Built on Facts

Sarah Palin and Parity Invariance

I really loathe politics, and have mostly tried to avoid writing about it. But finally something interesting has happened, and it’s worth a brief comment.

In physics we like to talk about symmetry. Conservation laws and symmetry are intimately related, and you can learn a lot about one by studying the other. One of the more interesting examples of this is parity. Parity basically means reversing left and right – if you do an experiment and then rebuild the entire thing backwards, everything happens as you’d expect. If you take a picture of a physical process and flip the picture in Photoshop, the resulting picture is still a picture of a perfectly valid physical situation. But it wasn’t too long ago that it was discovered that certain subatomic interactions in fact are not symmetric under parity. This was a huge deal, and resulted in a small revolution in our understanding of particle physics.

There’s sort of an equivalent symmetry breaking in politics. Take two otherwise precisely identical candidates, except make one a man and one a woman. Their political fortunes will not be the same – politics is not invariant under sex-reversal symmetry. And the consequences of this symmetry breaking are why McCain chose Sarah Palin.

Here’s my reasoning on why it will probably help him much more than any of the standard choices like Romney, Pawlenty, Ridge, etc.

1. It will appeal to women – especially to the all-important undecided/moderate women who supported Hillary out of solidarity.
2. It will appeal to men – let’s face it, being attractive doesn’t hurt. Could a man shaped like Taft ever be nominated today regardless of his political views? I doubt it and it’s a shame. But political reality is political reality.
3. It will appeal to disaffected conservatives – McCain was never popular with the conservative base. Sarah Palin is considerably more popular among movement conservatives.
4. It reduces the “Let’s make history” appeal of Obama – now electing the Republican ticket will produce a demographic first as well.

Does she have disadvantages, like lack of experience? Absolutely. Do those disadvantages outweigh the above? Not a chance. We have to face the facts: everyone who cares about issues and qualifications has already made up their minds one way or another. VP picks are about pulling in the rest, and Palin will do that in spades.

I’m Matt Springer, and I approve you thinking that my analysis is completely lacking in data. It’s pure guesswork. We’ll find out how accurate it is soon enough.

Comments

  1. #1 chet snicker
    August 29, 2008

    sir,

    might i object at your lack of appropriate opprobrium directed at the party of lincoln? after all, its heteronormative oligarchic eurocentric agenda does not service to science!

    yours truly,
    c. v. snicker

  2. #2 penn
    August 29, 2008

    1 and 2 are based on absolutely zero facts. If being an attractive woman was such a winner in politics then why have we had exactly 1 woman candidate with a real shot of winning in our entire history?

    1 is bogus because Palin is horrible on women’s issues. Women aren’t stupid sheep. If they supported Clinton’s policies it would make absolutely no sense to support the exact opposite candidate because she has ovaries.

    2 is bogus because there are a lot of sexist people who frankly don’t like women in positions of power. Young attractive women are assumed to be bimbos by this crowd.

    3 is true, but doesn’t it kind of hurt her with 1, unless women are clueless sheep?

    4 is true, but I don’t think there is anyone looking to vote for something just because the ticket is different than any other. By that logic having Romney as the first Mormon VP, or Lieberman as the first Jewish VP would have worked too. This is pretty much just a restatement of number 1.

  3. #3 razib
    August 29, 2008

    1 is bogus because Palin is horrible on women’s issues.

    what are “women’s issues”? there is no sex difference on abortion.

    2 is bogus because there are a lot of sexist people who frankly don’t like women in positions of power. Young attractive women are assumed to be bimbos by this crowd.

    http://www.pollster.com/VoteForAlarge.php

    By that logic having Romney as the first Mormon VP, or Lieberman as the first Jewish VP would have worked too

    the number of jews and mormons is lower than the proportion of women. so the impact factor is way bigger.

  4. #4 Woody Tanaka
    August 29, 2008

    I think her barbaricly right-wing views will turn off as many moderates as it attracts among the slime in the republican base that was disaffected by McCane

  5. #5 Matt Springer
    August 29, 2008

    If being an attractive woman was such a winner in politics then why have we had exactly 1 woman candidate with a real shot of winning in our entire history?

