He was the numbers guy, but in the end his numbers were all wrong!
Sounds like the tagline from a forgettable SyFy Channel movie involving a Hollywood supercollider made from Christmas tree lights and low budget GCI, a physicist played by C. Thomas Howell, a buxom lab assistant with a pair of silicon enhanced God particles, and a portal to an evil alternate dimension of evil, doesn’t it?
Actually, it’s the tickler for John Dickerson’s excellent article on Slate today: Why Romney Never Saw It Coming.
Which, come to think of it would also make a good title for a movie starring C. Thomas Howell. But I digress.
Mitt Romney says he is a numbers guy, but in the end he got the numbers wrong. His campaign was adamant that public polls in the swing states were mistaken. They claimed the pollsters were over-estimating the number of Democrats who would turn out on Election Day. Romney’s campaign was certain that minorities would not show up for Obama in 2012 the way they did in 2008.
The Romney campaign, along with conservative leaders and the usual frothy red-faced pundits, reported a steady increase in Romney’s popularity beginning when they declared Mitt the “winner” of his first debate with President Obama. By the day of the election they’d gone from mere optimism to rapturous predictions of certain victory personally endorsed by Jesus himself.
Meanwhile, polls not affiliated with either the Romney Campaign nor Rupert Murdock’s media empire continued to show Obama with a narrow, but measurable and decisive, lead. Those polls indicated that minorities would turn out in record numbers, and that they would vote overwhelmingly for Obama – along with a lot of white people.
We don’t believe the numbers, we don’t believe your data, conservatives sneered dismissively.
We don’t believe those lazy shiftless minorities will get off their welfare dependent asses and actually vote. Mitt doesn’t need to worry about them, they don’t matter. What matters are real Americans. Real Americans like us. And we’re coming to take back our country!
We don’t believe the liberal media!
Which is too bad really, because it turns out the “liberal” media was right. It was the conservative media that was padding the numbers – along with quite a few other things as it turns out, but we’ll come back to that.
So convinced were Republicans of their victory, that the Romney Campaign had already bought and paid for a huge fireworks display with which they intended to kick off their victory celebration.
Romney himself penned only a victory speech – never believing that he might have to concede.
Sadly, the speech he ended up giving in his final moments as a presidential candidate was quite likely the first and only time during the entire campaign that we actually saw the real Mitt Romney, sincere and likeable, finally free of his party, a little humble, no longer pretending to be an extremist, no longer pandering to hardline conservative voters and TV personalities who really didn’t like him anyway, no longer the clockwork golem jerking to the bony clenched fist of the GOP. That man, that Mitt Romney who gave that off the cuff concession speech, that was a man who could have been president – if only he’d shown up during the primaries. I honestly felt sympathy for him in that moment. Just as I did, briefly (very briefly) for John McCain four years before, when his mask finally crumpled and a tired beaten old man who had once been a hero stared out of our TV sets. Unfortunately, McCain almost immediately returned to pretending at extremism in a pathetic attempt to remain relevant while the actual extremist monster he’d unwittingly unleashed continues to blunder randomly around the countryside roaring incoherently and attacking the villagers. It remains to be seen if Romney will follow the same pattern, or if he will actually live up to his concession speech. I see his little hunchbacked assistant has already returned to the lab.
Conservatives were dumbfounded by Obama’s victory.
They just couldn’t believe it.
They still don’t.
As I’ve said elsewhere, gravity is a bitch.
It should have been no surprise at all.
Of course, since the election, the pundits and the politicians and the political strategists and the prognosticators and the money people have, one and all, been scrambling to show why, in fact, they weren’t actually wrong. It was the size of Obama’s war chest they say. It was rigged ballots. It was the hurricane. It was Satan. It was some kind of mind bending Negro Mojo or Project HAARP. It was women and Hispanics and especially African Americans who didn’t stay home like they were supposed to. It was ORCA. It was the forty-seven percent. It was this and it was that and maybe it was C. Thomas Howell and his evil army of evil from beyond the portal of evil.
But you know what? The simple truth of the matter is this: conservatives have nobody to blame but themselves.
They shouldn’t be asking themselves why they lost, they should be asking themselves what else have they got wrong?
When you base your strategy on what you want the intelligence to be instead of what it actually is, you end up with a flawed strategy. Always.
And then you lose.
That’s how the universe works.
Gravity will kill you, whether you believe in it or not because the universe just doesn’t care what you believe.
If Romney’s advisors didn’t believe the polls, then they should have hired a non-partisan outside agency to validate the data one way or the other. And if the results showed that they were behind, instead of denying it they should have adjusted their ground game accordingly.
Instead, Romney had people blow smoke up his ass until his colon resembled beef jerky.
Hiring people who only tell you what you want to hear is a bad, bad, bad habit to get into.
