A sympathy for statistics

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The Mission: Mitt Romney’s strategies for success:

“There are answers in numbers-gold in numbers,” he [Romney] wrote in “Turnaround: Crisis, Leadership, and the Olympic Games,” his 2004 memoir. “Pile the budgets on my desk and let me wallow.” His campaign manager, Beth Myers, told me recently that Romney regularly checks Mittromney.com, and sends off e-mails to aides, asking them to add more detailed information to the site.

I still think Mitt Romney’s religion will lose him too many votes on the margins of his target audience to make him viable. But if that isn’t a problem, the data-jock attitude is a serious issue. There’s no bar on being president and several standard deviations or more above the norm in intelligence. Thomas Jefferson was president of The American Philosophical Society; but suffrage was limited to the “higher orders” when he was head of the American state. Jimmy Carter might have had a physics degree, but he was a down home southern boy! I don’t know if Romney is smart enough to know that he has to start actin’ a bit dumb now and then.

P.S. Of course, we could use a head of state with a head for numerical details. But that’s low on the priority list for American presidential candidates judging by the current crop which is considered viable. Rhetorical skills seem more important judging by the notable surplus of lawyers.

34 Comments

  1. Carter was a micromanager — an SNL parody from his time had him hosting a call-in show, and instructing a postal worker and how to use a mail sorter.  
     
    He positions himself as coming from outside the beltway, but not as a dummy.

  2. People might care, if you are a Muslim, but in general religious antipathy is a over hyped media creation. Mitt is simply the smartest most accomplished candidate running. 
     
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B5JZCvLGQMc&e

  3. Hoover was a very clever fellow, and much good that did you.

  4. You can always find an exception to a rule, bio.  
     
    Being smart doesn’t mean you will always be right, but rather that you will be right more often. Hoover would have been right even less often had he been less intelligent.

  5. Agreed that this could conceivably be a PR problem, but self-reported smarts should be grain-of-salt. 
     
    The religious right leaders seem happy with Romney, whereas they might really boycott McCain or Giuliani. Thompson seems to be tanking, and Huckabee is the only real RR guy but seems not to be going anywhere. 
     
    There are some second-rank RR people who wouldn’t vote for a Mormon, and Romney has serious deficiencies in his political history re: abortion.  
     
    The rap on Romney I hear is that he’s so plastic and white bread that he makes the other three seem Bootsy Collins funky in comparison.

  6. Hoover wasn’t especially wrong. He was overwhelmed by events and by the deficiencies of the basic theory he shared with most Republicans.

  7. this campaign ad from romney is one of the most ridiculous i’ve ever seen! 
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nOPp9K1JUCs

  8. Umm…are we forgetting that Clinton was a Rhodes Scholar, who famously wandered the White House at night looking for staffers to challenge about policy questions? I don’t remember reading the word “wonk” before 1992…

  9. Yeah, when both engines fall off the plane, it doesn’t *matter* how good a pilot you are. I always wonder how much of my (horrible) opinion of Bush is really about his lousy circumstances, instead of his lousy performance. And how much of my somewhat higher opinion of Clinton is based on his good circumstances. 
     
    The set of available choices seems especially bad this year, though I usually feel that way.

  10. Yeah, when both engines fall off the plane, it doesn’t *matter* how good a pilot you are. A skilled pilot can still pull off a controlled landing, with a little luck. 
    I always wonder how much of my (horrible) opinion of Bush is really about his lousy circumstances, instead of his lousy performance. He (and his Administration) created most of his lousy circumstances. I have no sympathy for the man.

  11. People might care, if you are a Muslim, but in general religious antipathy is a over hyped media creation. Mitt is simply the smartest most accomplished candidate running. 
     
     
    no it’s not. it’s in the polling data. you might not believe it, but don’t pretend it doesn’t exist. any denials of this reality will be deleted. this isn’t a political blog where you get to repeat your point over & over & over until people give up. there is a large reservoir of antipathy toward mormonism
     
    Umm…are we forgetting that Clinton was a Rhodes Scholar, who famously wandered the White House at night looking for staffers to challenge about policy questions? I don’t remember reading the word “wonk” before 1992… 
     
    he was a mcdonald’s eating bubba so he balanced it out. anyway, his “wonky” reputation was always more style than substance from what i heard. he was obviously smart, but lawyer smart, not technocrat smart.

