Political Strategy: Bad Math & Inconsistency genre: Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

The following posting is the seventh entry in a continuing Thought Theater dialogue on political strategy. The first posting, Political Strategy: The Opening Dialogue, can be found here, the second posting, Political Strategy: Beyond Extremist Labels can be found here, the third posting, Political Strategy: The Numbers Speak can be found here, the fourth posting, Political Strategy: Splitting The Baby can be found here, the fifth posting, Political Strategy: Examining Potential Outcomes can be found here, and the sixth posting, Political Strategy: Voter Mobilization can be found here. In addition, other related postings can be found here, here, and here.

If there’s one thing that I pay close attention to in order to understand people and determine what I’ve come to playfully call their “full of shit" quotient, it is consistency. Let me attempt to explain myself. There’s an Italian saying that translates something close to this, “You don’t really know someone until you’ve eaten a hundred pounds of salt with them." Essentially, the point is that it takes a while to eat that much salt…just like it takes a while to get to know someone. An integral part of that process is observation…and in the act of observing, I’ve always been a proponent of looking for consistency.

I used to supervise over forty employees…employees that I interviewed, hired, and occasionally fired. Anyone who has had similar responsibilities has an appreciation for the complexities of personnel issues. In the course of a short period of time, one must ascertain whether to hire an individual based upon a very limited time for observation…and hence even less opportunity to look for consistency.

Over fourteen years I developed some pretty good people evaluating instincts…not to mention the fact that my degree is in psychology so I’ve always been fascinated by human behavior. Over the years, it became a standing joke to ask me after an interview if the interviewee was full of shit…in fact my coworkers gave me an ink stamp imprinted with the initials F.O.S….basically so I could jokingly stamp the resume’s of those applicants I might conclude were full of shit.

While I am fundamentally opposed to generalizations, it is an inevitable part of the hiring process. You learn to look for certain answers to a group of questions designed to elicit some sense of the person you’re interviewing…you look at body language…you look at how they present themselves in their resumes and applications…and over time you essentially narrow the process down to identifying a limited number of people types. Not to blow my own horn, but I got to be pretty good at the process such that I taught my techniques to others.

The problem with teaching the technique rests with the predispositions of those you attempt to instruct. I won’t bore you with the entire psychology…but suffice it to say that it is a critical part of the equation. The bottom line is that we all carry bias and we all make discriminations…what those are and to what extent we allow them to influence our decisions and our interactions has a huge impact on one’s ability to be successful in a supervisory or management position…and more importantly, it is a meaningful measure of one’s commitment to pursuing “truth".

Since the initiation of Thought Theater, I’ve found it even more fascinating to attempt to apply the same skills to the people I encounter online…albeit without the benefit of a face to face meeting and with an even more limited connection…absent the flow of an actual conversation as well as any background information. Fortunately, the stakes are also not the same so I can, for the most part, just enjoy the opportunity to use the skills I’ve acquired over the years.

Communication is complex…and it becomes even more complicated when it is done in cyberspace. In this paradigm we’re often simply reacting to the written words of absolute strangers. In time, you get to know some of the people you encounter…which can be through reading the postings of a blogger or by virtue of a reader’s repeated comments or an ongoing back and forth dialogue.

So that brings me to today’s musing. I’ve written extensively about the Lieberman v. Lamont Senate race in Connecticut and it is a topic that stirs a significant amount of passion on the internet. Try as I might, it is difficult to establish a dialogue that isn’t first and foremost about biases and discriminations rather than an open and objective discussion that has at its core a desire to know more “truth". That is not to say that I always know the “truth"…but I’m committed to pursuing it.

Granted, “Truth" is an elusive concept…but it is a reasonable goal. The problem is that we humans often approach “truth" backwards…meaning we decide what we think is true and then we set about defending that “truth" such that the objective and the process of finding “truth" is hijacked before it has ever begun. Perhaps that explains the origins of dogma and ideology. Nonetheless, it seems an unfortunate and counterproductive method if one’s actual goal is to know more “truth" as opposed to imposing one’s particular chosen “truth".