It’s bad for business – because it leads directly to bankruptcy and the collapse of financial systems.
It’s bad for the average Joe – because it leads to signing an interest-only mortgage for nearly a million dollars on a house that is worth maybe a quarter of that.
It’s bad for a candidate and bad for the Republic – because it makes for ignorant frightened hysterical citizens.
And it’s bad, very bad, for national leaders – because, among other things, you could end up invading other countries on faulty pretexts and having to stand before seven thousand cold steel boxes at Dover Air Force base as a result.
You might get away with it for a while, you can maybe believe what you like for a time without consequence, but sooner or later reality tends to come roaring ashore and drown your whole damned city. It doesn’t matter if you believe in climate change or not, hurricanes don’t care what you believe.
Pilots call it spatial disorientation.
Sometimes spatial disorientation happens from damage to the inner ear, or from disease, or drugs, or a lack of oxygen.
But more often it happens when you lose the horizon.
It happens when you lose your reference points and your perception doesn’t agree with reality. You become disorientated, your inner ear spins, and you suddenly stop being able to tell up from down or if you’re diving or climbing.
A pilot can regain control – by trusting the instruments and disregarding scrambled human perception.
But it takes training.
Nearly half of all aviation accidents can be attributed in some manner to spatial disorientation, because many pilots aren’t instrument rated and they fly beyond their capability to recover.
It takes training and practice to recover from spatial disorientation. It takes a deliberate effort.
Just as it takes training and practice and discipline to accept military intelligence, even when it contradicts the commander’s preconceived understanding of the battlespace.
Just as it takes training and practice and discipline and maturity of thought to accept emerging scientific evidence, to accept political reality, to accept changing demographics and changing attitudes and sampling data, especially when that information contradicts long held religious and/or political beliefs. Especially when it contradicts what we want to hear.
That’s why our public schools are so important, that’s why education itself is so very important – it’s not that we teach the next generation what to think, it’s that we teach them how.
If they know how to think, they’ll figure out the what on their own (of course, that’s really the rub, isn’t it? And why so many people fear education. And that’s really a whole other essay).
Now to be clear, a little healthy skepticism leads to better thinking. Of course we shouldn’t always trust our instruments, not without cross checking and calibration and proper understanding of the data presented, that’s why pilots (and scientists, and engineers, and military commanders) perform preflight checks before they pull the wheel chocks. It’s a process, and it takes training to know if your instruments are operating properly, just as it take training to develop proper thinking habits and a healthy skepticism.
Automatic reflexive denial is not healthy skepticism.
And reflexive denial, this spatial disorientation, has became a habit with a significant portion of our nation, this refusal to face unpleasant truths because we don’t want to hear what the universe is actually telling us. I saw it over and over again when I worked in military Intelligence. I saw it in the business world. I saw it in the mortgage bubble and the economic collapse. And I see it all around me now, in the recent election, in the public perception, this spatial disorientation, this denial of what our instruments are really telling us.
The dumbfounded state of the republican party today is a symptom of a much greater disorientation.
For the last two decades conservatives have increasingly indulged themselves in willful spatial disorientation, denying the reality of nearly every aspect of our world from evolution to climate change to the changing demographics of the United States. In the last four years it has reached a fever pitch of denial.
You can find a chart and a detailed list of Obama conspiracy theories here, it’s mind boggling. Everything from the stock Oh Noes! Obama is a Mooooslim, to He wasn’t born here it’s twue! to Obama is gay, to Obama is really a space alien. Go on, follow the link, it’s safe and it’s worth a couple minutes of your time. Note who is saying this stuff, those are the people who shape today’s GOP, those people right there – and don’t pretend that they don’t because if you read the comments in forums where conservatives hang out, you’ll hear this stuff repeated almost verbatim. Romney himself repeated some of it, and so did prominent members of his campaign, party, and financial supporters.
Ridiculous, isn’t it?
Of course Obama couldn’t be all of those things.
No ordinary human being could.
Exactly, that just proves he’s the superhuman demonic Anti-Christ!
This kind of nonsense, this faulty reasoning and hysterical panic, this kind of spatial disorientation, has very real consequences. It impacts our entire country, from education to the budget to those people who want to secede from the union right on down to the man in Florida who killed himself because Barack Obama won a second term.
It’s spatial disorientation.
Conservatives have lost their horizon.
When your perception becomes disconnected from reality, doubling down on the spin only gets you killed.
The way to save yourself is to ignore your inner ear, take a deep breath, look down, find your horizon, trust in your instruments, and calmly take corrective action.
Reality, no matter how painful, no matter how disorientating, trumps illusion every time.
In the end, it wasn’t that the numbers were wrong, it’s that conservatives didn’t want to believe reality.
So they didn’t.
And that’s why they never saw it coming.