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Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Being there.

Imagine being trapped on a large boat, on a large lake, for three hours, with five of the Republican presidential candidates polling in the one percent range. Imagine further that you paid good money for the opportunity.

National Journal set out to divine why anyone would do that- from the candidates’ point of view. Their case study? Former New York Governor George Pataki.

MANY CAN­DID­ATES WITH no chance of vic­tory run for pres­id­ent be­cause of con­vic­tion. Like, say, Ron Paul in 2012 or Bernie Sanders today, they have a set of is­sues they pas­sion­ately want to ad­vance. 

This does not, as far as I can tell, ap­ply to George Pa­taki. As Jo­nah Gold­berg put it in a column last month, Pa­taki seems to be “pre­tend­ing to have core con­vic­tions just so he can run.” Even the Pa­taki web­site motto—”People over polit­ics”—sug­gests a de­sire to avoid ser­i­ous thought. And such an im­pres­sion is noth­ing new. As Pa­taki’s third term as gov­ernor of New York was wind­ing down in 2005 and 2006,The New York Sun wrote that “one looks in vain to dis­cern any prin­ciple or idea that Mr. Pa­taki stands for con­sist­ently.” Colum­nist Deroy Mur­doch wrote in Na­tion­al Re­view that Pa­taki was “a politi­cian of breath­tak­ing me­diocrity” whose “lack of com­pet­ence, cha­risma, and char­ac­ter com­poses a sick­en­ing tri­fecta.” Kind­est was The New York Times, which com­plained that un­der Pa­taki “re­form was a talk­ing point, not a do­ing point,” while non­ethe­less con­ced­ing that, over­all, “New York­ers are well aware that it is pos­sible to do worse.” 

...COUNT­LESS PSY­CHO­LO­GISTS HAVE stud­ied the de­lu­sions of those who en­gage in long-shot gambling. One un­sur­pris­ing find­ing is that few of us in­tu­it­ively un­der­stand stat­ist­ics. As Lloyd Christ­mas in Dumb and Dumber says to a love in­terest when she ex­plains that his chances with her are one in a mil­lion, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance.” Oth­er factors, as sum­mar­ized in a 1998 art­icle in theJourn­al of Gambling Stud­ies, in­clude “cog­nit­ive en­trap­ment, a be­lief in hot and cold num­bers, un­real­ist­ic op­tim­ism, a be­lief in per­son­al luck, su­per­sti­tious think­ing, the il­lu­sion of con­trol,” and “the er­ro­neous per­cep­tion of near misses.” 

Per­haps Pa­taki’s pre­vi­ous gambles have giv­en him an un­real­ist­ic sense of the odds in­volved in this new­est ven­ture. He un­seated an in­cum­bent when he ran for may­or of Peek­skill in 1981. He knocked in­cum­bents out of the state As­sembly in 1984 and the state Sen­ate in 1992. And every­one agrees that his vic­tory over Cuomo was a re­mark­able up­set, one pulled off by someone who’d garnered few­er than 90 men­tions in The New York Times in all the years pri­or to 1994. 

In­deed, it’s easy to see why, in Pa­taki’s eyes, 2016 might not look like such an im­possible gamble. The very act of an­noun­cing a U.S. pres­id­en­tial can­did­acy, of com­mand­ing a po­di­um and draw­ing a CNN crew and New York Times re­port­ers, is something done by at most sev­er­al hun­dred Amer­ic­ans over the past few dec­ades. Just by get­ting that far, you are already one in a mil­lion. How much more of a leap is it really to be­come one in 300 mil­lion? 

...Ash­ley Wein­berg, a psy­cho­lo­gist at the Uni­versity of Salford who has in­ter­viewed dozens of former mem­bers of the Brit­ish Par­lia­ment about why they liked their jobs, says that the phrase “be­ing at the cen­ter of things” kept com­ing up. That yearn­ing doesn’t re­quire con­vic­tions. “You’re sens­ing things hap­pen­ing around you,” Wein­berg says. “Which is quite dif­fer­ent from wheth­er you want spe­cif­ic things to hap­pen around you.”

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