Thursday, July 3, 2008

Unforced Errors

I don’t recall having heard of the term “unforced errors” before today. I did not know what it meant. Google to the rescue!

From CEOs take a lesson from tennis: Unforced errors can be fatal by Del Jones:

In tennis there is something called an unforced error. Sometimes it's a routine shot that is hit out of bounds or into the net. Others it's a double fault on the serve. It's always a lost point that has little to do with the opponent. In tennis, unforced errors are a ticket to failure.
The word unforced seems kind of forced. Are there forced errors? Yes, there are, at least in tennis. A forced error is "an error resulting from a good shot by the opponent." Compare to the unforced error: "Loss of a point caused by a poorly hit shot that goes into the net or out of the court." See the difference? I don’t, but I have no interest in tennis.

It seems that many people like to apply these tennis terms to politics, especially political campaigns. Why? I don’t know. I suppose it is just another way for political types to confuse simpletons like me. I think they try to do this because they really have nothing of value to say, so they speak in jargon and gibberish. Like our current president.

To me, an error is an error, whether forced or not. This is not the case for the McCain campaign.

From McCain shakes up staff amid concern about 'unforced errors' by Dana Bash:
Sen. John McCain's campaign announced a shakeup at the top Wednesday, in the wake of growing Republican concern about its ability to compete against Sen. Barack Obama.

Campaign manager Rick Davis said Tuesday that senior adviser Steve Schmidt would take over day-to-day operations of the campaign.
Schmidt's top priority, according to a senior aide, will be to stop "unforced errors in the campaign."
Why not just use the phrase “errors in the campaign”? Why bring tennis into it. Bringing tennis into it seems elitist to me.

Now lets look at some of those errors.

More from McCain shakes up staff amid concern about 'unforced errors' by Dana Bash:
  • Hiring, then firing, lobbyists who worked for the military junta in Myanmar, then creating a strict anti-lobbyist policy that caused several lobbyists to be dismissed from the campaign.

  • Poor vetting that led to endorsements by controversial figures like ministers John Hagee and Rod Parsley, which McCain didn't reject until after months of bad press.

  • The campaign also paid for a TV ad to distance McCain from President Bush. The ad's script read, "John McCain stood up to the president and sounded the alarm on global warming ... five years ago." McCain later reversed his position and stood with Bush on the controversial idea of offshore oil drilling.
After writing all of this I think I finally get it. For the McCain campaign these are unforced errors because they are making mistakes all by themselves. A forced error would be one they made in response to something skillful that Barack Obama had done. The picture painted for me from all of this is one of McCain as some sort of bumbling idiot that can’t even run his campaign right. Given past behavioral patterns, the American voters response to this will probably be: “Let’s put him in the White House!”

My hope is that the game of politics is more like the game of tennis than I think it is. “In tennis, unforced errors are a ticket to failure.” Maybe then Barack Obama will be our next president. I propose a new slogan for democracy: “May he who has made the least unforced errors win!” We all know that our votes don’t count anyway.

Who would have thought that you would need to understand the game of tennis in order to understand the game of political campaigning?

Maybe I’ll give tennis another try, now that I understand it better. I probably won’t though.

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