  12. For a discussion of germ warfare Clinton read the JAMA issue on the topic and had his staff read it. During the discussion he showed that he read it very carefully, and as I remember he talked and listened to Craig Venter on the topic for an hour. Considering the range of things he had to know about, you couldn’t ask for anyone more wonky. Wonks have tunnel vision, and he didn’t. (Source: “Germs”, Judith Miller and others.

  13. I don’t know why you want to chew my head off, Razib, as I only stated my opinion once, not over and over again. Also, if you read what I said carefully, you will see that I said that religious antipathy was over hyped, not that it doesn’t exist. That survey you linked to was very surprising. Who would have guessed that there was so little difference in the unfavorable opinion of Mormons as compared to Muslums? It’s also interesting to see how atitudes shift with time. When Mitt’s dad was governor of Michigan, his religion was hardly ever mentioned. Mormonism doesn’t seem to have hurt the political careers of Orrin Hatch or Harry Reid.

  14. I don’t know why you want to chew my head off, Razib, as I only stated my opinion once…Mormonism doesn’t seem to have hurt the political careers of Orrin Hatch or Harry Reid. 
     
    i chewed your head off because your opinion seemed unsubstantiated in any facts. and opinions without a factual basis are useless. if the poll surprised you you really shouldn’t have been offering an opinion, it isn’t an isolated piece of data, this is pretty reproducible sentiment. as for hatch and reid, i assume you do know that hatch was elected from an 70% mormon state? and nevada is 7-8% mormon, not that much, but enough that they aren’t exotic. in any case, they’re only senators, i think religious exotics have a good shot at lower levels. we’re talking president of the united states. we’ve only had 1 catholic president and no jews despite proportional representation in the congress for both these groups for a while now. exoticism probably doesn’t matter that much for election at the state level, and both the romneys were elected in non-mormon states. but it seems that presidential candidates still stay much safer in their social profile (the democrats seem to have shifted a bit to a lot of catholics recently, so that is likely to change). the key is to look at the trend of hostility to mormons and note that conservative evangelicals are the most hostile to mormonism, which means that a mormon candidate is probably going to have an uphill battle in the south, which any republican presidential candidate needs.

  15. Huckabee is the only real RR guy but seems not to be going anywhere. 
     
    Huckabee has been trending upwards of late. I recommend checking out the graphs on pollster.com (look at Huckabee’s trendline in Iowa polling as well as nationally). His anemic fundraising is really the main thing holding him back. 
    Mind you, while discussing the Republican candidates is more interesting in some ways (more of a horserace), it doesn’t look like their chances are very good in 2008. 
    As for Romney, I think he’s got a good battle plan to claim the Republican nomination. He seems to be a competent executive. I would like him better if he didn’t have some creepy friends (like Mel Sembler).

  16. Intelligence is a tool, and while it is generally beneficial to those who have it, it may or may not be beneficial to others depending on how it used and to what ends. Reagan was less intelligent than most Presidents have been, and was pretty much the opposite of a policy wonk, yet his Presidency had a lot of strengths. Clinton, as noted, was extremely intelligent, yet also exhibited some remarkably poor judgement at times, that really stunted his possible achievements. Nixon and Kissinger were both highly intelligent, yet that didn’t do very much good for anyone else, now did it? 
     
    While being President of the U.S. is an extremely complicated job that having a high intelligence probably could help with, I think it is much more critical at this point that we elect people who are not morally challenged, and who care about the Constitution, the rights of the average person, and the principles this country was founded upon. And by “not morally challenged”, I am not talking about either religion or sex; I am talking about not lying, stealing, abusing power, and that sort of thing. 
     
    The only candidate that I can put any trust in to not abuse his power and to pay attention to the Constitution is Ron Paul. So I’m supporting him. I disagree with him on a number of issues. There are even a few I think he’s a little “out there” on. But he’s honest, he doesn’t think the government should be an instrument of oppression, he respects humans’ rights, and he abides by the Constitution (and has a solid 20-year record in Congress that actually shows that). 
     
    As a further bonus, he is one of only two of the major party candidates that has clearly stated an oppostion to the war in Iraq, and an intent to end it ASAP. (The other is Kucinich, who in my mind has significant other drawbacks.) 
     
    PhilB

  17. Yes, I’m also supporting Paul. As for intelligence, I think the bar you have to clear to be an effective president is not that high – but the job looks to be getting more intellectually demanding as time goes by. Eisenhower (let alone someone like Coolidge) didn’t have nearly as many things to understand and keep track of as our next president will.

