In the end facts won the US elections

08 November 2012 - 13:56 By Bruce Gorton
U.S. President Barack Obama (R) celebrates with first lady Michelle Obama and their daughters Malia (R) and Sasha at their election night victory rally in Chicago.
U.S. President Barack Obama (R) celebrates with first lady Michelle Obama and their daughters Malia (R) and Sasha at their election night victory rally in Chicago.

When you get right down to it, this last US election was summarised best by the analysis done by Scientific American.

What Scientific American found was that Mitt Romney was a lot more specific on what he wanted to do, but Barrack Obama was the one who actually knew what he was talking about.

This was an election in which factual correctness mattered. Not grand schemes or future plans, Obama was distinctly vague on what he was planning to do, but he was more factually correct.

That is important – because when you get right down to it the best laid plans of mice and men don’t amount to much. What sounds like a good idea now, may end up being a bad one later. Your ability to make decisions on the basis of fact is of primary importance.

And that is an ability that the Republican Party demonstrated it couldn’t really have.

Conservative, in America, for years was sold as being good, intelligent and playing it safe against those loony liberals.

This wasn’t entirely wrong, the liberal movement spawned idiocies like the post-modernist movement which, while tempting, was essentially solipsism with a thin veneer of the precise kind of ‘cultural sensitivity’ Brooklyn Funk Essentials so coolly dismissed in I’ve Got Cash.

However over time, science proved too useful in producing positive social changes, and so it moved left and the conservative movement ended up moving anti-science for a variety of reasons, mainly it was the most effective way of identifying and dealing with serious environmental problems.

Now conservative is seen as being about as in touch with reality as that guy who is running for president of Mordor on an anti hobbit immigration stance. “Facts have a well known liberal bias.” Who has science on their side has flipped.

As a result, Americans are liberalising. Gay marriage has for the first time won on a popular vote, and Colorado is planning to legalise recreational use of cannabis.

One of the striking statements on voting demographics was CNN on the Latino vote – they said that Latinos were disillusioned with Obama, but terrified of Romney. The idea that the conservatives are the safe bets has been completely eradicated by the conservatives.

I do not mean the conservative leadership, with such luminaries as Todd Akin who obviously should have gone to sex ed, but the followers who picked them.

A scientifically literate Republican cannot win a presidential primary. Mitt Romney had to change his position on climate change towards a denialist stance in order to win it.

In  June of 2011 Romney told a town hall in Manchester, North Hampshire “I think it's important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may well be significant contributors to the climate change and the global warming that you're seeing.”

By the time October rolled around, with conservative pundits slamming him quite hard for saying that, he said, “My view is that we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet. And the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us.”

The first view was in line with the current scientific consensus; the second was in line with Republican TV pundits. He knew he couldn’t win the primaries by being factually correct.

Being factually correct had Jon Huntsman coming dead last in the Republican Party primaries.

That wasn’t the Republicans being badly represented, that was the Republicans defining their stance as being hostile to reality.

The nearest liberal equivalent to Republican climate change denialism is the anti-vaccine movement. Say what you like, but that movement didn’t make it impossible for a pro-vaccine candidate to win the Democratic primaries.

The sad thing is that America kind of needs a strong Republican Party for the same reason that South Africa needs a strong opposition party; it keeps the people in power reasonably honest.

Terms like extremist or moderate are meaningless. If somebody is extremely right we don’t think of it as a flaw, if someone is moderately wrong we don’t think of it as a virtue, what matters is whether they are basing it all on reality or not.

Reality itself is fundamental, you don’t get to choose what is real, something either is or it isn’t. Where you get a choice is in how you deal with it – what you think is important, what issues you consider central and what you can sort of leave aside.

The Republican Party as it stands right now does not present that choice; it tries to escape from it. It tries to paint itself as moderate, with ideas like ‘teach both sides’ on things like evolution, but it cannot maintain that there even are two sides when one has the evidence, the other has the wishful thinking.

It can only build a conspiracy narrative about elites in just about every field where information is central, be it law, entertainment, news, education or research, to hide from reality and avoid facing facts.

That means it doesn’t really offer Americans a real choice. It just offers them “Vote for us and we will ignore the fact that your problems actually exist while we chase moonbeams and wishes, vote for the other guys and they will try to solve them.”

And in this election, the other guy won.

Does this mean the Republicans will shift towards a more, well, realistic position? Not any time soon. They got too many votes this time around, they still hold Congress, and to change course would cost them too much politically right now.

But it does mean, hopefully, that the American public won’t have a real choice until the Republicans change.