Ed Kilgore contrasts different takes on how US presidential elections are won and lost:
As it happens, there are two new books just out that represent the extremes in this debate: The Gamble, by political scientists John Sides and Lynn Vavreck, which argues the 2012 presidential outcome can be explained almost entirely by fundamentals, and Double Down, by the political journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, whose view of what matters most is best expressed by the title of their earlier book on the 2008 campaign, Game Change. I’ll give you one guess which book is already on the New York Times bestseller list and has been optioned to HBO.
From what I’ve seen, the Halperin/Heilemann book is pretty melodramatic but it does tap into our apparently innate desire for finding the decisive moments in our lives. Kilgore favours the much less dramatic perspective that elections are driven by long term fundamentals.
This tension can be seen in most discussions about personal and organisational change. Many people seek the big lever, the meeting that will be the game-changer or the new job or place to live that will suddenly untap our true potential. (Been there, done that, have the tear-soaked tea towel to show for it.) Others insist that we should avoid the gimmicks and flim flam, and do the basics right. The latter camp will tend to favour deep analysis, perhaps not noticing there’s a certain circularity in their search for the fundamentals – namely the assumption that such things really exist.
My view is that we’re in the neighbourhood of a paradox. The Buddhists have that saying about acting as if every single thing you changes the future of the universe, and laughing at your self-importance for thinking so. The search for fundamentals could be just another version of looking for the decisive moment. Reality is more rich and amazing than we can easily contemplate and we mistake the tricks that thought plays on us.
Bonus related link: Chris Rodgers, The Match Turned on the Penalty