Tag Archives: Politics

Anderson’s Paradox

Anderson’s Paradox: In politics, facts are opinions, and opinions are facts.

 Huh? Welcome to modern American politics. Read on.

Facts are Opinons.

Al Franken has a standard phrase in senate speeches and political interviews: “You are entitled to your own opinions, but you aren’t entitled to your own facts.” I’m a big fan of Al Franken, but I think he’s wrong. In a digital age where the “facts” are often presented by corporations, political groups, hero pundits, and other motivated interests, we have a hard time of knowing just how honest a fact is. Does global warming exist?  Depends on who you ask. Each side has their own set of “facts” to prove their opinions.

Show me a set of “facts” to prove that the Democrat’s health care plan will ruin America, and I will show you a set of “facts” to prove that it will save America. Show me a set of “facts” to prove that the economy is getting better as a result of Obama’s strategic efforts, and I will show you a set of “facts” to prove it is getting worse. What the internet provides in terms of “facts” is great, but what it lacks in terms of “truth” is even worse.

There are three causes of the “facts are opinions” paradox. First, we seem to have great confidence in our scientific thinking, despite a complete lack of training or awareness of the scientific process. In just a few seconds, we can read and interpret graphs, charts, tables, and data sets and walk away with what we think is a conclusive understanding. Second, we tend to enjoy great leaps of logic that begin with soft data and end with hard truths. We do so largely based on ethos rather than logos. Our affirmation or rejection of internet-based data is more often based on “who” is telling us that this data is true rather than the “what, when, where, how” and most importantly “why”  they are telling us this is true. Whatever filter we use to dismiss data from villian-source seems to disappear when we readily accept data from hero-source. Third, we tend to start with the conclusion and end with the data, and the internet gives us plenty of fuel for our fire. Every home with an angry person armed with a thousand facts to prove the Democrats wrong is countered by an angry person armed with a thousand facts to prove the Republicans wrong. Neither person will accept the “facts” of the other, and both persons believe their “facts” to be the Truth.

Oh sure, you believe that your facts are better than my facts, but if I can make the same argument, then we are at an impasse. In the last thirty years, the quantity of senate and house votes has made a much bigger difference than the quality of their arguments, regardless of the controlling party.

In short, 1) the internet has made it impossible for us to discover the truth when there is any competition for opinion, and 2) the facts and data we often accept as True are acceptable for reasons other than science or fact, and 3) even if we did possess the Truth, nobody would believe us except for those who already do.

So I’m no longer interested in facts. I can’t trust facts anymore, they are too opinionated. What I DO trust are opinions, and I’m increasingly convinced that the path back to political civility isn’t through facts, but opinions.

Opinions are Facts.

Our opinions stem from our values, and partisan politics is simply a juxtoposition of values. If you strip a political argument of  hyperbole, fear, smokescreens, and other “facts,” what remains are values. Republicans value security and economic freedom. Democrats value liberty and social freedom. Consequently, much of what we call partisan politics is simply an effort to protect and preserve the values that we believe to be most important. The health care debate, for example, is really a debate about economic freedom – either from the government or from corporations, and the health care system itself is simply the point at which these competing values clash. The same is true for the environment, education, international conflict, and whatever else may dominate the evening news.

While I’ve lost faith in our ability to debate the facts, I have a great deal of confidence in our ability to debate our values. Unfortunately, we tend not to debate our values because we perceive them to be unchangeable. We’ve also redefined “values” to mean religious convictions, which is unfortunate. For whatever I may or may not believe about religion in America, I think we ought to be clear that religion should support our values and not the other way around. To presume otherwise is to falsely believe that if there is no religion, there can be no values.

So what could our nation look like if we put down our facts and picked up our values? What if we debated the health care legislation in terms of whether a government for the people is more important than a government of the people? What if the gay marriage debate started sounding more like a debate about which rights are unalienable? Messy at first, for sure, but I suspect that minds are more likely changed – including my own – by focusing on internal values rather than external facts.

