Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Too many synonyms

I’m now up to five different terms for “independent variable” (X’s) in my methods lecture for today (thanks in part to a Polmeth post that just reminded me of one I’d forgotten to put on the list), and I’m probably missing some. You’d think we could narrow that down a little. The others: covariate, predictor, explanatory variable, and regressor.

Funnily enough, I only came up with “dependent variable” and “regressand” for Y, but I’m surely missing some there too.


I don’t know about y’all, but to my mind the Sarah Palin pandemonium is getting a tad overheated. I’m not going to sit here and defend the pick, in part because I wasn’t going to vote for John McCain anyway and in part because you can read the pros and cons elsewhere. As far as comparing the vice-presidential choices go… well, let me just say that I think Joe Biden is more of an amoral beltway used-car-dealing sleazebag than John Kerry and John McCain combined, so Palin wins that contest pretty much by default. And no, that’s not much of a compliment.

I do, however, want to propose a minor thought exercise to my more “progressive” friends who think this is going to be like shooting fish in a barrel (I know you don’t know anything about guns, but bear with me). Nate at FiveThirtyEight points out that, on paper, Palin’s positions are outside the mainstream of public opinion, and—to the extent public opinion is meaningful on issues—that is true. Of course, both Obama and Biden’s positions are also outside of the mainstream—for example, both support the right to abortion under all circumstances, a minority position (something like 25% of the public support abortion rights under all circumstances), and both support prioritizing the environment and fighting global warming over jobs and the economy (a minority position).

The Democrats’ problem, as I see it, in demonizing her positions on cultural issues—and by extension McCain’s, most of which he shares—is not that they’re outside the mainstream of current opinion (they are), but that they aren’t outside the traditional beliefs held in Western society. America isn’t a “Christian nation”—that’s nonsense; the United States is fundamentally a product of enlightenment thought, albeit a country that has been much more tolerant of a diverse and heterodox set of Christian beliefs (including Palin’s) than many nominally Christian nations—but most Americans were raised to believe that traditional moral values are important even if we sometimes observe them in the breach and even if we don’t always believe the state should use its power of coercion to enforce them. Furthermore, out-of-the-mainstream views on the right have the dubious virtue politically of having been in the mainstream, if not outright consensus, in the past—in some cases, within living memory of most voters; non-mainstream views on the left, by contrast, have never held such a position. I’m not saying Palin is invulnerable on these positions, but it’s going to take a lot more than liberal echo-chamber snarkiness about how “insane” her positions are to convince most voters.

Meanwhile, Marc Ambinder has reached a minor epiphany:

[T]he more I think about it, the more I realize that if Palin answers her critics tomorrow night, these process stories might not matter much.

You don’t say. The Democrats have misunderestimated an opponent before in a year the “numbers” said they should win, and he was a hell of a lot dumber than Sarah Palin appears to be.