  18. Dodd has also come out unmistakably for withdrawal. The Dem leaders are all cautious.  
     
    Paul seems like a perfect GNXP candidate: right libertarian, anti-war, and nativist. 
     
    Clinton didn’t really make a lot of mistakes. He was crippled by ferocious opposition and fake scandals, but was pretty successful nonetheless. Republicans hated him because he “stole their issues”, and Democrats hated him because he was half-Republican, but no one really laid a glove on him except for the medical insurance issue.  
     
    As far as I’m concerned, the financial scandals and dot-com bust were bipartisan, as is globalization and, to a considerable extent, the Iraq War.

  19. For the record (because a lot of people misremember):  
     
    Ruby Ridge was 100% George H. W. Bush and 0% Clinton.  
     
    Bush sent troops to Somalia (after his election defeat) and Clinton got them out. I have never been able to think of a good reason why Bush should have done that. 
     
    The Waco assault was planned under Bush and executed 5 weeks after Clinton was inaugurated (Feb. 28).

  20. John wrote: 
    “the Waco assault was planned under Bush and executed 5 weeks after Clinton was inaugurated.” 
     
    Lots of actions are planned and never implemented. Janet Reno was on the scene, and gave the go-ahead order. That must count for something.

  21. Yeah, it does count for something. Nonetheless, Bush had a hand in both Waco and Somalia, and did Ruby Ridge all by his lonesome, but the Clinton-haters have forgotten that.  
     
    My guess is that Reno made the mistake of trusting the FBI et al, but it my be that Bush had been holding the FBI back. When the Republicans tried to make Koresh into a martyr, that was sick.

  22. Razib, 
     
    Alan Greenspan thought that Clinton was the smartest of all the six Presidents he worked for. But smart as he is, he’s not God and at the end of the day, Bill won’t be enough to put Hillary in the White House. 
     
    Sure, religious hostility exists and people are very leery of Romney’s Mormonism. Some of the hostility exists because of mindless prejudice  
    and some hostility exists because Mormonism is some pretty weird shit. Articles about stray polygynists in the press don’t help, even if polygyny has been disavowed by the mainstream. Anybody who’s ever dealt with a Mormon elder gets weirdo vibes. I’ve done so. It’s a problem, alright. 
     
    That said, I think that Romney has a good chance of winning because his opposition is so poor. I can’t believe that even Republican voters would vote for Giuliani or Thompson once a few facts are thrown in their way, because they are both so hollow and repulsive. Neither is intrinsically likeable, as Reagan was.  
     
    The Base WILL come out to vote for whoever the Republican candidate is. The Base is very disciplined. They like to win. They don’t stay home like a bunch of petulant adolescents, as Dems and Independents do. In 2000, there was a lot of skepticism about Bush amongst the base. People don’t remember – they thought he wasn’t conservative enough. AFAIC, he did lose (by a slim margin), but if he didn’t have The Base, he would have decisively lost. 
     
    Romney has to do a Kennedy and quiet people’s fears about his religion. If he does that, watch out. He’s Presidential looking and was governor of a blue state. And his likely opposition for Commander in Chief will be a woman. If he gets the nomination, he has a good chance of winning. 
     
    (You can save this and give me a nice ass-whupp in six months if I turn out to be totally wrong. It’s just politics.)

  23. Romney has to do a Kennedy and quiet people’s fears about his religion. If he does that, watch out. 
     
    but he can’t do a kennedy. kennedy was in many ways a cultural catholic who placed his religion firmly in the private realm. when romney has tried this with the religious right they’ve gotten angry because they don’t want a candidate’s religion to be in the private realm. any move romney makes is subject to trade off. deemphasizing his religion turns off his target base because they think a candidate’s religion is critical to his credibility, but in romney’s case his specific religion undermines his credibility.

  24. The weird thing about Thompson is that he’s marketed as charismatic but he actually looks like a horrible old molesting uncle. I just imagine him munching away on hardboiled eggs and sausages, working his flabby jowls and smacking his fat lips .

  25. This is why Romney needs to win both Iowa and New Hampshire. There is an irreducible portion of the Republican base that will never support him; but if he can get a big enough head of steam by winning the first two states he’ll get enough votes from the pragmatists, and the people that just want to back a winner, that the lost evangelical votes won’t stop him. The person whose votes he needs to take is Giuliani, and I suspect he’ll be able to do that with back to back wins.