Why This Matters

Modern political debate seems to reject personal opinion and rely heavily on “facts” that are neither reliable nor useful regardless of their validity. Doing so has created an impasse with no hope of resolution. Both sides believe that they have a monopoly on Truth, and neither side seems particularly interested in hearing what the other side has to say.

We tend to shoot each other with our “fact guns” and then wonder why nobody is falling down, so we call our targets too stupid to understand how convincing our bullets are. Maybe our facts aren’t nearly as powerful as we think them to be. Perhaps it is because we presume that we all share the same values, which we do not. We don’t all share the same values, and until we acknowledge this, we aren’t going to make very much progress.

You think I’m too stupid to understand that this health care legislation will bankrupt our nation. I think you are too stupid to understand that our health care system is bankrupting our nation. Both of us are armed to the teeth with facts, and neither of us show much sign of budging. Both of us value economic freedom, but one of us wants freedom from an oppressive government while the other wants freedom from coporate greed.

Like two ships passing in the night, we are both advocating for economic freedom but from completely different vantage points. You want economic freedom from an oppressive government, and I want economic freedom from the unregulated health care industry. Maybe it’s time to talk about civil rights (protection OF the government) versus civil liberties (protection FROM the government). If we found some common ground on this debate, we could apply those values to the case in point.

In order to determine what is right or wrong, we must depend more on our internal values than our external facts. Let’s eliminate the hyperbole, fear, smokescreens and other “facts” and start addressing our core values that support our opinions. If it’s right, we ought to do it. If it’s wrong, we ought not to do it. We are capable of determining right and wrong not by analyzing facts, but by comparing values.

This is my resolution for this year. I’m going to stop trying to debate facts and start trying to compare values. To be honest, I don’t know what that always mean or look like, but I think it is a start toward resolving our greatest conflicts.

Your thoughts? Please comment!


October Surprises

First, I encourage the McCain campaign to continue talking about redistributing wealth. While the Republican base goes out-of-their-skull angry at such notions, the rest of the country doesn’t think it’s such a bad idea.

Now, let’s revisit the list of October Surprise predictions I made on October 1st:

10. Biden is replaced by Hilary on veep ticket.

9. The whisper campaign that Obama is a Muslim who refuses to wear a flag pin or say the Pledge of Allegiance nonsense is amplified in targeted communities through locally published and anonymous flyers, postings, and other publicly controlled media. HAPPENED (except they’ve elevated their rhetoric toward simply accusing him of terrorism)

8. The Republican congress holds out on the bailout until mid-October, then suddenly votes for a stimulus/bailout package that temporarily and artificially induces the populace into an economy-is-good-McCain-must-be-ok sort of stupor.

7. McCain gets a foothold on the Rezko or Ayers stories that currently have little or no traction. HAPPENED – Here’s the Link

6. The RNC raises the battleflag of voter fraud and claims to have evidence that Republicans are being targeted, specifically in targeted districts where Republicans are needed to flock to the polls. HAPPENED – Here’s the Link

5. Palin is replaced by Romney on veep ticket.

4. Some major event occurs in the Middle East that reminds us of the threat: a new videotape from Osama Bin Laden, a major threat is exposed, a grand plot is uncovered, or Iran shows signs of going off the deep-end once and for all. HAPPENED – Syria – Here’s the Link

3. Some completely as-of-yet-unknown story or detail that completely catches everyone off guard. HAPPENED – Obama bombshell audio tape discovered – Here’s the Link

2. As if from heaven, gas prices will fall as OPEC manipulates the market due to “significant western economic fluctuations”. HAPPENED – lowest gas prices in six decades – Here’s the Link

1. The government increases the security threat under the guise of securing economic interests. HASN’T HAPPENED (YET)

Well, I got six of ten correct, and I’m still holding out on #1. I think the Syria connection provides a good backdrop for raising the security threat in the next few days. Stay tuned!

Is the Media Biased Against John McCain?

