Tag Archives: Ockham’s Razor

Patrick Henry on Experience and How it Informs the 2012 Race

Patrick Henry—you know, patriot, founding father, revolutionary, etc.—once said: “I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past.” He was looking at the lot of the common man under European monarchies and he knew, like his fellow enlightenment thinkers Donne, Locke, and others, that it was time for a change. Of course, this was when the idea of representative democracy was coming into its own, and its great experiment, the United States of America, was about to erupt as a great beacon of hope in the West. Henry’s words were a call for change, in his case revolutionary change. In last night’s debate, we that same message, though not quite as simply nor as eloquently put.

As he has in his previous debates, Mitt Romney stuck to a simple, straightforward message: The foreign and economic policies of the past four years have left us weakened and unable to properly meet the challenges we face around the world. He backed up that assertion in a way that would make Patrick Henry proud; he cited the experiences of the last four years.

Obama had a slightly more difficult job: He had to defend his policies in the face of Iran’s constantly developing nuclear technology; our obscene levels of national debt, unemployment, and general economic ruin; the resolute resurgence of Russia and China; our inability to properly deal with Al Quida…in other words, the experiences of the last four years that were the direct result of his policies. As a result, he did his best to go on the offensive, citing apparent flip-flops on the Romney side and doing his best to criticize his proposals for the navy, at one point reminding Romney that we no longer use bayonets as much (he’s wrong about that), and describing the aircraft carrier in terms that made me wonder whether or not he’d actually seen one. I have to wonder whether or not that kind of snarky absurdity helped or hurt him.

We’ll learn that as the dust settles and we look for changes in the polls. However, partisanship aside, this debate was instructive in one respect. Experience counts. We have all experienced the last four years, we have all seen what has happened both here and overseas, and we have all felt the direct consequences of Obama’s economic policies in our wallets. For true believers on either side, the actual results don’t matter, they will argue that their guy has won. Happily, neither group is enough of a voting block to elect a president. For the rest of us, this debate was a reminder to look at the experiences of the last four years and ask a question: Do we want more of the same?

I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past.–Patrick Henry

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The Honest Politician

Everyone likes to think that their guy is honest. If you are a democrat, odds are you thought that Joe Biden was more honest than Paul Ryan; if you are a republican, odds are good you took the opposite position. That goes to two things: the credibility of the candidate, and the bias of the audience.

In my October 4, 2012 entry, Romney and the Joy of the Simple Message, I discussed how a simple, straightforward message that can pass the test posed by Ockham’s Razor by relying on the fewest number of assumptions is best, and how Romney’s jobs first message, in passing that test, was the more credible, a fact that certainly contributed to Romney’s victory. We saw much the same from Ryan, though he dealt with more topics than Romney faced, and that approach served him well; but we saw something in Biden’s performance that can serve as an example to writers, orators, or anyone else who tries to convince others that their point of view is correct.

Early in the debate, the issue of the terrorist attack on the US Embassy in Benghazi, Libya, came up. When confronted with the issue, Biden made up excuses, including a slowly evolving intelligence assessment that began as the “riots against that anti-Islam film” story but eventually settled on the truth, that it was a terrorist attack that had nothing to do with any film, Islam-related or not. He claimed that no one asked for more security, and then went on to attack Romney for his reaction to the killings.

This exchange is so telling, and makes such a clear object lesson on the necessity of honesty, because the truth came out a week before the vice-presidential debate! The news has been filled with stories of the spin that the Obama Administration has tried to put on the Benghazi attack, along with proof that the embassy staff were begging for additional security as well as proof that those pleas fell on deaf ears in Obama’s State Department and, likely, elsewhere in the Executive Branch.

When so confronted, Biden had two choices: He could argue and lie, knowing that the truth was already out there; or he could admit everything and have a mea culpa moment on behalf of Obama and himself. Biden chose the former, and that was a fatal mistake. The history of politics has taught us that the cover-up is always worse than the shame or guilt being hidden; the lie is always more damaging to the liar. The old biblical canard, “the truth shall set you free” is true, and ought to be the watchword of writers, artists, and politicians alike.

For most folks who do not fall within the “democrat true believer” camp, the obvious lie about the embassy attack destroyed any credibility Biden had. Therefore, the question to be asked is, given the notoriety of the issue, and the fact that the truth is already out there, why not make the integrity move, take responsibility, and seek forgiveness? Also, why not do that on some of the other issues, where we already know the truth in spite of the Obama Administration’s various explanations. Biden would have done his ticket a real favor by being honest with the American People, and he would have bolstered his own credibility in the debate, perhaps to a point where his grins and grimaces would not be front page news this morning.

So, how does this apply to writers? Simple: Readers know when you are lying. Treat them with respect and tell them the truth, and you will be amazed at how your work takes off!

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Romney and the Joy of the Simple Message

There has been a lot of chatter today about last night’s debate. From the left the reactions range of excuses and good reasons for Obama’s performance to outrage over it. From the right, grins and gloating. The one thing that all and sundry agree on is that Romney won the debate. Why?

Consider Ockham’s Razor, the maxim that teaches us that when faced with differing and conflicting hypotheses, the truth will come from the one with the fewest assumptions. Last night, Romney’s performance was predicated on one—yes, one—assumption: The American people need jobs and it is the role of the government to foster an environment where jobs can be created. That was it. That was Romney’s message. Obama’s, on the other hand, was based on a variety of assumptions ranging from the old chestnut, “It’s Bush’s fault” to “taxes promote economic growth” to “Obamacare is identical to what Romney installed in Massachusetts” to “coal is evil and green energy is the way to go regardless of cost” to “the rich need to pay more in the name of fairness.” These are merely the ones that come to mind, but you get the idea. One assumption informs Romney’s economic views; many assumptions inform Obama’s.

I will leave it to you to choose which one is right, but the reactions this morning tell me that hitting that single, basic idea of job growth, and making that idea the centerpiece of his economic plan gave Romney an edge that Obama could not beat.

Trust in Ockham and his razor, it hasn’t let us down in over 660 years.

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