The Separate Realities of a '50-50 Race'

From another reader, on the possible motives of strategists like Rove:

I, personally, absolutely believe [that the "Romney will win!" theme] is a de-legitimizing strategy for one simple reason: this is so strangely out of touch (more so than usual) and the people leading it are not the base conservative voter.  Rove knows exactly how likely Romney is to lose.  And yet the gonzo 'up is down' talk is only growing.

Another aspect of the deligitimation depends on how close the states are.  One can expect legal challenges if the vote is close.  I think this push to portray Obama as having zero chance is laying the groundwork.  At minimum it works to keep constituents of Republicans in Congress from tolerating any compromises in the event of an Obama re-election because they will have a reinforced sense of being robbed (which they have had about Mr. Kenya his whole presidency)....

You might think, what is the point of a challenge that is almost certain to lose if the probabilities hold?  Not because Rove and his ilk could sue for the Presidency.  It is that a prolonged legal post-election fight would firmly cement the illegitimacy of Obama.... If it is truly close in the right states, I would not be the least bit surprised in a loud, obnoxious, quixotic legal fight to put an exclamation point on the Right's refusal to accept Obama as the real president.

The only upside to that might be that Obama finally learns he cannot work with these people.   He can only outmaneuver them. 


As for your reader who sees this as an attempt to "de-legitimize an Obama win," I think that is dead-on, and it concerns me greatly. The GOP has lost wedge issues, so now they must create wedge identities.

To end on a cheerier note, Jason Paur of Wired has reminded me that it's not really right to say that a tossed coin has a 50 percent probability of coming up heads. If you'd like to know why, check it out a scientific paper here. (Short version: for mechanical reasons, a coin that starts out heads when you flip it has a slightly >50 percent chance of coming up heads when it lands.)

And a Canadian reader has north-of-the-border wisdom on the whole concept of 50-50 probabilities. It's from a beloved Canadian sitcom Corner Gas, set in the imagined Saskatchewan village of Dog River. The relevant part starts around time 4:20, which you can see below or go to directly with this link:

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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