One of our regular posters, Truth, submitted a comment yesterday with a link to a website that proved that the media has run many more negative stories about McCain than about Obama. You can click here to visit the site he referenced.  I have no problem believing the data in the graph, so let’s assume that this is true.

While the data is true, and while it appears to confirm the Republican mantra about the “left wing media,” I would ask that you consider the analysis provided further down the page:

Is there some element in these numbers that reflects a rooting by journalists for Obama and against McCain, unconscious or otherwise? The data do not provide conclusive answers. They do offer a strong suggestion that winning in politics begat winning coverage, thanks in part to the relentless tendency of the press to frame its coverage of national elections as running narratives about the relative position of the candidates in the polls and internal tactical maneuvering to alter those positions. Obama’s coverage was negative in tone when he was dropping in the polls, and became positive when he began to rise, and it was just so for McCain as well. Nor are these numbers different than what we have seen before. Obama’s numbers are similar to what we saw for John Kerry four years ago as he began rising in the polls, and McCain’s numbers are almost identical to what we saw eight years ago for Democrat Al Gore.

I absolutely agree that there are liberal media outlets and conservative media outlets. I absolutely disagree that the journalistic institution, as a whole, leans to the left or the right. Before my conservative friends start cherry-picking websites and research that proves a left-wing media bias, I’ll remind you that there are just as many that prove either a conservative bias or no bias at all. I’ve checked, and I think you’ll find the same thing.

I strongly suspect that emotional memory trumps fact when it comes to personal regard for media bias. We remember all of the bad headlines (which we view as unfair) and forget all the good headlines (which we view as fair).

My conservative friends are outraged that Ayers and ACORN and Wright aren’t getting more attention from the media. I’m outraged that Palin’s several scandals and McCain’s Keating 5 associations aren’t getting more attention. Just like my conservative friends, I’m outraged that the other guy is getting a free pass on so many important issues. Perhaps the issue isn’t with the media, perhaps the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

The media loves a tasty headline, and it doesn’t matter whose head is on the chopping block.

21 Days

Is anyone else nervous that John McCain, the entire Republican party, and nearly all pundits (left and right) have all but declared the election a win for Obama?  Granted, McCain is still promising a win in November, but he has deliberately improved the tone of his campaign and has essentially vowed to “play nice” for the next three weeks. This is what you do when you know you are going to lose and you want to salvage any remaining shred of dignity.

This makes me really, really nervous.

Barack Obama Will Win The Presidency, If . . .

Obama is holding steady in the horserace for the presidency. Currently, he’s 4.6% ahead of McCain in the popular vote. He’s up 64 electoral votes, and of the 178 votes from toss-up states, 104 of them go to Obama. When you measure only the toss-up states with a margin of at least 3%, Obama gets 59 votes, whereas McCain only gets 11. You can use the stats from yesterday’s posts to see how I arrive at these numbers.

In the past two weeks, Obama’s stock has risen steadily while McCain’s stock has slowly declined. Bottom line: Obama is winning, and is winning fairly handily.  That doesn’t make a whole lot of difference right now, though, as there is plenty of time for things to go haywire.

So here is a Beginner’s Guide to watching the rest of the campaign season:

What does Obama need to do?

“Never argue with a fool, people won’t be able to tell who is who.”  While McCain is hardly a fool, Obama is taking this advice to heart and will spend the next four weeks avoiding confrontation. For as long as he is in the lead, Obama needs to stay quiet. He’ll continue campaigning strongly, continue running ads in key markets, and keep up the excellent grassroots efforts.  Obama will resist the temptation to create drama just to put the headlines back on him.  The next month will be a test of Obama’s ability to generate and maintain political endurance. I’m assuming that the campaign’s energies are going toward individual counties and areas of opportunity. Democrats will want Obama to be large and in charge, but this is neither effective nor is it his style. There’s no reason to show more of your cards than is absolutely necessary, so Obama will focus on zip codes, not states for as long as the campaign will allow.

What does McCain need to do?

