Tuesday, November 20, 2012

An Odd Conjunction of Interests: Politics & Self-Defense

I've been resisting the urge to blog further on politics in the aftermath of the election, if for no other reason than that pretty much everything worth saying has been said. I've been sorry to see many in the GOP make fools of themselves post-election, but I hope that this is a temporary condition and that the party will manage to pull itself together and forge a new coalition in the future. It would certainly beat further whining about the "new divide" between "takers" and "makers".

So why go back to this well? I was alerted to a very odd conjunction that brings together two interests of mine - politics and self defense. (H/t to my friend Erin Jenne for finding the original story.) The conjunction emerges from a post-mortem story by CBS News in the immediate aftermath of the election:
Advisor: Romney "Shellshocked" By Loss
The particular bit that got my attention was this:
"There's nothing worse than when you think you're going to win, and you don't," said another adviser. "It was like a sucker punch."
Here's the thing about "sucker punches" - the sucker is the guy who got punched. In the world of self defense, the "sucker punch" is the attack that you should have seen coming but didn't. There's all kinds of excellent advice out there for how to be prepared - see here for one excellent discussion. But the common denominator is that "sucker punches" are thrown by people who are in plain sight. They are different from sneak attacks or other kinds of things that you really didn't or couldn't see coming.

Why bother with this particular phrase, which the unnamed Romney advisor was probably using without thought? Because I think it's unintentionally emblematic. Lots of folks (Nate Silver being the most famous, but hardly the only one) accurately predicted the election well ahead of time, using nothing but publicly-available polling data and some mathematical smarts. All of this was easily available to the GOP - they chose not to avail themselves of it. Just as there is plenty of knowledge about how to defend myself, or even to avoid or evade confrontations altogether - so if I get "sucker punched," I chose not to take advantage of those opportunities.

This, I think, is a key lesson that either will or won't be learned. Not everything is predictable, but many things are - and a lot of very smart people have spent a lot of time and effort coming up with good ways to make those predictions. If you choose not to avail yourselves of those, you are choosing to get sucker punched the next time.

Right now the GOP is (to borrow Karl Rove's phrase) at a crossroads. It can choose to learn the lesson and avail itself of knowledge and understanding it apparently lacks at present. Or it can choose to retreat into what it thinks it knows, and get sucker punched again in the future. I really hope they choose the former. As a previous Republican standard-bearer once tried (but failed) to say: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

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