A neurologist named Robert Burton postulates that the sensation of certainty is entirely disconnected from actually knowing anything. He wrote in Salon:
… despite how certainty feels, it is neither a conscious choice nor even a thought process. Certainty and similar states of “knowing what we know” arise out of primary brain mechanisms that, like love or anger, function independently of rationality or reason. Feeling correct or certain isn’t a deliberate conclusion or conscious choice. It is a mental sensation that happens to us.
The importance of being aware that certainty has involuntary neurological roots cannot be overstated. If science can shame us into questioning the nature of conviction, we might develop some degree of tolerance and an increased willingness to consider alternative ideas — from opposing religious or scientific views to contrary opinions at the dinner table.
As I understand what Dr. Burton wrote, the sensation of certainty is generated in a sort of invisible field created by the neurons throughout the brain. The important point is that it not generated by those parts of the brain associated with cognition and reason. Certainty feels like a thought, but it isn’t.
I have a post up about this on the Buddhism blog, but here I want to relate it to politics.
Certainty as an involuntary sensation unrelated to actually knowing anything explains the Bush Administration, big time. But in recent weeks, as the activist Left and the Left Blogosphere have divvied up into Clinton and Obama camps, it’s broken out here in our neighborhood as well. I believe most of us, and I include myself, have allowed sensations of certainty to color our views of both candidates.
Let me make my case: My preference for Obama comes less from his oratory and more from his strengths as a campaigner and the fact that he’s bringing new people, especially young people, into politics. I doubt that he can heal the nation’s sick political culture by himself, but an overwhelming tide of public opinion might do the trick. And I think a lot of the young folks get this better than some of us geezers do.
I second what E.J. Dionne said about historic opportunity:
During the past two months, Democrats in large numbers have reached the same conclusion that so many Republicans did in 1980: Now is the time to go for broke, to challenge not only the ruling party but also the governing ideas of the previous political era and the political coalition that allowed them to dominate public life.
In those few places where he and Senator Clinton disagree, I actually have a slight preference for her positions over his. I’ve voted for her both times she’s run for U.S. Senator, and I met her once and thought she was charming.
But she has a long history of betraying progressive interests for her own political interests, and her strengths lie less in shaking up the system than in finessing it, sort of. Her claims of being ready to lead on “day one” have been belied by the fact that her campaign is a mess, and it’s a mess largely of her own making. She listens to the wrong people; she’s been slow to replace incompetent staff; she often seems tone deaf to public mood. Further, I think her resume is way too padded and her senatorial legislative accomplishments are way too thin. She fights and fights, yes, but she doesn’t win much.
Now, those are reasons. But I know that underneath those reasons is a strong sensation of certainty that I really, really do not what Senator Clinton to be the nominee. I’ve had this sensation of certainty since the last presidential election, when the bobbleheads began to talk up Hillary as the sure-fire Democratic nominee in 2008. A big part of that sensation came from her Iraq War resolution vote and her early support for the Iraq War. She was one of the most hawkish Dems in the Senate for a long time after the 2002 vote. When we really needed her, she let us down.
But I know another part of it is long-smoldering resentment for the Clinton Triangulation Strategy, in which both Bill and Hillary often dissed the Left to mess with the Right. And the whole “inevitability” narrative really burned me. Since early 2005, if not sooner, Chris Matthews et al. have been chirping at us that Hillary Clinton would be the nominee. Like us little citizen-persons had nothing to say about it.
So that’s my confession. Now I’d like to see some equal-time soul-searching on the part of Clinton supporters.
There are solid and sensible reasons to prefer Clinton to Obama. But I rarely see those reasons. Instead, what we get from Clinton supporters increasingly borders on psychasthenia. (I would have used the more common word, hysteria, but one rabid little Clintonista has declared war on me for being a sexist and anti-feminist because I used it elsewhere. Well, thanks for the traffic, toots, but you don’t get a return link.)
I’m not going to catalog all of the wild conclusions about Obama to which Clinton supporters have jumped, but Lance Mannion does a good job of answering some of them.
IMO the biggest reason the Right is mostly still pulling its punches regarding Obama is that the Clinton supporters are doing their work for them. (I’d send you to some links, but I’ve got enough of ’em pissed off at me already and I don’t want to start a blog war. If you hang out much in the blogs, you probably know who I’m talking about.) They’re frantically throwing every bit of mud at Obama they can find, oblivious to the fact that they’re doing to Obama what the Right did to the Clintons all those years — unquestioningly believing everything bad they hear, jumping to conclusions that may or may not connect, and blowing it up into a Big Deal. Sure, some accusations contain some facts, but so did most of what the Right said about the Clintons. And if anyone really wanted to do it, enough facts could be dug up about Senator Clinton to generate new smears to tarnish her just as robustly.
