By Lane Filler
The two-party system has created presidential elections so shallow they more closely resemble children arguing over who has cooties than adults debating governance:
“You provided affordable health care for all your constituents and stuck taxpayers with much of the bill!”
“Hunh uh. You did!”
But if you think the two-party presidential polka is pathetic, you’re really going to hate one-party presidential elections. And that’s what we’re headed for if the Republicans don’t get their heads out of their echo-chamber news channels and websites.
The Republican backlash against statistician Nate Silver, who runs the popular FiveThirtyEight blog for The New York Times, is instructive, but not surprising. Silver, using a collection of what are known as facts, predicted that President Barack Obama had, by Election Eve, a 91 percent chance of winning.
Silver’s algorithms use lots of polls, of states and the nation, but also historical data about voting patterns, and current information like key economic indicators. He’s gotten pretty famous, having first developed and sold a statistical model that forecast the development of Major League Baseball players, then by flat nailing the 2008 and 2010 elections. Before that he was a consultant and professional poker player.
Republican pundits railed against Silver’s analysis that Obama had the edge over Romney. They claimed the polls in his model oversampled Democrats (they didn’t) and were politically biased (they weren’t).
People like Silver don’t get their jollies by pleasing political constituencies. They just want to be right.
In this case, Silver called all 50 states correctly, as well as the national popular vote tally.
Is it surprising that so many Republicans dismissed Silver’s data-based projections? No. Many Republicans no longer believe in data-based reality.
Ice caps measurably shrinking every year? That doesn’t mean the planet is warming. Fossils and carbon-dating methods prove the world is billions of years old? The Bible says it isn’t. Evolution? God created false evidence of evolution to test our faith in the Bible. Such a prankster, that God of ours!
Ignoring data has become a consistent facet of the Republican Party, and a lot of Republican incumbents who can’t bring themselves to do it now get gobsmacked in primaries.
Being anti-fact cannot, in the long run, be a winning strategy.
But an even bigger obstacle for Republican presidential nominees is the party’s litmus tests.
A Republican presidential nominee has to be staunchly anti-gay, anti-immigrant, anti-abortion, anti-marijuana and pro-starting foreign wars at the drop of a hat. As long as those litmus tests remain in place, no Republican nominee will win the White House.
That’s a problem, because we need a strong Republican Party, one that has rediscovered classical conservatism. It needs to promise a government that’s frugal with money, apathetic about people’s personal lives, and reasonable about immigration.
Such a party would work to keep the worst of classical liberalism (the nanny state, the fiscally unbalanced social programs) in check. It would also be able to field candidates who could win the presidency some of the time, and deserve to.
These, to me, are the facts the Republican Party must face. But lately, facts haven’t held much appeal for these folks.
Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board. Distributed by MCT Information Services.
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