  26. My guess is that Romney wouldn’t lose more than 1/4 of the evangelical vote. Giuliani might lose half or more.  
     
    Pat Buchanan and William Bennett were perfect on all the issues, and up until Bennett’s gambling bust their personal lives were squeaky-clean, but they have had evangelical troubles due to their Catholicism.

  27. bbart, yeah, i agree with that in general. though guliani is a more natural fit with some of the pragmatists. like i said, romney is marketing himself as a social conservative so that causes some issues re: his core audience and message. 
     
    this youtube is what i’m talking about 
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-G9hydflwEQ 
     
    he is getting all pissed because the conservative talk show host is mischaracterizing his religion. and emphasizing that religion is private. i knew many mormons growing up and they were all socially conservative republican, but when it came to a small set of religious issues they often bucked the trend because they knew that they were religiously different and so would be marginalized. e.g., orrin hatch opposes school prayer. as a mormon friend of mine explained, “well, how are you going to agree on how to do the prayer?”

  28. This seems like an example of how coalitions break up as they accomplish a broad shared goal and look for others. When you’re talking about a broad “culture war” (fighting abortion, gay marriage, widespread divorce / illegitimacy, obscenity on TV or in music or on the net), evangelicals, standard Protestants, Catholics, conservative Jews, and Mormons can all easily fit inside the same coalition. But of course all these religions have very different beliefs, and forming a broad coalition with someone isn’t the same as backing them for president, or otherwise dividing the power that your coalition has achieved.  
     
    Something similar happens with racial identity politics and coalitions, right? Blacks and Hispanics may group together on many issues, but I don’t think there’s a huge swell of Hispanic support for Obama, say.

  29. to some extent romney’s problems as a mormon are sui generis. mormons not only believe themselves to be christians, but they believe that they are the true & restored church, and that other churches are in error. obviously other christians, and especially evangelical protestants disagree. not only do evangelicals disagree, but a substantial number don’t even agree that mormons are christian! this is a different case than might happen if romney was an orthodox jew. evangelicals would think he was in error, but a jew can acknowledge that there are just fundamental differences of opinions regarding the facts. there is no disputing the nature of christianity from the point of view of a jew, but for a mormon to respond wholeheartedly to a christian they have to dispute the nature of christianity in great detail and in very deep ways. for example, mormons are not monotheists. they are monolatrous. they worship one god, but do not deny that there may be other gods. that’s a big deal in terms of theological differences. 
     
    now, why the hell does this matter in terms of a political campaign? back in 2000 george w. bush named jesus christ as the most influential political philosopher because he changed bush’s heart. the mixture of a religious understanding of the world and the inferences that one makes from those beliefs is just part & parcel of republican politics today, and romney’s audience is just habituated to that. but i can’t imagine that mitt will tell his audience that his loving and monogamous relationship to his wife is modeled by the precedent of the marriage of the heavenly father and heavenly mother! because of the differences in belief between mormonism and mainstream christianity mitt has tended to speak in more vague religious terms because that’s what spans both religious spaces. but alas that is the tendency more appropriate for a democrat than religious right republicans, who demand a more sectarian discourse.

  30. It would help if he’d a rich daddy to buy him Texas and Illinois too.

  31. up until Bennett’s gambling bust their personal lives were squeaky-clean…. 
     
    What gambling bust? People found out he gambled, but he was never arrested or charged with doing anything illegal.

  32. “What gambling bust? People found out he gambled, but he was never arrested or charged with doing anything illegal.” 
     
    Not a bust in the sense of a legal problem, but a bust in a more colloquial sense of a discovery of hypocrisy and attendant loss of credibility. He was caught behaving in ways that he had made a career out of denouncing. Likewise with Senator Larry (who also had a legal bust involved); the real career problem was the discovery that he was a person of the kind that he had spent decades reviling. Another variant of the TV-Preacher syndrome. 
     
    PhilB

  33. Did Bennet ever actually say there was anything wrong with gambling? I guess I’ll have to read Jeremy Lott’s “In Defense of Hypocrisy”.

  34. It isn’t strictly a hypocrisy problem. A lot of Christian conservatives are very strongly anti-gambling. (Some of them recently got flimflammed by Ralph Reed, who got tons of money for getting them to oppose one group of gamblers for the benefit of a different group.)

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