A Philosopher's Blog

Taking a Dive

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on November 11, 2011
Caricatures: GOP Presidential Debate Participa...

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In theory, any of the Republican candidates is supposed to have a chance of winning the nomination. That is, there is not supposed to be a pre-determined outcome. However, recent events might lead a person to have some doubts about this.

In Herman Cain’s case, he starting climbing in the polls and got ahead of Romney. Then the story about past cases of sexual harassment got fed to the media machinery. Cain seemed to be caught by surprise and appeared to struggle with damage control. Oddly enough, some of the incidents in question were discussed by Cain’s strategist in an earlier run for office and the matter of damage control was evidently discusssed then. As such, it seems a bit strange that Cain and his people were so easily caught by surprise when this is something that they had been well aware of.

Naturally, it is possible that Cain and his people suffered from a selective amnesia. It could be that only Cain forgot and his people simply never bothered to check for anything in his past that might cause trouble. Perhaps it was assumed that the incidents would not be exposed or that they would have no real impact (or that Cain would handle them). However, someone who enjoys a good conspiracy theory might suggest that Cain had planned to take a dive all along so as to create the illusion of an actual contest. That, of course, seems as silly as blaming the media or the Democratic machine for his troubles. But it does make an interesting theory to talk about while making aluminum foil hats.

Rick Perry started off fairly strong and then ran into the rocks with his debate performance and the incident involving his family camp. He also recently had a disastrous debate performance in which he apparently could not even remember the third government agency he planned to eliminate if elected. While anyone can have a memory failure at an embarrassing moment, there are two points of concern with this incident. The first is that this was not some minor or obscure point that he forgot. After all illuminating a major agency is a rather big thing-and he only had to remember the three he picked. Second, and perhaps worse, is the poor way he handled the situation. If he had immediately made a humorous response (“I’d like to use Ron Paul as my lifeline”) he might have been able to avoid the damage or even actually scored a few points. However, he floundered about painfully, throwing in a rather weak “whoops.” This certainly does not appear very presidential.

Seeing the horror of the performance, I almost wanted to believe that Perry was intentionally taking a dive. The main alternative explanation was that Perry is, in fact, amazingly incompetent. Crudely put, I seemed to face a choice between regarding Perry as a fool or a knave. A tough call indeed.

But, surely there is no conspiracy here. Just coincidences.

While Newt has been low in the polls, he shows some signs of moving up. He might be a possible VP candidate, given the time he has put in for the party and his past political laurels.

Romney seems to still be the most likely winner, mainly because everyone else seems likely to lose.

On an unrelated note, thanks to all the veterans and the active duty personnel.

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Is Perry a Birther?

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on October 27, 2011
Perry Event 2/1/2010

Birther?

Rick Perry was recently interviewed by Parade  and he was asked whether or not he believed Obama was born here or not. The exchange is as follows:

Q. Governor, do you believe that President Barack Obama was born in the United States?

A. I have no reason to think otherwise.

Q. That’s not a definitive, “Yes, I believe he”—

A. Well, I don’t have a definitive answer, because he’s never seen my birth certificate.

Q. But you’ve seen his.

A. I don’t know. Have I?

Q. You don’t believe what’s been released?

A. I don’t know. I had dinner with Donald Trump the other night.

Q. And?

A. That came up.

Q. And he said?

A. He doesn’t think it’s real.

Q. And you said?

A. I don’t have any idea. It doesn’t matter. He’s the president of the United States. He’s elected. It’s a distractive issue.

Not surprisingly pundits and media folks have taken this as evidence that Perry is a born again birther. Karl Rove has taken the matter rather seriously and was extremely critical of Perry, noting that this sort of thing makes him an associate of certain nutty folks.

On the face of it, Perry did seem to be taking a somewhat coy birther position. While he did not assert outright that he believes that Obama was not born here, he clearly seemed to be indicating that he had doubts about the authenticity of the birth certificate. Also, by bringing in Trump and his (alleged) doubt, he also seemed to be moving himself into the birther sphere.

However, immediately after stating that he has no idea whether the birth certificate is real or not, he said that it does not matter and that “it’s a distractive issue.” This seems to be something of a rejection, albeit a very weak one, of the birther view (after all, they regarded it as rather important).