They’re right that Clinton has gotten worse press — lately. She wouldn’t have been a candidate at all, however, had the media not built her up into Miss Inevitability for so long.
Clinton supporters have a strong sensation of certainty that Hillary Clinton should be the nominee, as do I that she shouldn’t. The difference between us is that I admit I’m listening to my guts. Few Clinton supporters I’ve run into are able to be that self-honest. There really is a vibe coming out of many of them that Senator Clinton was entitled to the nomination, and who is this Obama upstart to take it away from her?
Jennifer Nix has a good column at Huffington Post, in which she accuses the Clinton campaign of magical thinking:
This reasoning is pinned at present on diaphanous evidence, threatened lawsuits and some audacious fear-mongering. It is rooted in the Clinton campaign’s emotional investment in a host of great expectations–to finish what Clinton started on the health care front in the 90s, to restore the Clinton legacy, and to elect the first woman president in U.S. history– ideas which have lost their luster in the Democratic, and perhaps American psyche, since those golden days of inevitability.
As Joan Didion wrote in her memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, about her mental and emotional state after her husband’s sudden death, this kind of thinking can set in when grief is too great to bear, and one cannot deal with the reality of death. “I had entered at the moment it happened a kind of shock in which the only thought I allowed myself was that there must be certain things I needed to do.”
With Clinton’s inevitability turned to dust and her losses in eleven straight contests pointing to the likely end of her campaign, the candidate and her staffers are busying themselves with ominous tasks to fend off the shock.
The question is: At what cost to the rest of the Democratic party, and the nation?
It’s a good column, and I suggest you read all of it.
Tomorrow is primary day for Ohio, Texas, Vermont and Rhode Island. Latest polls say that Senator Clinton will almost certainly win Ohio and Rhode Island. Obama is ahead in Vermont, and Texas is dead even.
I understand it’s close to mathematically impossible for Clinton to suprass Obama in elected delegates. But if Clinton wins Ohio and Rhode Island, she’s going to fight on, no matter the actual delegate count and no matter what she’s doing to the party. If she wins Ohio, Rhode Island and Texas, there’s a chance she’ll get her way and force the party and superdelegates to give her the nomination.
I have a strong sensation of certainty that this would be a huge mistake.
Update: Rush is urging Texas Republicans to vote for Clinton. Make of this what you will.
Update 2: John Aravosis:
Hillary’s campaign has already said that they are throwing the kitchen sink at Obama. They will discuss, are discussing, all the bad things that the GOP will throw at Obama in the fall.
So, what will the Republicans throw at Hillary in the fall?
Lots. But I’m not going to detail those things today because I’m, surprisingly, still pulling punches with regards to what I write about Hillary. I don’t want to damage Hillary should she become our nominee, as increasingly unlikely as that appears. I don’t want to write about very real scandals in Hillary’s past, scandals that we will be forced to revisit for the next 8 months, and 8 years. I don’t want to write about the rumors about Bill that no one has written about to date, even though the rumors include lots of details which are at least just as true as Obama being a Muslim. While Hillary’s campaign is pushing known lies about Obama, such as the “Muslim” connection, most of the stories about Hillary are anything but lies. They’re real stories that she will have to discuss publicly, again and again and again, to her and our party’s detriment.
But I’m not going to be discussing the details of those stories today because I don’t want to make our candidate damaged goods in the fall. You will notice that neither Obama’s campaign nor Obama’s official, or unofficial, surrogates are talking about the Clintons’ past or present scandals, the Clintons’ negatives, what a Clinton run for the presidency will to Democratic congressional races and governor races across the country. The Clintons are counting on the fact that none of us will write about their negatives, because we’re too nice. So they can get as dirty as they want, with impunity.
Well, come Wednesday, if Hillary doesn’t win 65% of the delegates in Ohio and Texas, and still insists on staying in the race and ripping our party in two, it will be time to start treating candidate Clinton with the same golden rule she is using for candidate Obama. Why? Not for revenge, but for the sake of our party and the fall election. Hillary and her campaign are in the process of turning Obama into damaged goods in the fall. They didn’t have to go there, but beating Obama became more important to them than beating John McCain. So, the first question for Hillary come Wednesday, should she decide to continue risking our chances of winning in the fall even though the math says it’s over, will be the question she’s asking Obama today: What negatives will the Republicans throw against you in the fall? And as I’ve noted repeatedly, there are some negatives out there that most of you don’t even know about – but everyone in Washington knows about them, in detail. That’s because even Democrats who don’t love Hillary, don’t go there, for the good of the party. On Wednesday, the good of the party may dictate that we do.