What Does Progress Look Like?

Progress means an improvement of society. A desire for progress means that one is not satisfied with the current state of affairs. What is that? Well, the chief executive officers of corporations currently are paid about 400 times what the average employee of their businesses is paid. Most people who pay income taxes pay a higher rate than those who are living off investment income, which is taxed at only 15%. Progress would narrow these discrepancies. Progress is to provide health insurance for upwards of 30 million people in this country, as specified in Obamacare. Progress includes eliminating the incentives for moving jobs to foreign countries and for parking funds in secret foreign accounts. Progress consists of eliminating the violation of the principle of separation of church and state, in which federal funds are given to religious organizations. Progress includes stopping the charter schools movement, which is sucking money out of the public school system without any measurable improvement in student achievement. Progress includes educating the public about science, about equitable treatment of minorities, about rational decision making in the public (and the private) domain, and about refraining from imposing private religious morality on the public. Progress, in other words, is common sense.

Driving with Data

As I was watching the election returns Tuesday night, early in the evening the monitors showed Romney with more electoral votes than Obama. The commentators on MSNBC paid not the slightest attention to this fact, even though it was prominently displayed. They spent the time discussing other matters. This situation persisted quite long into the evening. However, when the polls closed on the west coast, the results started to come in from there, and Obama’s tally rapidly mounted, as California, Oregon, Washington, and Nevada all came in for him. And then, suddenly Ohio was called for Obama, and it was clear that the President had won the election.

None of this surprised me. I knew that the President was going to win. Why? Because I had been reading the posts on Nate Silver’s blog on the New York Times website. Unlike Fox News, or MSNBC, which are openly biased media outlets for the right and the left respectively, Silver’s analysis is based on averaging of many polls, and thus is a very detailed and accurate representation of the intentions of the voters. Silver’s data have shown the President significantly ahead in the projected electoral vote for months. Even the rather startling perturbation caused by the results of the first debate between Romney and Obama did not reverse this. By the eve of the election, Silver was predicting that the President would win with 313 electoral votes.

Silver has been accurate since 2004 on every single national election.

I assumed that Romney and the Republicans also knew this. It turns out that I was giving them far too much credit. They were actually stunned by the fact of Obama’s victory. Romney had not even written a draft concession speech.

They actually thought they were going to win. Why? Because they have no respect for the principles of science. They discounted Silver’s analysis and chose to believe in only those polls that showed Romney in the lead, instead of taking into account all the available polling data, as Silver does.

I knew that the Republicans had contempt for science. They are a haven for creationists and climate change deniers. But it turns out that they also don’t believe in the science that is most sacred to Americans: statistics.

There is a far larger lesson in this than just the political calculus. The Republican Party is in denial about reality. They are trying to figure out why they lost, but they still don’t think that the main problem, theirĀ  disconnection from reality, has anything to do with their loss.

A Win for the People

I am a happy camper today. President Obama has been re-elected. He gave credit to a lot of people who worked hard on the campaign. The victory was the result of a well-planned effort to raise funds for advertising and for organizing. I found that after contributing a bit I got the chance to have my own fundraising page and try to get others to give money as well. And when the time came to stop sending money, there was another opportunity to make calls to help get out the vote in the battleground states of Ohio and Pennsylvania. That sense of participation in the campaign was so much more satsifying than just sending a check and voting. It is an experience I would recommend to anyone. As a resident in a non-battleground state, New York, I really welcomed the chance to spread the message to others in places where, in our system, it really matters.

I watched an interview on CNN today, with Mary Matalin, the conservative commentator. She said she was proud of Romney and she criticized the Obama campaign as being full of deceit and distortion. I was incredulous. The Romney campaign was entirely founded on lies (see one of my earlier blogs), and Romney wound up skidding away from everything he said to get the nomination when it came time to appeal to undecided voters. He got more than Obama did of these people, according to exit polls. The one thing I will grant to Romney is that he gave a decent concession speech. Other than that, his campaign was an avalanche of mendacity from beginning to end. That half the electorate – or nearly so – chose him defies any sense of reality as far as I can tell. We live in a truly deluded society, where people will vote against their own economic interests if somebody pulls the right levers of hate, religious bias and racial prejudice.

So I congratulate President Obama on a consistent, smart, and aggressive campaign. The country will be the better for it. Obamacare will now go into effect. The economy will recover. And, hopefully, the Republican Party will enter a period of soul-searching that will lead to a less bigoted, ignorant, and wrong-headed approach to government.

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