September 25, 2018

The quantum theory of presidential politics

Future events decide what happens in the past.

That’s not science fiction. It’s science. Quantum physics, to be precise.

“Quantum physics is a weird world,” begins a Digital Journal “>Australian scientists confirming the weirdness of quantum theory. “[W]hat happens to particles in the past is only decided when they are observed in the future.” Reality isn’t real until you measure it.

This is pretty mind-blowing, but it doesn’t just occur in the subatomic world. Future events decide the past in presidential politics, too.

We experience politics as a narrative marketplace, where competing stories clamor for attention. Those stories are unstable. Each day’s news requires retroactive adjustments. When a candidate moves ahead or falls behind, when a president’s fortunes turn, hindsight requires us to revise the past – to reverse-engineer a new plot that leads inexorably to an event we didn’t see coming but that just happened.

Barack Obama entered the national political narrative with his red states/blue states/United States speech to the 2004 Democratic Convention. Best. Orator. Ever. His Philadelphia speech on race during the 2008 campaign was acclaimed as honest and inspirational. You would think those events would have cemented his reputation for eloquence, and for thoughtfulness on racial issues. But during his first term, a counter-narrative captured attention: the Republican talking point mocking him for being clueless without a “>paper published in Science last year reported on a study conducted from 1974 to 2014 that tracked how Americans have remembered and forgotten presidents. Most people could name nine: the Founders (Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison); the Civil War era (Lincoln, Johnson, Grant); the World War II presidents (Roosevelt and Truman). But after Truman, as a New York Times