The Map and The Territory

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There is an idea in geography of the “phantom island.” These land masses (of which hundreds have been recorded) never existed. But for centuries they continued to appear on maps. They were given terrifying names, accompanied by equally horrifying mythologies. The Isle of Demons was said to be near Newfoundland, and inhabited by spirits and monsters. The Hand of Satan was rumoured to be found in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, and was allegedly the home of devils who lured sailors to their deaths. No one ever reached the shores of these islands, of course. No explorers returned with verifiable evidence of their presence. But people genuinely believed they existed as threats. After all, how could their own maps lie to them?

Willard Mitt Romney is a modern phantom island. In the past decade, he has appeared on our political maps as a legitimate threat, time and time again. The cartographers of American politics refused to write him out. The Mormon Monster was a verified presence. Or so we all believed.

It’s clear now, with the accumulated statistics from experience and exploration, that Mitt never stood a chance. The odds of him winning the presidency of the United States were nearly microscopic. He walked into the casino blind and maimed and mute and tried to win Texas Hold ‘Em against the best player the game has known – Barack Obama. It was just never going to happen.

Nate Silver, of The New York Times blog The Five Thirty Eight, gave Obama a 91% shot at victory in the Electoral College. Romney was playing long odds at 9%, and still went all in, hoping for a good river card. It never came. Virginia, Ohio, New Hampshire, and the rest of the swing states all came out blue. Mitt had to learn the hard way that no one with any sense bets on the river card. What made it so much worse to watch was the knowledge of the unavoidable truth that his hand was shit in the first place. He should have folded on the flop.

So why was anyone surprised with the results? All the evidence was there that Mitt was a phantom island. Why did we believe he could be shipwrecked on? How could anyone have feared him? Why did college kids run into the streets and volunteer their summers away fighting far too hard for a sure Democratic victory? These are the important questions we need to take away and examine from the 2012 election.

The problem is with our maps. In this case, largely the media. Fox News, NBC, CNN, and the rest of the American news corporations wrote a false reality for us. They continually propped Mitt up as a terrifying new continent. And for good reason – ratings skyrocket during election season. People like a good, fair, head to head match. And we were led to believe that Romney vs. Obama was going to be just that. But as we can see now, it was never all that fair. Something has to change in our perception of reality. What we need is a revival of the United States Exploring Expedition.

From 1838 to 1842, Commodore Thomas Catesby Jones and Lieutenant Charles Wilkes were commissioned by congress to sail six ships through the Pacific Ocean and the Antarctic, with the intention of accurately mapping the unknown world. In six years, they discovered hundreds of new islands, and debunked the existences of scores of phantom lands. It was an immense success for American scientific innovation.

A new Exploring Expedition should be formed with the express purpose of identifying and debunking legitimate contenders for American politics. We need an independent body determined to weed out phantom islands such as Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, and Chris Christie – politicians who will never stand a chance, and simply do not exist where the presidency is concerned. The Expedition will discover and highlight true land masses and real contenders, such as Michael Bloomberg, Jon Huntsman, or Chris Daggett, and ensure that they get the attention they deserve for their legitimacy.

The map is not the territory. Maps can lie. They can embellish and exaggerate and outright fabricate continents. Only the landscape itself can be trusted for what it is. It’s too easy, in American politics today, to fall for the maps, and forget the reality of the territory as it actually stands.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Obviously everyone has a right to run. It’s America. But some people shouldn’t be publicized disproportionately. Too much attention goes to pragmatic non-contenders.

  2. Not gonna lie Jon, this hindsightedness kills me. Romney did stand a chance. 1/2 of America voted for him. He had all the chops of electability–business acumen, reasonable record as governor, bipartisan history, he passed the template for Obamacare. If anything he was the perfect Republican candidate, given the economic climate. But a collection of events made an otherwise close election look like a landslide–the incredibly fortuitous hurricane Sandy (which was always going to benefit the incumbent, as long as he avoided a katrina-esque mistake), Chris Christie’s back-slapping fest, strong jobs numbers, the Bill Clinton factor, the order of the conventions–they all conspired in favor of the Democrats. And to claim that Romney had about the same chance to win as Ron Paul is just outrageous.

    Now I’m as glad as anyone that Obama won but lets not practice historical revisionism. The Republicans lost because they have drifted too far to the right, forcing Willard to parrot right-wing talking points to win the primaries, and then having to reverse it to appeal to the mainstream. The charade was never going to work–but it’s not really Romney’s fault. Any candidate to emerge from the primaries would struggle to be competitive. Given these difficulties (and the fact that he’s a mormon!), Mitt did remarkably well. It remains to be seen whether the core of the GOP will return to the mainstream or continue to marginalize reasonable candidates. In today’s political landscape, Hunstman will never be a realistic contender–far too centrist to run. I for one hope that the Republican party stays far right, and continues to alienate otherwise-electable candidates.

  3. Hello Jonathan,
    I have to agree with a previous respondent that Romney did indeed have a chance. Whether or not he would have made a good president we will never know. Certainly I cannot imagine a more inept or confused administration than President Obama’s, but we will never know if Gov. Romney could have achieved that lowly station either. Romney lost to a legitimately weakened Obama because he blew it. And speaking of blowing, Hurricane Sandy didn’t help either. Thought provoking work, Jon. Keep it up.

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