Newsflash: Prime Minister Obama Resigns!

The scientific method, Karl Popper told us, is conjecture-refutation. We come up with a hypothesis we believe explains what is going on, figure out a way to put it to a test, and see what reality has to say about it. If the facts prove consistent with the hypothesis, we breathe a sigh of relief and maybe write it all up for publication, including in the narrative as many relevant details as possible so other scientists can verify if hypothesis testing and data interpretation, among other things, were done correctly.

It’s a different story if the facts prove inconsistent with the hypothesis. If we’re lucky, minor adjustments may be enough to allow another experimental try. But if refutation is conclusive, the hypothesis needs to be junked altogether. The honest thing to do at that point is to admit defeat and go away to mull things over. Denying reality is something science abhors. Falsifying test results will get you booted out of the profession -- unless you’re in the global warming business or work for the UN.

Unfortunately, politics isn’t science and politicians don’t behave like scientists, even in a system where accountability has meaning in the sense that it’s possible to get rid of bad leaders by voting them out of office -- the political equivalent of scientific refutation. Rather, politicians often behave more like the shop owner in the famous Monty Python “Dead Parrot” sketch played brilliantly by Michael Palin. The facts, clearly on the side of the customer played just as brilliantly by John Cleese, matter not at all to the owner, who tries his hardest not to admit that the parrot is dead. Eventually he does admit it but only after the customer screams at him at the top of his voice.

What happened Tuesday night, when voters handed congressional control to the GOP, was the equivalent of Americans screaming at the Obama Administration that the country is headed in the wrong direction. This outcome was not that much of a surprise, actually, except to the delusional commentariat on the left, given Obama’s plummeting approval ratings and polls showing Americans to be deeply dissatisfied with his handling of, well, just about everything -- foreign as well as domestic. In scientific terms, mid-term results amounted to a decisive refutation of Obama’s policies and, by implication, rejection of Obama himself as president.

Is that how Obama saw election results?

Apparently not, according to Peter Baker in the New York Times. A White House aide reportedly said Tuesday night that the president “doesn’t feel repudiated.” Huh? As Baker points out, Obama made it clear before the election -- to the chagrin of Democrats -- he realized that “even if he was not on the ballot, his policies were.” It doesn’t take a genius to put together all the facts I’ve noted and conclude that Tuesday night proved beyond doubt precisely what the president denied happened. Denial, not an option in science, evidently is an option in politics.

Well, it’s not an option in all political systems. The following democracies, either allies of or friendly toward the United States, are under a system of parliamentary democracy that allows what is called a “motion of no confidence”: Australia, Canada, Germany, India, Japan, Spain, and the United Kingdom. Though there are differences in how such a motion is implemented, when and under what circumstances, the general idea is the same: a person holding a given office, such as a prime minister, is declared no longer fit to hold that position. Once the motion passes, the individual is expected to resign. We’re talking about a parliamentary democracy here not some banana republic where a power-hungry tinhorn goes way beyond the shenanigans of the “Parrot Sketch,” declares martial law, and dissolves parliament. A crazy stunt like that in a parliamentary democracy would land the ousted prime minister in jail.

Now, imagine that the United States (counterfactually) was a parliamentary democracy and that Americans Tuesday night handed power in both Houses of Congress to the opposition party, the GOP. Republican leaders meet Wednesday morning to decide what to do about Prime Minister Obama, whose policies they and American voters believe correctly have been a disaster for the country. A vote of no confidence is taken. With Republican majorities in the House and the Senate, the motion passes easily. The following day, Prime Minister Obama and his cabinet all resign.

The point I’m trying to make, if it’s not already obvious, is that a parliamentary democracy system is much closer to the conjecture-refutation method that defines science. Such a system regards the electoral process as similar to testing a hypothesis. As such, it is more sensitive to the will of the people and can react more quickly to replace a bad government leader of his cabinet. A “lame duck government” is all but eliminated. Coalition governments encourage power sharing and discourage partisanship. If we could have dumped Jimmy Carter in time, maybe Iran wouldn’t be building a nuclear weapon today and financing terrorism around the world.  

But that’s not the system we have -- why not is a story for another time. Despite Tuesday night being a referendum on President Obama and his policies, he is legally entitled to finish his term in office with all the powers and prerogatives he had Tuesday morning. Until the next president is sworn in, the White House remains his official residence -- and the golf course his unofficial one. Maybe he’ll spend even more time practicing his swing.

Peter Baker writes that Obama “will try to use the lame-duck session of the departing Democratic Senate to push through as many nominations as possible.” Whatever that means, outgoing Senate Majority Leader Reid will do his best to oblige. But in light of Tuesday’s rout it remains to be seen whether his party colleagues will go along as easily as they have in the past or even vote to keep him on as minority leader in the next Senate.

