will be because of chance, not reasoning.