Moneyball and political commentary

Greg Hywood in The Age this morning has one of his most rational pieces for the year.
However I couldn’t resist the comparison with the sports commentary of Moneyball. Hywood has made up his own standards of success. Try this:

It is acceptable in the Australian system of relatively short three-year flexible parliamentary terms for an opposition to lose two elections. Even losing a third can be justified if the government is cohesive and the economy strong. But failing at the fourth attempt and beyond is poor form, indicating an inability to shape the policy agenda and to instil confidence by way of sustained political dominance of the government.

It’s really amazing how such small changes in public mood can be interpretted by commentators in such a definitive sense. An election held in Australia in the current environment is, in Billy Beane’s [Moneyball’s GM of the Oakland A’s] words is a “crapshoot”.
There are so many things that could affect the outcome of the coming election. In all likelihood, it will be decided by a few thousand votes. If Latham gets those votes, he will be labelled a master tactitian who was able to capture the mind of the Australian electorate. If he doesn’t he will be labelled as an experiment that went wrong, dismally unable to adequately portray his message.
It sounds so much like the commentary on the Oakland A’s playoff campaign. Not matter that they had won more games in the regular season than all but two other teams, once they failed by one win to get through the playoffs, their “style of play was not suited to the pressure of the playoffs.”
I wonder what Hywood would have as the result of dismal failure. If a political party fails to win government after three successice attempts, does that mean the electoral commission should come along, stamp “FAIL” on its registration and bar it from participating in furture elections.
Where does Hywood get his standards of acceptability from?
It reminds me of [my beloved AFL team] Essendon’s performance over 1999-2001. Despite winning an amazing proportion of its games over the three years, finishing the home and away season on top of the ladder each time, the team was labelled an ‘underperformer’ for winning only one premiership. The clup president said it was simply unacceptable.
The problem is, no matter how good you are, you can’t make absolutely certain of anything in this life. There are things outside your control. The difference between the best AFL team and the worst is miniscule when compared to lower leagues. Given how closely matched they are, everything has to go right for the best team to beat the second best on any given day.
The same is true in politics and business and many other fields of human endeavour. This isn’t surprising. What is is the failure of commentators to take even the slightest heed to this fact and set themselves up to determine with absolute certainty to describe the reasons why one event happened and another didn’t.

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