The scientific method, Karl Popper told us, is conjecture-refutation. We come up with a hypothesis we believe explains what is going on, figure out a way to put it to a test, and see what reality has to say about it. If the facts prove consistent with the hypothesis, we breathe a sigh of relief and maybe write it all up for publication, including in the narrative as many relevant details as possible so other scientists can verify if hypothesis testing and data interpretation, among other things, were done correctly.

It’s a different story if the facts prove inconsistent with the hypothesis. If we’re lucky, minor adjustments may be enough to allow another experimental try. But if refutation is conclusive, the hypothesis needs to be junked altogether. The honest thing to do at that point is to admit defeat and go away to mull things over. Denying reality is something science abhors. Falsifying test results will get you booted out of the profession -- unless you’re in the global warming business or work for the UN.

Unfortunately, politics isn’t science and politicians don’t behave like scientists, even in a system where accountability has meaning in the sense that it’s possible to get rid of bad leaders by voting them out of office -- the political equivalent of scientific refutation. Rather, politicians often behave more like the shop owner in the famous Monty Python “Dead Parrot” sketch played brilliantly by Michael Palin. The facts, clearly on the side of the customer played just as brilliantly by John Cleese, matter not at all to the owner, who tries his hardest not to admit that the parrot is dead. Eventually he does admit it but only after the customer screams at him at the top of his voice.

What happened Tuesday night, when voters handed congressional control to the GOP, was the equivalent of Americans screaming at the Obama Administration that the country is headed in the wrong direction. This outcome was not that much of a surprise, actually, except to the delusional commentariat on the left, given Obama’s plummeting approval ratings and polls showing Americans to be deeply dissatisfied with his handling of, well, just about everything -- foreign as well as domestic. In scientific terms, mid-term results amounted to a decisive refutation of Obama’s policies and, by implication, rejection of Obama himself as president.

Is that how Obama saw election results?

Apparently not, according to Peter Baker in the New York Times. A White House aide reportedly said Tuesday night that the president “doesn’t feel repudiated.” Huh? As Baker points out, Obama made it clear before the election -- to the chagrin of Democrats -- he realized that “even if he was not on the ballot, his policies were.” It doesn’t take a genius to put together all the facts I’ve noted and conclude that Tuesday night proved beyond doubt precisely what the president denied happened. Denial, not an option in science, evidently is an option in politics.

Well, it’s not an option in all political systems. The following democracies, either allies of or friendly toward the United States, are under a system of parliamentary democracy that allows what is called a “motion of no confidence”: Australia, Canada, Germany, India, Japan, Spain, and the United Kingdom. Though there are differences in how such a motion is implemented, when and under what circumstances, the general idea is the same: a person holding a given office, such as a prime minister, is declared no longer fit to hold that position. Once the motion passes, the individual is expected to resign. We’re talking about a parliamentary democracy here not some banana republic where a power-hungry tinhorn goes way beyond the shenanigans of the “Parrot Sketch,” declares martial law, and dissolves parliament. A crazy stunt like that in a parliamentary democracy would land the ousted prime minister in jail.

Now, imagine that the United States (counterfactually) was a parliamentary democracy and that Americans Tuesday night handed power in both Houses of Congress to the opposition party, the GOP. Republican leaders meet Wednesday morning to decide what to do about Prime Minister Obama, whose policies they and American voters believe correctly have been a disaster for the country. A vote of no confidence is taken. With Republican majorities in the House and the Senate, the motion passes easily. The following day, Prime Minister Obama and his cabinet all resign.

The point I’m trying to make, if it’s not already obvious, is that a parliamentary democracy system is much closer to the conjecture-refutation method that defines science. Such a system regards the electoral process as similar to testing a hypothesis. As such, it is more sensitive to the will of the people and can react more quickly to replace a bad government leader of his cabinet. A “lame duck government” is all but eliminated. Coalition governments encourage power sharing and discourage partisanship. If we could have dumped Jimmy Carter in time, maybe Iran wouldn’t be building a nuclear weapon today and financing terrorism around the world.  

But that’s not the system we have -- why not is a story for another time. Despite Tuesday night being a referendum on President Obama and his policies, he is legally entitled to finish his term in office with all the powers and prerogatives he had Tuesday morning. Until the next president is sworn in, the White House remains his official residence -- and the golf course his unofficial one. Maybe he’ll spend even more time practicing his swing.

Peter Baker writes that Obama “will try to use the lame-duck session of the departing Democratic Senate to push through as many nominations as possible.” Whatever that means, outgoing Senate Majority Leader Reid will do his best to oblige. But in light of Tuesday’s rout it remains to be seen whether his party colleagues will go along as easily as they have in the past or even vote to keep him on as minority leader in the next Senate.