McCain will spend the next month trying to steal the spotlight from Obama in politically safe ways. If he can’t do it safely, he’s proven in the past that a couple of Hail Mary’s aren’t out of the question. Look for McCain to continue to do things that shake up the race and catch people off guard – choosing Palin and suspending his campaign are two great examples of the sort of drastic action McCain will need to continue to offer as a regular part of his campaign. We will continue to see both parties fire safe shots from a safe distance, but watch for McCain’s volleys to be a little more stinging and forceful. He’ll try to engage Obama to go head-to-head, which makes them appear more even than they are.

What is each candidate trying to accomplish in the last 30 days?

Obama proved many times during the primaries that he is a master of the map – he knows districts and counties like the back of his hand, and artfully dispatches his resources where they are needed. He has created a national identity that is strong and consistent in the minds of most Americans. As long as Obama isn’t needed on the national stage, he can continue working the districts one-by-one, slowly rising the tide where needed.

By contrast, McCain is still working on his national identity, and his fondness for being all things to all people is working against him. The more hats he wears along the many stops each day, the more he illuminates the contrasts: patriots don’t want progressive change, reformers can’t have a lot of experience, and mavericks aren’t bipartisan. It’s true that any McCain supporter could easily explain how all of these wonderful labels work in pure harmony, but it requires a fairly artful dance that most undecided voters are too impatient to enjoy to the end. Being right is much different than being understood – a curse every Kerry supporter could explain in just under fifteen minutes. To this extent, McCain has had to rely on surrogates to get down to the community level while McCain sets bait for the national press with an ongoing series of flashy tactics (ahem, not strategies) designed to say “hey, forget about all the other stuff, here’s the REAL John McCain.”

An Interesting Side Note

Those among you who follow politics closely have noticed something missing from this year’s campaign: wedge issues. Where is the gay marriage vote? What happened to the immigration proposition? These issues are completely gone from the national spotlight and from most state ballots. Why? Eu tu, Brute? McCain pointed his sharp dagger squarely at the heart of the Bush administration and thrust forward with all his might. Not only are there no issues out there that would energize the base, there’s nobody strong enough to champion the cause and make it a defining issue. Even Karl Rove is only part-time help for McCain.

So What’s Next?

Now it’s time to wait for the “October Surprise”. Do a Google search for this term and you’ll learn that every major election always includes a last-minute twist designed to totally derail a candidate. There are two types of October Surprises: a “good-for-me” surprise and a “bad-for-you” surprise.

In the next post, we’ll talk about possible October Surprises and make some predictions.

Newest Election Poll Numbers

NOTE: this is a post from Sept. of 2008 – for the most recent election numbers, go to my home page.

As we get ready for the first Vice-Presidential candidate debate, I figured it would be a good time to look at some updated polling data.

But first, a quick conspiracy theory:

Thursday night is the most watched night of television, and the most watched slot is at 8:00 (central). This also happens to be the day and time chosen for the upcoming VP debates. My theory – and I actually don’t think it is too far fetched – is that McCain suspended his campaign thinking that such a dramatic move would surely prompt Obama and/or the bipartisan debate commission to reschedule last Friday’s debates to this Thursday night (a reschedule date requested by McCain). Moving the first debate to Thursday at 8:00pm would have maximized the public’s exposure to McCain’s strengths (foreign policy) and minimized their exposure to his weaknesses (all of the other issues, plus Palin).  Sadly for McCain, it was one of the least watched presidential debates in history. Not surprising for a Friday night. As for Palin (who is drawing crowds of 60,000+ down in Florida), this Thursday night will either catapult her to the top or sink her like a stone. If her interviews with Gibson and Curric are any indication, she’s in a world of hurt.

Ok, back to the polling data.

As of Sunday evening at 10:00pm . . .