Today we live in a divided country in a divisive world. Here in the U.S., many Democrats see the Iraq war as an extension of the neocon ideology…or in other words George Bush’s “truth". His foreign policy has been characterized as cowboy diplomacy…defined by many as an attempt to impose American objectives on the rest of the world…with an inclination to achieve that goal through power and force rather than through measured diplomacy. The President’s detractors accuse him of having a tin ear…essentially the same principle as I’ve explained above…he determines what he wants to be “truth" and then sets out to define and defend it as he envisions it to be. Trying to bring it down to its simplest form, he doesn’t listen or negotiate…he dictates…he is “the decider".

His style has been to refuse to negotiate with those we oppose…often establishing threshold behaviors or concessions as prerequisites to dialogue. This has been seen with Yasser Arafat of the PLO, North Korea, Iran, and Syria to name the most visible and volatile examples. Iraq is seen to be the prototype for how this President eventually resolves disputes.

Those I would define as ardently anti-war frequently focus on the intransigent demeanor of this President…they don’t accept his “truth" and they conclude he must be defeated. One frequently hears it said that he started an illegal war and that he is dismantling the Constitution in order to impose his version of “truth". That creates an abundance of anger.

I am by and large in full agreement with that evaluation and I have expressed my dismay with the handling of the war on terror, the Iraq quagmire, and the burgeoning conflicts within the Middle East as well as those festering in other less noticeable and notable regions. At the same time, I wouldn’t characterize myself as an unwavering pacifist in that I think there are times when military conflict is inevitable…but that will require further explanation.

It is necessary to return to the notion of pursuing “truth" in order to understand the source of such inevitabilities. In other words, if a leader or a society is allowed to deviate from the legitimate pursuit of “truth" to the extent that a contrived “truth" is allowed to become an unyielding and false ideology, military intervention may be necessary to extinguish it. Nonetheless, the point I’m attempting to make is that the methods for alleviating conflict have to be focused upon an unwavering commitment to find more “truth" absent the insertion of unfounded discriminations and biases. So long as people seek to define “truth" rather than to discern “truth", there will be conflict.

Enter consistency. Whenever someone sets out to define and impose “truth", inconsistency is inevitable…that’s the beauty of “truth" and its pursuit…it will always provide consistency if it is exposed, accepted, and enacted. If the pursuit is genuine and sincere, the outcome is inevitable. If it isn’t, the situation is destined to deteriorate.

I return to George Bush and those that oppose his “truth". There is little doubt that the decision to invade Iraq was at best ill-advised. At worst, there is evidence to suggest that it may have been contrived. Therefore it is fairly simple to conclude that the “truth" wasn’t properly pursued and may have actually been ignored or created. That was wrong and the inconsistencies abound…clearly telling us we have lost sight of “truth" as well as fomenting the current political conflict.

The problem becomes how to remedy that situation. All too frequently, when a lack of “truth" is exposed, the reaction is wholesale invalidation…in other words it is easy to conclude that the real “truth" must be the exact opposite…meaning there is a tendency to say that one can simply reverse the lie in order to return to “truth". Unfortunately, I have to say, “Not so fast". Whenever an individual or any entity has acted outside of “truth", those actions have created new “truths" such that the path back to “truth" is not likely the same. I’m reminded of the expression, “If you break it, you bought it".

So where does that leave us with our foreign policy and specifically Iraq? Our actions have created a cascade of consequences that may well be at play for a generation or longer. We can certainly leave Iraq…but the problem we’ve created will certainly not leave and, while there is comfort in withdrawal, we may well be drawn back in as the events unfold. Even John Murtha, one of the vocal proponents of a timeframe for withdrawal talks about redeployment over the horizon which clearly indicates a realization that the problem will likely remain.

Unfortunately, once it has been exposed that an individual or an entity has mishandled “truth", there is an understandable backlash and ample blame. That is to be expected but it must not become the basis of our response to the new “truth". Like most Americans, I want an end to this current mess and I’m open to any and all possibilities but I refuse to be naïve enough to presume the solution is simple. Simply opposing the war is inadequate. The situation will remain untenable until we engage in a discussion that seeks to expose and embrace the “truths" as they are…not as we wish them to be…or as we feel they can be exploited for political gain. The Iraq invasion may have been illegitimate but the current problems are real and require some resolution.

