Election thoughts

I don’t think I have anything to say about the election that hasn’t already been said, but I wanted to put it out here in my own words, with my own perspective. On this morning after the election I’m feeling more hopeful about my country than I have in several months. The biggest things that I’ve been turning over happily in my mind are these…

You still can’t get away with trivializing rape or forced pregnancy
This picture sums it up pretty nicely (click to see the whole thing). A series of quotes favoring requiring rape victims to carry a pregnancy to term, with the word "defeated" stamped over the face of each politician who uttered the quote. What appalled me about these quotes wasn’t that there are people who actually think these things — I knew that was true. What appalled me was that these professional politicians judged those statements as safe to make. They thought enough Americans would agree with them, and enough of those who disagreed wouldn’t care, that coming out in favor of requiring a rape survivor to bear her rapist’s child wouldn’t lose them the election. I am unbelievably heartened to see that they were wrong. America has a lot of problems, but we aren’t that far gone.

You also can’t get away with pandering only to white people
From Nate Silver’s coverage:

Forty-five percent of those who voted for Mr. Obama were racial minorities, a record number, and he made gains among Hispanic and Asian-American voters.

Even Bill O’Reilly agrees! Aside from the hyperbole of calling the white establishment a minority (which is a common mistake people make when they go from having ALL the power to just MOST of the power), I thought he was basically correct in his remarks. In fact it’s kind of eerie to read them over and think, “Yeah, man, you’re right! Wait, you probably think this is awful.” People do want “stuff.” Stuff like jobs, and affordable healthcare, and security for their families. I know I want that stuff. I voted for the person I thought was most likely to provide that stuff, and I’m not sure how saying I did that is supposed to be a condemnation. But back to minorities. Seeing “the white establishment” become weaker and weaker against the diverse needs of the diverse population of our country… that’s pretty excellent.

More states have taken steps toward marriage equality… and they voted it in
It’s been said that permitting same-sex marriage is something that can only be legislated or ruled on by a judicial bench, never voted on by the people. Not anymore. The majority of voters in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington are in favor of the rights of gays and lesbians to marry the people they love. A friend of mine posted a facebook status that gave me the warm fuzzies:

A lot of people take it for granted so they won’t know how great this feels: we woke up married in three more states than when we went to bed.

I’m so glad more and more people are willing to expand their idea of what love can be.

Score one for observation and analysis over intuition and obfuscation
I came across Nate Silver’s election stats a couple of months ago, and it’s done wonders for my blood pressure. While numerous pundits were calling the election a toss-up (apparently tightness is a salient attribute of razors?), Silver’s analysis showed a solid Obama lead for most of the race. In response, the pundits scoffed. A whole lot of people were watching the election results with two filters: Who will win the election, and who will win the election predictions game?

This is important to me because a lot of people still want to believe that intuition can beat out careful analysis. A lot of people feel that “we just can’t know!” is a more satisfying position than “actually, we have pretty good data and analytical tools to get us within a reasonable confidence level.” What’s interesting to me is that these two positions aren’t, strictly speaking, contradictory. Nate Silver never claimed to know who would win the election, just like scientists never claim to know the absolute truth about the universe. “We just can’t know!” is fundamentally true, and likely always will be. What’s important is what you do once you’ve acknowledged that. Do you throw up your hands and let that be the final word? Or do you then say, “But let’s see how close to accurate knowledge we can get?”

Throwing up your hands has certain advantages. It lets you continue to believe something unlikely to be true without cognitive dissonance. It lets you keep doing your job, if your job is to keep viewers glued to your story for several months. It gives you the occasional heady rush of being right without requiring any work, or specialized knowledge or skills. The whole cycle of gathering data, interpreting it, and re-calibrating both your data-gathering and interpretation methods based on the quality of your results makes for a long hard slog, and the only reward you get is tending to be right more often, which is not always rewarded in society.

Obama’s win doesn’t prove Nate Silver was right. (The close conformity of state-by-state results to his predictions provides stronger evidence that his model is good.) What it does is give the public a dramatic example of the power of numbers and correct analysis. We humans need big victories and dramatic stories to get really interested in something (in that, the pundits are quite right.) So what we have here is a big victory and dramatic story about the power of rational analysis. My hope is that it will inspire many to follow that road further.

4 thoughts on “Election thoughts

  1. Reblogged this on myatheistlife and commented:
    I got beaten to the post on this one. Enjoy. I did …. What is also needed is a picture roll call of all the republicans who opened their mouths and shamed themselves in the past 4-8 years. Palin, Santorum – I’m looking at you two. Joe the plumber – you ought to be hiding your face for a while too.

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