Satirizing and embodying the dominant attitude of both the right-wing media and the Republican Party, Stephen Colbert described the premise of his show by saying, “Anyone can read the news to you. I promise to feel the news at you.” Nearly every day we observe illustrations of this modern conservative disconnect with reality in lieu of emotional kneejerkery: the attitude that the gut ought to overrule everything including math, science, reality, veracity and reality. Reality twice because it’s important. Republican politicians not only engage in this self-delusional exercise, but they actively exploit it among conservative voters, while Fox News and talk radio reflect and amplify it.
So it comes as no surprise that Mitt Romney told Fox News Sunday that he seriously believed in his “heart” that he’d win the election — that is until the president appeared to be leading in Florida on election night. In other words, Romney admitted to disregarding most of the polls and polling averages in favor one or two polling outfits and several opportunist pundits who also believed in their hearts that Romney would be the next president. And, Romney said, when the news networks called Ohio for the president, he knew his campaign was over.
While it’s true that the Florida polls were fairly tight on average, with Romney bumping ahead in Florida following the first debate and settling into a fifty-fifty proposition, the rest of the swing state polls overwhelmingly indicated that it was going to be a very tragic night for the Romney campaign. According to Nate Silver, by November 5, the day before the election, Romney only had an 8.6 percent chance of winning. Furthermore, based on the final electoral college numbers, not to mention the popular vote, Florida was more or less irrelevant. It turns out, Obama could’ve lost Florida, Ohio and even Virginia and still would’ve won the election 272 to Romney’s 266. At no point in the campaign did Romney enjoy any more than a 36 percent chance of winning and, for most of his effort, suffered from considerably worse odds.
With a legion of pollsters and advisers at his disposal, how could Romney have been so totally detached from the basic mathematical reality of his situation to a point where he was basing his odds for the presidency on what his heart was feeling at him? Knowing how much money — other people’s hard-earned money — had been invested in his quest for the White House, you’d think he’d base his strategy on indicators more solid than his heart. But okay.
Considering the well-covered nonsense of “unskewed polls,” as well as observational, anecdotal forecasting that included the tallying of yard signs and head-counts at rallies rather than expert analysis of empirical polling data, it’s no wonder Romney was trapped inside a fantasy victory bubble literally until late on election night.
And then when the bubble burst, it was all because of those pesky minorities demanding their Obamacare and other assorted bribes from the president.
Nevertheless, this bubble boy dynamic and the misleading nature of confirmation bias envelopes a multitude of Republican positions. Instead of embracing the broad scientific consensus on the climate crisis, Republicans trust their gut that it’s not real (or not man-made, or both) and they confirm their whimsy with a relatively small handful of crackpot scientists — the Dean Chamberses of climate study. On austerity and deficit reduction, Republicans trust their gut that steep spending reductions following a deep recession will stimulate economic growth when, in fact, there’s not one single example of this occurring in the history of the American economy. Not one. Libertarian Republicans are even worse, believing that confederations combined with severely limited central governments will actually work when nearly all historical examples of such systems have failed. They believe the deficit has skyrocketed when, in fact, it’s dropped by $555 billion since Obama has been president. Too many conservatives believe the president wasn’t born Hawaii in spite of all the evidence proving he was. They also believe that Islamic evildoers are lurking around every corner waiting to crash airplanes into rural town squares. Hell, way too many conservatives believe that Jesus was a capitalist warhawk. Because they really, really want him to be.
The list goes on and on.
And anyone who tries to pass along the truth is shouted down as a secular liberal conspirator because, in the final analysis, there can’t be any compromise when it comes to matters of faith. Faith is the ultimate bulwark against reality, and, as such, it’s inherently dangerous when it comes to matters of empirical reality. It cuts to the very center of the human soul and therefore, in the hearts of the faithful, it can not and must not be comprised. The faithful believe that allowing outside reality to undermine what they feel is to turn ones back on core convictions, risking a total collapse of everything that’s held sacred.
This isn’t to say that there can’t be personal, spiritual faith: a guiding moral hand through the treacheries of malevolence, temptation and corruption. But personal faith can’t be the final arbiter of reality in a secular society. Put another way, more people ought to be willing to re-examine faith — be it religious faith or reliance upon gut conviction — in light of new ideas. That doesn’t mean abandoning it, just adjusting it. Otherwise, like Romney and so many others, reality becomes hazy and, well, unreal, which subsequently leads to self-defeat.
And this, too:
Okay sue me. After all that faith seriousness, why the hell not?