    My point was about being attractive in general. In the TV age, being attractive is a net vote-getter, all other things being equal. I brought up the example earlier to a friend that Kennedy’s narrow defeat of Nixon is widely attributed to the fact that Kennedy was a lot better looking than Nixon during their TV debate.

    Also, the quality of caring about a candidate’s sex that you attribute to men in your analysis of point 2 is exactly what you don’t attribute to women in point 1. At most one of those two criticisms can be correct, since I don’t think only one sex can be sexist – indeed it would be sexist to think so.

  6. #6 penn
    August 29, 2008

    razib, you define abortion as the whole of “women’s issues”? Is the right to equal work for equal pay a women’s issue? Because McCain-Palin is on the wrong side of that too. What about the domestic violence? Is that a woman’s issue because Biden wrote the Violence Against Women Act and McCain voted against it. What about early childhood education, contraception availability, and ensuring that every child has access to healthcare? Are those women’s issues? There may be do difference in abortion polling, but there is a reason that women favor the Democratic agenda.

    I understand the numbers are completely different, but if it’s just about women, then it’s a restatement of #1, which I said. If it’s about the country not electing a pair of male WASPs (Kennedy excepted), then the comparison is valid.

  7. #7 penn
    August 29, 2008

    Both sexes are sexist, and the vast majority of sexists of both sexes are anti-woman. Do you honestly not realize this?

    There are a hell of a lot more women-hating women than there are man-hating women. Ann Coulter would be an example. I’ve heard women say that men were meant to lead. Girls and boys both are brought up to think that women are inferior and not meant to lead.

    Also, being attractive may be a bonus over being ugly, but how many ugly candidates was McCain considering?

  8. #8 penn
    August 29, 2008

    Correction: McCain did not vote against VAWA. I was mistaken.

  9. #9 Zifnab
    August 29, 2008

    Does she have disadvantages, like lack of experience? Absolutely. Do those disadvantages outweigh the above? Not a chance. We have to face the facts: everyone who cares about issues and qualifications has already made up their minds one way or another. VP picks are about pulling in the rest, and Palin will do that in spades.

    You can say that now, but she hasn’t exactly been vetted by the Democratic Oppo researches yet. McCain ran a commercial a few weeks back, comparing Barack Obama to Paris Hilton. Then he turned around and nominated a rich daughter of privilege with precious little administrative experience from one of the most remote states in the nation. Add to that, she’s a total fundie – big on creationism, strongly against abortion rights, and very tight with the evangelical movement.

    This was move designed to shore up McCain’s wavering base. The moment Palin opens her cute little yap, her approval rating is going to plummet rather hard. Against a political pro like Joe Bidden, she’s going to be seen as weak and insecure.

    As a spur-of-the-moment political counter move, McCain has lucked out with his pick. As a long term strategy decision for three months down the line, it’s a huge gamble. This looks like a Mondale move to me.

  10. #10 penn
    August 29, 2008

    razib, I’ll let the Obama campaign define women’s issues. I would send you to McCain’s Women’s Issues page, but apparently it doesn’t exist. That kind of tells you something.

  11. #11 razib
    August 29, 2008

    razib, I’ll let the Obama campaign define women’s issues.

    1) most of those are women’s issues only insofar as they are human issues (e.g., “healthcare”).

    2) those which are specifically womens issues generally fall into two categories:

    a) women are split (abortion, stem cells, etc.), there’s no sex difference so it’s irrelevant in terms of appealing to a woman by espouse position X or !X

    b) they’re uncontroversial. e.g., opposing domestic violence.

  12. #12 CCPhysicist
    August 29, 2008

    Our first reaction in the hallway is that she brings two things to the ticket that McCain really needs:

    1) Experience. McCain’s entire campaign against Obama has been based on experience, and hihs arguments attacking Obama’s are much stronger now that he has chosen a person with BOTH two years of experience as governor AND several years of experience as a hockey mom to be one heartbeat away from dealing with the Russians in eastern Europe. Dealing with junior hockey referees is just like dealing with Putin.

    2) Keith Olberman will now support McCain because his VP choice is, like Olberman, a former TV sports reporter.

