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Silver's Playbook 

Publisher's Note

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Most people loved following Nate Silver during the most recent presidential election cycle — in fact, 20 percent of the New York Times’ online traffic came from his FiveThirtyEight blog. I say “most” because pundits, pollsters and Mitt Romney didn’t care for him, since he accurately predicted an Obama blowout. Now Silver’s been hired by ESPN — a bit odd, unless you recall that he started his statistical career by parsing baseball down to its subatomic particles.

I remember when I was a reporter in Boston, everybody always said the city’s two addictions were politics and sports. I’ve thought about that intersection a lot over the years when I’ve wished there was a decent way to size up our politicians.

Of course, in sports we have an extremely accurate system for that — statistics. In baseball alone, we have RBI, on-base percentage, ERA and strikeout percentage. If a player is truly great, it jumps right off the stat sheet.

Keep in mind, this is all for entertainment — so why don’t we have anything similar for our elected officials? There’s no clear way to judge them, and we’re paying the price — wars, sequesters, subprime mortgage bubbles, [fill in your own favorite epic Congressional fail here].

Imagine your least favorite politician as a baseball player. He steps into the on-deck circle, poses and preens for the cameras. Once in the batter’s box, he adjusts his glove, tips his helmet just right and stares blankly as three pitches travel right over the middle of the plate. “Yer out!” He cluelessly waves to the crowd as he walks back to the dugout.

The problem is, we don’t know which of our leaders are connecting on legislation that helps Americans, versus those who just keep striking out.

If somebody could create a system of statistics to allow everyday Americans to judge the players we’ve fielded for our most important game, we’d know who deserves a seat on the bench. What’s John Boehner’s RWI? That’s the Right/Wrong Index, showing how often he has been wrong about the most important issues of our time. (There’s complexity to work out, to be sure, as judging right and wrong will take something like an umpire to call balls and strikes — perhaps an impartial panel of judges.) How’s Patty Murray’s BQ? That’s the Bipartisan Quotient, reflecting how often she does or does not work with members of the opposing party. Or the BAPF (Bought And Paid For rating, telling how often a politician does his donors’ bidding), or the PF (like a political home run, it denotes a Problem Fixed).

We know to the tenth of a percent how good a job A-Rod is doing, but we just kind of guess at Barack Obama’s efficiency. That’s messed up.

Hey, Nate Silver, we need your help! 

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