It may be politically expedient for some to merely focus on the mistakes but that would clearly mean that bias and discriminations are being engaged for advantage and once again the pursuit of “truth" is being abandoned. If the goal is to replace one contrived “truth" with another then we are simply playing a seesaw game that is self-perpetuating such that neither side will be able to sustain their chosen position. The lack of consistency will expose the absence of “truth" and a cycle reminiscent of a pendulum will prevail…moving back and forth from one extreme to the other. That seems to be the case today.

We are a polarized nation because we have opposing forces seeking to install their chosen “truth". Adding to the entrenchment is the influence of institutions…manmade entities established to lobby for the “truths" of a group of people who embrace similar belief systems…all intent on defining and imposing their “truth". Political parties are one of those institutions. I’m reminded of a comment from a reader who made the point that he was a double “D" Democrat…a proud Democrat proud to support democracy. It struck me as I read the words that we often fail to hear what we are saying or to actually understand what it means to say what we do.

As I thought about the comment, I realized we have lost sight of what we are and what we value. Is democracy designed as a system to find and uphold “truth" or as a system to impose the “truth" we prefer? Do political parties steward democracy or simply attempt to define the “truth" they want to redefine the democracy? Can two parties encompass and champion the beliefs of all Americans or are they simply vehicles that from time to time are co-opted by different groups that seek to amass power in order to impose the “truth" they prefer? What are our collective “truths" or do they simply no longer exist? If they do exist, what value do we give them and if they no longer exist, why is that the case?

Back to Lieberman v. Lamont. In writing about the race, I’ve tried to explain the fact that I believe that something beyond the choosing of a Senator for Connecticut is taking place with this race. Each time I have voiced my concerns; those concerns have been met with more rhetoric than reason such that I’m presumed to be a Lieberman supporter. As I’ve stated on numerous occasions, I don’t object to the fact that Lieberman may be defeated…he made his own bed.

At the same time, I’ve yet to be convinced that some who embrace Ned Lamont don’t have an agenda beyond simply endorsing his abilities to represent the state of Connecticut. I believe this race is a proxy war for many who seek to control the Democratic Party. I am simply attempting to expose and analyze the ramifications of that particular “truth". My expressed concern is that that fact will not go unnoticed nor will it happen without consequence.

What Democrats need to consider is the latter. I expect that those who support Lamont will attempt to extrapolate a Lamont victory into a mandate for control of the Democratic Party in much the same way George Bush sought to translate a meager majority victory in the 2004 presidential election. That conclusion will not be “truth" but it will likely be asserted to be as much. In reality, for a number of Democrats, this race is a strategic calculation. They see a vulnerable Senator (made so by his own actions…but it is important to note that this vulnerability is particularly with regard to the Iraq war which has a clearly bipartisan opposition) in a predominantly safe Democratic state as the ideal proving ground for them to execute their objective to assume control of the Party. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that effort…meaning they have every right to undertake such an endeavor.

Let me make something very clear…I accept the fact that the people of Connecticut will decide the outcome of this race and that is as it should be…I have never said otherwise…if they elect Lamont it will be because they wanted a new Senator. The problem I have is the fact that the defeat of Lieberman will be interpreted and expressed much differently by those who sought to make this race a proxy for their objective (control of the Democratic Party) and it will also be exploited by those (Republicans) in need of weapons to use against the Democratic Party in November.

Here are the realities that cannot be ignored. The progressive netroot Democrats supporting Lamont haven’t been able to demonstrate the ability to win an election…they have certainly demonstrated the ability to organize, identify, support, and fund candidates…but they need a win to keep the movement moving forward and to ultimately achieve their objective. For the most part they supported Howard Dean in 2004. They believe that Al Gore and John Kerry weren’t far enough to the left and they oppose the group of centrist…beltway…insider…Democrats that loosely comprise the Democratic Leadership Council…a group tied to the Bill Clinton era that includes Hillary Clinton. That and every piece of available statistical data demonstrates that this group is left of the Party center which means that they are also further left than the majority of Americans.

