If it’s true that there’s no crying in baseball, assays in A League of Their Own, it’s also true that there are no puns in punditry. Having read a gaggle - or is it a google - of columns from the American Pundit competition, I found occasional sarcasm and a plethora of biting wit but not one actual pun. This is no mean feat on the part of these Allvoices pundits, especially considering the often low-brow, low-rent choices faced by American voters, which writers like myself might yearn to call the lesser of two weevils. (And yes, it’s crap lines like that which disqualify me from winning any competitions of punditry.)
The word pun derives from the Italian pontiglio, which essentially means wordplay, and which rhymes so nicely with fun. By contrast, pundit - a person who expresses expert opinions - comes to us from the sanskrit word pandita, meaning a learned person or a scholar
While the American television is filled with many who consider themselves pundits, I’m not certain which of the O’Reillys and Roves measure up to one of the loveliest words in the Englsh language - scholar. But in reading through the Allvoices columns of army vet TJ Larson, veteran journalist Rob Lafferty and the knowledgeable and prolific Maryann Tobin, I was amazed at the breadth of the topics they covered with both evidence and insight. In the shouted doom of American political commentary, their quiet voices rise above the din.
A few decades ago when I was deploying an occasional pun in comedy clubs, the great comedian Jackie Leonard told me that the key to American comedy was to “Talk softly and carry a big schtick.”
In the best of all possible worlds – a world inhabited by writers like Tobin and Larson – the keys to American punditry are meticulous research, flawless logic, straightforward vocabulary and a haunting result. Once lodged in your head, these writers’ facts and conclusions beg to be shared. In our world of near-instant journalism, the best way to achieve your punditry goals is to be widely shared.
It also helps to be on the right side of an issue, and to constantly question whether you are also on the side of right. Nearly every American pundit who trumped the “inevitable” Presidential victory of Mitt What’s-His-Name now appears to have been either falling for a lie or selling one. Writing things that 40-something percent of Americans want to hear does not show your lack of “liberal media bias,” Ms. Noonan and Mr. Rove - it shows your lack of connection to reality and the depth of your affinity for big money. It doesn’t take a pundit to spread the anti-regulation, anti-labor and anti-environmental policies of the Koch Brothers. It just takes a cynic who no longer believes there is a better way.
There is always a better way. As this confounding and often confusing year draws to a close, the nearly 200 columns of Maryann Tobin show that the arc and ultimate outcome of the election year was clear to her from the beginning.
“The rise in the polls for President Obama,” Tobin wrote last February in a column about Rick Santorum’s out of touch views on sex and birth control, “is beginning to show that the American people are more moderate in their views than the GOP thinks.”
About her dialectic opposites, I can only say, Bill O’Really? Is Scarborough Fair? Is Glenn Back? Will Karl Rove? Only the political winds - or perhaps the Koch Brothers’ checkbooks – can say for sure.
On the other hand, these three Allvoices writers - and many others like them - are clearly in a league of their own, one in which there are no team owners. I take comfort in knowing that. Besides, there's way too much crying in politics.
Grand Prize: Maryann Tobin
Runner Up: TJ Larson
Honorable Mention: Rob Lafferty
Turk Pipkin is a writer, director and founder of the Nobelity Project.