I agree with Perry’s second claim-bringing up the birth certificate is a distraction. In fact, it is more than that-it has the potential to make Perry seem a bit ridiculous given that the birther movement seems to have largely faded away in the face of overwhelming evidence. It also seems like a bad idea to try to play this card-if only from a practical perspective. After all, any gain he might make among the remaining birthers would probably be greatly offset by a losing ground with other folks.

In regards to his first claim about it not mattering, he seems to be right and also wrong (in different ways, of course). He is right that the birther thing does not matter anymore (except perhaps, as something that will damage his chances of getting the nomination).

However, if he actually has no idea whether the the birth certificate is real or not, then this does matter. First, if he has reasonable grounds on which to doubt its authenticity then this entails that he has reasonable grounds to believe that Obama is not legally president and that Obama has been perpetuating a great fraud (and with the support of people like Rove). If this is the case, then this does matter a great deal. Second, if he has no grounds for not having any idea and is simply refusing to accept the overwhelming evidence that Obama was born here, then this indicates that Perry has some rather significant flaws in his rationality and his epistemic capabilities. This, as one would imagine, would matter a great deal. After all, he is running for president and we certainly do not want to elect someone who cannot properly assess overwhelming evidence.

Interestingly enough, Perry seems to have decided to keep flirting with the birther thing and intends to keep it alive to “poke” at Obama. This leads me to infer that Perry is lacking in certain mental faculties, that there is some sort of pranking going on, or that Perry is destroying his campaign as part of the political theater leading up to Romney being handed the nomination. Or something else. In any case, I would suspect that Perry’s chances of getting the nomination are very low indeed.

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Republican Battle Circle

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on September 29, 2011
Ron Paul, member of the United States House of...

Image via Wikipedia

The Republican presidential candidates face the standard double challenge of the out party. On the one hand, each of the candidates faces the challenge of overcoming his/her rivals and becoming the actual presidential candidate. On the other hand, the contenders need to (or should) be concerned about the nature of the in-party fighting. After all, each attack launched on a fellow candidate can provide the rival party with one more piece of ammunition to use in the actual election.  It can also cause strains within the party, making it harder to pull together for the election. Of course, if a candidate goes too easy or does not return fire when attacked by a fellow candidate, then they can be perceived as a weak candidate.

This challenge is somewhat like what a team faces while sorting out who will be varsity and who will be junior varsity. If they compete too hard among themselves, then they can end up injured and do poorly when it comes to actual competition with other teams. However, if they do not compete enough, then sorting out the division will be rather difficult.

While such infighting has occurred in the past, this year seems especially harsh. First, this is no doubt partially due to the fact that politics seems even more negative and contentious than in recent years and this has become a way of operating even within the party.

Second, there is also the fact that the pool of candidates is rather large, which might lead the candidates to compete even more fiercely to stand out and to stake out their own territory.

Third, there is faction factor. The Republican party contains the Tea Party and various other very active groups (such as the various social conservatives) and the candidates need to pander to these groups and their ideology in order to succeed. These groups seem to be often defined by what they do not like (taxes, gays, immigration, health care, and so on). Hence appealing to them typically involves taking a strong (or even extreme) position against what the groups in question do not like. However, specific candidates often need to hold positions contrary to one (or more) of these groups in order to do well (for example) in their current office. For example, Perry has taken shots regarding the matter of illegal aliens. Bashing another candidate on this matter is thus very appealing in that it appeals to the group in question, it can weaken the opponent, and it can enable the attacker to stand out. One obvious problem with this approach has been that the in-party bashing and pandering to the various factions has led the various factions to disagree with each other in regards to the candidates. This creates something of a problem for the Republican candidates since there is no candidate who has yet been able to gain the approval of the majority of the factions. This will, no doubt, be settled by the party insiders at the appropriate time. However, it would be interesting to see a candidate or two decide to strike out on their own after being rejected by the Republican party.

A final point of concern is that the more that a candidate tries to win over the more extreme factions, the worse the candidate will probably do in the general election. After all, the Republicans cannot win just be getting the Republican votes. They need the independents and perhaps even some Democrats.

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