Political relativity: On Angle, Reid and Einstein

“Few people are capable of expressing with equanimity opinions which differ from the prejudices of their social environment. Most people are even incapable of forming such opinions.”

— Albert Einstein

Someday, someone needs to set down the general theory of political relativity to explain why so many can observe the same event, see such vastly different things and remain completely unpersuaded.

An event is what it is — whether it is the Harry Reid-Sharron Angle debate, specifically, or the senatorial campaign, generally. It is your frame of reference that determines what you see. No observer is stationary. All are themselves in motion at different velocities, in different directions along the political spectrum from red to blue.

It matters also which senses the observer is using. Those listening to the Kennedy-Nixon debates on the radio thought Nixon won, while those watching on television thought Kennedy won. I’m not sure there was such a split on the Reid-Angle tussle. No 5 o’clock shadows.

Those who heard Democrat Reid describe the Keynesian attempts to stimulate the economy with massive government spending and were already traveling in that orbit at a similar velocity felt comfortable with the direction. Those striking off along the path of Ludwig von Mises’ and F.A. Hayek’s free market freeway saw a vector shooting away from them in a dangerous direction. Vice versa when Republican Angle described her stance against insurance mandates and Reid rambled on about pink football helmets.

When Senate Majority Leader Reid says, “I don’t know how anyone of Hispanic heritage could be a Republican, OK. Do I need to say more?” those in his trajectory nod in agreement, while those on a different tangent gasp and exclaim, “What a racist thing to say, stereotyping an entire segment of the population.”

And the opposite occurs when Angle blurts out to a group of Hispanic high school students, “I don’t know that all of you are Latino. Some of you look a little more Asian to me.”

One side hears “ObamaCare” and applauds the comeuppance for those evil insurance corporations. The other side thinks death panels. One person hears a resonating chord, another dissonance.

A message’s impact has less to do with the message or the messenger and everything to do with the vector, velocity and mass (relative thickness, if you will) of the observer.

A person standing in the back of a pickup traveling 45 mph who throws a ball forward at 45 mph sees the ball traveling at 45 mph. The person standing on the sidewalk sees it traveling at 90 mph. What you observe depends on where you are standing.

Albert Einstein, physicist and author of the special and general theories of relativity, wrote in the April 1950 edition of Scientific American, “There exists a passion for comprehension, just as there exists a passion for music. That passion is rather common in children, but gets lost in most people later on. Without this passion, there would be neither mathematics nor natural science. Time and again the passion for understanding has led to the illusion that man is able to comprehend the objective world rationally, by pure thought, without empirical foundations …”

The passionate voters already aligned with either Reid or Angle are under the illusion they are behaving rationally. They will not be bumped out of their orbits by facts, figures, gotchas or October surprises.

All of the rhetoric, bluster and bombast is really directed at those who are traveling in orbits in between — the undecideds. All those commercials and public speeches attempt to gravitationally pull them one way or the other. The undecideds are the political asteroids wandering aimlessly around the galaxy of political ideas, occasionally bumping into things and causing the extinction of large, lumbering beasts.

As for Harry Reid telling the Las Vegas Sun he wasn’t aware of any journalists or pundits who declared Angle the winner in that debate, that’s just a black hole.

The theory goes something like this (e=mc²): The energy of one’s convictions equals the mass of one’s deductions times the speed of insight squared.

Thomas Mitchell is editor of the Review-Journal and writes about the role of the press and access to public information. He may be contacted at 383-0261 or via e-mail at tmitchell@reviewjournal.com. Read his blog at lvrj.com/blogs/mitchell.

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