  • Obama is ahead in an average of the national polls by 4.8%. 
  • Favorability ratings put Obama ahead 3.1%.
  • If you don’t count toss-up states (NV, MN, WI, MO, IN, OH, PA, NH, VA, NC, FL), Obama would win the electoral vote count by 65 votes.
  • If you count toss-up states, Obama would win the electoral vote by 64 votes (with MN, WI, PA, NC, VA, and NC voting for Obama and NV, MO, IN, OH, and FL for McCain).
  • Of the 8 national polls averaged to determine these numbers, McCain is only leading in one of the eight polls – and only by 2%. Obama is leading the remaining seven polls by at least 5 points (and as many as 8 points, according to Gallup).
  • The last five state transitions all favor Obama. OR moves LO to SO, MO moves LM to TU, MI moves TU to LO, WV moves SM to LM, and NC moves LM to TU (S=solid, L=leaning, TU=toss-up, O=Obama, M=McCain).

Here is what the toss-up states are thinking, as of right now:

  • PA (21ev) – 4.4% for Obama
  • MI (17ev) – 6.6% for Obama
  • WI (10ev) – 3.8% for Obama
  • NH (4ev) – 1.3% for Obama
  • VA (13ev) – 1.8% for Obama
  • CO (9ev) – 5.4% for Obama
  • NM(5ev) – 6.0% for Obama
  • MN (10ev) – 2.8% for Obama
  • NC (15ev) – 0.3% for Obama
  • OH (20ev) – 1.2% for McCain
  • NV (5ev) – 1.7% for McCain
  • IN (11ev) – 2.3% for McCain
  • FL (27ev) – 1.6% for McCain
  • MO (11ev) – 3.2% for McCain

There are still many days left to go in this election, so it is far too early to celebrate. On the other hand, if the current trend maintains or continues in the direction it is currently heading, Obama will win this election.

McCain Scandal

News reports of an emerging McCain scandal are starting to surface in the past few hours regarding McCain’s campaign manager, Rick Davis. Davis, it seems, was previously paid several hundred thousand dollars by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to lobby on their behalf.

The story, it seems, is just as bad as it sounds. The clearest explanation can be found at Politico (link goes directly to the story). On the site, you’ll see a letter to the editor, which I have quoted below:

To The Editor:

Yesterday, Senator John McCain released a television commercial attacking Barack Obama for allegedly receiving advice on the economy from former Fannie Mae CEO Franklin Raines. From the stump, he has recently tried tying Senator Obama to Fannie Mae, as if there is some guilt in the association with Fannie Mae’s former executives.

It is an interesting card for Senator McCain to play, given that his campaign manager, Rick Davis, was paid by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac several hundred thousand dollars early in this decade to head up an organization to lobby in their behalf called The Homeownership Alliance. …

I worked in government relations for Fannie Mae for more than 20 years, leading the group for most of those years. When I see photographs of Sen. McCain’s staff, it looks to me like the team of lobbyists who used to report to me. Senator McCain’s attack on Senator Obama is a cheap shot, and hypocritical.

William Maloni
Fannie Mae Senior Vice President for Government and Industry Relations (1983-2004)

I’m going to take things one step further. It seems that McCain had this to say about Obama’s connection with Freddie Mac folks in today’s San Fransisco Chronicle (published prior to the Davis disclosure):

“McCain charged Obama with tapping two former Fannie Mae executives as advisers, James Johnson and Franklin Raines, who left under the cloud of an accounting scandal. “When I pushed legislation to reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Sen. Obama was silent,” McCain told a rally in Iowa Thursday. “He didn’t lift a finger to avert this crisis. While the leaders of Fannie and Freddie were lining the pockets of his campaign, they were sowing the sees of a financial crisis we see today … That’s not change, that’s what’s broken in Washington.”

It’s one thing to have a former executive as an advisor (and the Obama camp reports that the advisory roles were for the VP selection process and did not relate to anything economic), but it’s quite another thing to have their head lobbyist as your campaign manager.

To this extent, everything McCain has said about Obama comes back on McCain several times over.

The foxes are guarding the chicken coop. Don’t let this one die, Dems!