  13. #13 Nyx
    August 29, 2008

    I wonder how this will affect McCain’s chances among the scientific community when she clearly supported teaching creationism along side evolution in public schools?

    http://scienceblogs.com/afarensis/2006/10/27/intelligent_design_and_the_ala/

  14. #14 razib
    August 29, 2008

    I wonder how this will affect McCain’s chances among the scientific community when she clearly supported teaching creationism along side evolution in public schools?

    academic scientists are already generally liberal democrats. engineers are generally conservative. etc. secular libertarian scientists are generally not happy with the republican party right now, so little difference on the margins.

  15. #15 Shawn Wilkinson
    August 29, 2008

    Matt? This is Shawn from LSU. Oh snap, you took my job!

    Just kidding.

    But in all seriousness, I think you missed one datum in your analysis, or at least glossed over it. I’m referencing number 3.

    Paldin, as noted earlier, is a lot closer to the Moral Majority™ in terms of stances on “single-issue” thinking (she’s prolife, antigay, pro-ID/Creationism), so she’ll win such single-issue voters {is that what you meant by dissatisfied conservatives? :-)}.

    Is this a good choice? Personally, I don’t think so. Biden with his experience as chair of the Judiciary Committee knows how to put people on the spot. I mean, we have a verb named for what he did to Bork in the 80’s (?).

  16. #16 Matt Springer
    August 29, 2008

    A few people have mentioned the experience issue. It is her largest disadvantage, and potentially something that will give the McCain campaign real problems. However, there are mitigating factors which McCain could use to play down those problems.

    1. She’s technically the only person on either ticket with any executive experience at all.
    2. She’s not any less experienced than Obama, in terms of years served in a major elected office.

    And again, I think the people who care about experience have already made up their minds. VP choices in both cases this year have been about shoring up potentially problematic constituencies – white men in the case of Biden, and women in the case of Palin.

    Howdy, Shawn! I think your assessment of her positions is not far off. Her rhetorical skill against Biden however might well be nontrivial. I’ve never seen her debate, but governors usually (there are counterexamples) don’t get elected without at least some real speaking skill. Her acceptance speech was well-delivered, FWIW. This doesn’t say anything about her skill on her feet, so that’s something else we’ll find out soon enough.

  17. #17 John
    August 29, 2008

    If you are a fan of Sherlock Holmes, you may recognize the following quote: “It is fatal error to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories instead of theories to suit the facts.” I have this quote hanging in my office. Following this simple principle can be important in many professions. It should be especially important to those who consider themselves “scientists”. Sarah Palin has been the Republican VP pick for less than twelve hours. It is clear from reading the comments on this post that there is much personal bias being presented as “fact”. It would be much more interesting to this conversation if there was more time spent in data collection. Of particular interest would be to see if the actual collection of data would change anyone’s world view.

  18. #18 Carl Brannen
    August 30, 2008

    John quotes Sherlock Holmes: “It is fatal error to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories instead of theories to suit the facts.”

    In the context of physics, this is an interesting quote as elementary particle physics is built so much from accretion. As new data comes in from experiments, the theories are modified accordingly.

    One wonders what the result would be if a mathematician were exposed to all the experimental results, but without the theory explaining it. Would the inevitable result be the same sequence of deduction and conclusion that elementary particles has followed?

    P.S. Even 2008 politics is boring.

  19. #19 Shawn Wilkinson
    August 30, 2008

    Ah, but John. Sherlock Holmes never divulged his data completely to begin with, so his readers couldn’t theorize anything at all.

    ;-)

  20. #20 anon
    August 30, 2008

    “1. She’s technically the only person on either ticket with any executive experience at all.”
    “2. She’s not any less experienced than Obama, in terms of years served in a major elected office.”

    “But she is also less than two years into her term as governor, and her only previous political experience came as mayor of the town of Wasilla, which has a population of about 6,700.” — today’s Washington Post

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/08/29/AR2008082901112.html?hpid=topnews

  21. #21 Matt Springer
    August 30, 2008

    True enough, anon. Still, I don’t think “mayor” is less relevant than state senator, and though Obama has been in the US Senate for two more calendar years, they are only in session about 200 days a year and it’s not an executive position regardless. And if I’m allowed a bit of snark I’ll point out that of her, McCain, Obama, and Biden, she’s the only one who’s ever held an actual productive non-government job.

