I have always been interested in how people come to believe those things they believe. When it comes to political opinions, these beliefs are often held to very strongly. I do not mean just believing that one political party or another is best for the country; I mean belief in what will happen politically in the country in the near future given the information that is available to everyone. Sometimes the issue relates to specific, concrete predictions. One current example is the large number of political partisans who believe there is such a thing as global warming and the somewhat smaller number who believe just as strongly that there is no such thing. We will see soon enough who is right. One would think that one group is just simply smarter than the other, or better informed; but that seems not to be true. It is easy to see that some very smart individuals, some even with scientific credentials, appear on both sides of this debate. I think now that the explanation is obvious: people tend to believe what they want to believe. But that plain fact was not always obvious to me.
When I was in college Adlai Stevenson was running against Dwight Eisenhower for the Presidency of The United States. The national polls showed Eisenhower running wa-ay ahead of Stevenson. I followed the polls closely since during my entire life, there had never been a Republican President. In fact, during the previous election, when Truman beat Dewey, there had been reports in the press of the imminent demise of the Republican Party. A Republican victory now seemed very strange.
My brother, who was a television producer of a program that took him everywhere in the country week after week, reassured me: “I talk to every sort of person everywhere; and I tell you, Stevenson is going to win.” The polls were wrong, he told me. He knew better. Of course, Eisenhower won in a landslide.
During the last Presidential election there were a number of web sites that on a weekly basis combined and analyzed every single poll. There were some minor changes over the course of months, such as a dip in Obama’s approval following the first debate; but from beginning to end the polls showed that Obama was clearly ahead. I was surprised, therefore, listening right before the election to a number of pundits on television, to discover that some of them believed the election was very much in doubt. They gave reasons not dissimilar from those my brother explained to me, namely, that they travelled the country with Mitt Romney; and the crowds coming to his campaign rallies were large and growing. I was astonished to learn after the election that right up to the end Romney himself thought he was going to win. He had access to all the public polls and to private polls that were all telling him the same thing: he was going to lose. Yet he thought he was going to win!
I listened this morning to the various Sunday news programs. Different political experts were talking about whether or not Chris Christie’s potential run for the Presidency was doomed by the various scandals unfolding in New Jersey. A number of the pundits opined that he would probably be okay unless certain things happened. They were prepared to wait and see.
I found myself bouncing up and down on the couch. “See what? What are they talking about? We know what we are going to see.”
This is the way I see the situation: It is as if Christie fell off the edge of a very tall building. He has been falling in slow motion. We are all watching from inside a window on the ninth floor. (Last week we were sitting on the eleventh floor.) So far, Christie is not doing so bad. His candidacy is still viable unless at some future time he hits the ground. Unless one of a number of things happen:
Unless some high-ranking members of his administration will seek immunity and then state plainly that Christie knew about the lane closing on the George Washington Bridge right from the beginning. WHICH OF COURSE THEY WILL!
Or unless it will be determined that Christie violated law by directing Hurricane Sandy money to different cities for political reasons, rather than on the basis of need. WHICH OF COURSE WILL HAPPEN!
Or unless it turns out that Christie used these moneys to bribe New Jersey mayors to approve pet projects of his. WHICH OF COURSE WILL TURN OUT TO BE TRUE!
Or unless it can be shown that Christie’s recently appointed Attorney General quashed a legitimate criminal indictment for political reasons. WHICH OF COURSE IT CAN!
Or unless Christie can be shown to have systematically furthered his own political career by vindictively and sometimes criminally punishing other elected officials across the state of New Jersey. WHICH OF COURSE WILL HAPPEN!
Next week we will be listening to the Sunday news programs and looking out a window on the fifth floor. Someone will say, “Well, it doesn’t look so good for Christie. He seems to have picked up some speed because of what happened this past week, but it is possible still that his political career can still be saved. Unless…
Of course, there is nothing privileged about my own point of view. Maybe I am just seeing what I want to see.(c) Fredric Neuman Follow Dr. Neuman's blog at fredricneumanmd.com/blog or ask advice at fredricneumanmd.com/blog/ask-dr-neuman-advice-column/