Again, let me be clear…there is nothing wrong with their actions or their goals…they are simply engaging in politics. My political positions are nearly identical to those they support. However, I disagree with their strategy. The bottom line is that I don’t believe they can lead the Party into a sustained majority position in the House, the Senate, or the Presidency because they simply aren’t a majority and aren’t likely to assemble one.

Regardless, their calculations for victory in Connecticut may be a strategically sound evaluation of the current circumstances that may well serve their interests within the Party…but the analysis must be further expanded. The numbers simply don’t support the hypothesis that their efforts to move the Democratic Party further left will result in a majority voter constituency. I wish that it would but I’m hopelessly attached to finding and embracing “truth"…and the evidence simply says that it isn’t true.

Further, as we approach this midterm election…an election that offers Democrats an excellent opportunity to take control of at least the House…should the voters who may be inclined to switch parties and vote Democratic decide of their own volition, or more likely be persuaded or convinced by Karl Rove and the RNC, that the Democratic Party is moving further left and that control of the Party will soon be held by those furthest left…they may well not vote Democratic. If they don’t, the Democrats may well fail to gain control of the House or the Senate…leaving George Bush in a position to continue cowboy diplomacy, to stay the course in Iraq, and to appoint his third and deciding Supreme Court nominee…all virtually unchallengeable by a Party in the minority.

Returning to consistency. Those who support Lamont would prefer Democrats to believe that they know the “truth" and that they should therefore set the agenda and lead the Party. I appreciate their passion and I respect their enthusiasm…but I cannot support the inconsistencies that exist within their hypothesis. While their hypothesis is synonymous with the “truth" that they would prefer (and most of the political positions I favor), it doesn’t comport with the available facts about voter preferences and priorities. There are simply more risks than benefits for the Democratic Party to portray itself accordingly.

Lastly…and this is simply based upon the instinctive abilities that I explained at the beginning of this posting…those who are at the core of this netroots movement may have individual goals and ambitions that I’ve previously identified and which emanate form our natural tendency to act with bias and self-serving discriminations. Again, there is nothing wrong with that…it is an acceptable pursuit…although one I wouldn’t elect…especially if it’s aligned with the “truth" I chose to define and impose rather than being aligned with the best “truth" available. For me, that would lack the necessary consistency and therefore the sustaining “truth".

Some who have responded to my observations seemingly get hung up in the emotions of the situation making it difficult to manage and monitor the bias such that the pursuit of more “truth" can proceed. We all have a tendency to support the positions we prefer but we have a greater responsibility to seek “truth" and acknowledge our own bias and discriminations. As I stated above, the pursuit of “truth" as opposed to the imposition of “truth" is the key to eliminating conflict. If we are all committed to seeking “truth" we can systematically move in that direction with a minimal, or at least manageable, amount of conflict. I’m convinced that what we don’t know is far more important than what we think we know.

My observations regarding the Lieberman v. Lamont race are simply my attempt to expose as much of the mathematical equation and therefore the “truth" as might be available or discernable. I offer my thoughts as part of my efforts to engage in dialogue and debate that will lead me and those who visit Thought Theater towards more “truth". I share my understandings of the “truth" that I believe I have uncovered but I remain open to having that modified, amplified, or nullified. My only agenda is the consistent pursuit of more “truth". I’m committed to reasonable dialogue and I welcome readers that want to join me in that endeavor. I’m not interested in winning at the expense of “truth" because I simply believe that finding the “truth" is better than winning. Ultimately, victory is achieved each time we embrace the pursuit of “truth".

In the end, math and “truth" have much in common…they are both complex equations… a miscalculation carries forward until it is corrected…they require a commitment to finding the correct answer as opposed to the desired one…they both fail when they are manipulated…and when they are properly applied their accuracy is visibly apparent, fully consistent, and unmistakably sustaining.

Daniel DiRito | August 4, 2006 | 10:30 PM
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