    Obama’s campaign is going to have two options: attack her inexperience which just highlights his own inexperience, or ignore the fact that she has not been in office long. I don’t think Palin’s nomination gives Obama any extra material to attack with that won’t rebound on him.

    The main good thing from Obama’s perspective is that it takes much of the wind out of McCain’s ability to attack the experience issue. It’s a good defensive situation for Obama.

  22. #22 Alastor
    August 30, 2008

    Matt, Obama and Biden are both former professors of constitutional law. Why would you not consider this to be a ‘productive non-government job’?

    Your physics is correct, but you politics is abominable.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/30/us/politics/30law.html?_r=1&scp=10&sq=obama%20constitutional%20law&st=cse&oref=slogin

  23. #23 sfcouple
    August 30, 2008

    Love your physics, but your political skills need work. Once the surprise of McCain’s selection sinks in, and wears off, most voters will not be impressed with her credentials. And by most voters, I’m including women. Just because Palin and women have the same parts doesn’t mean that women will automatically support her.

  24. #24 Matt Springer
    August 30, 2008

    Alastor, are you sure that the thing the world needs to increase its productivity is more lawyers? ;)

  25. #25 Alastor
    August 31, 2008

    Matt. Well, consider this statement made by the current president in a Q&A session: “The legislature’s job is to write law. It’s the executive branch’s job to interpret law”. This gaffe regarding basic constitutional law (separation of powers) is interesting in light of the current administration’s style.

  26. #26 CCPhysicist
    September 1, 2008

    Many people, my wife included, don’t realize how small Alaska is in population (a fraction of the largest county in many states), which means the governor of Alaska has fewer problems than, say, the person running Wayne County (MI) government. (Wayne County has a population three times the size of Alaska.) In contrast, a person on the Senate Foreign Relations committee votes on matters of life and death to our nation as a whole.

    Add to that the fact that Alaska funds its government like Saudi Arabia, by taxing the oil it sends to us in the lower 48 (increasing our costs by 6 billion dollars last year alone), and you can understand why the previous Republican government there was reportedly corrupt and why she could turn down federal dollars to build the “bridge to nowhere”. She could use dollars from an oil tax paid by the rest of the US to cover the cost of building it.

    However, as scientists and Americans, the important issues we should discuss are her belief that global warming is just speculation rather than something scientists observe (let alone whether humans contribute to it) and that creationism (including its version of the second law of thermodynamics?) should be taught in the schools as if it were an actual science. As Americans, we might also question her position that a rape victim, even a soldier raped by the enemy, should not be allowed to have an abortion and other opinions on national issues that put her on the extreme right of McCain.

  27. #27 Chris P
    September 3, 2008

    Not all engineers are conservatives. Some of the worst ones I’ve met are. Most of the best are liberal.

    Palin believes in censoring books in the library – hopefully that will not include physics books?

    Physics books don’t support creationism.

  28. #28 Wendy
    September 4, 2008

    I think Palin is unprofessional. She did not mention anything important and whomever wrote her speech was just trying to make her look tough. She does not want her family mentioned but showcases them to the media herself and the issues are what matters not what she has done in the past of what McCain has done. There was only stupid jokes made and acting done on her part. McCain only picked her because she is a woman and this just shows how unintelligent he is. She made (or the writer of her speech made) wrong comments which have been mentioned all over the news and she made herself look stupid. We need to rid the McCain (Dumb) and Palin (snob) and get on with what is important and with whom can get things done Obama Obama Obama Obama Obama!!!!!

  29. #29 Nathan Cook
    September 6, 2008

    I resent that I can’t even go to a website while drunkenly looking for explanations of how a lake of hydrocarbons could end up Titan without there having been some kind of biological swarm on that planet a million years ago, which means we’ve found evidence for life on another planet, or something, and I’m still reading about Sarah f*cking Palin. Some gay-hating, creationist, illogical creature who has done more to turn me into a sexist than my mother ever did to turn me gay. I seriously give up. I’m voting for Obama, then I’m moving to Canada, regardless, and the rest of you can try to figure out how to sink an oil well on titan (maybe by using some salts on Mars to fuel the expedition) and I’ll laugh at you while you all go crazy. Sarah Palin. Seriously, I had just bookmarked this site and everything. I feel like I have brain herpes.
    NC

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