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Thursday, July 31, 2008

One war, two equations

If you thought the wild variables and complete unpredictabilities of the 2008 presidential campaign just don’t add up … you’re wrong. Turns out that this political season, like everything else under the sun, gives way to the science of mathematics (in an equation you may not understand any more than some of the politicians who’ve been running for the presidency).

We have no idea how they got them, but John Dickerson and Chris Wilson of Slate have devised “mathematical formulas based on … public statements” of Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain, formulas that seem to distill the candidates’ Iraq-war policies with a refreshing absence of spin, in the unemotional language of math.

On the matter of withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, Obama and McCain are, mathematically speaking, not so far apart.

It’s too complicated to reproduce here; see the whole formula in the Slate story.

Despite their apparent similarity on extracting our 140,000 combat troops from Iraq, there are two inescapable constants:

(1) The 16-month timetable Obama has maintained for months is both credible and achievable is a time frame McCain resisted, then more recently endorsed — a tacit agreement with his challenger. Does Obama get extra credit for being first with the idea?

(2) The war that made that timetable necessary was supported by McCain from the start, a fact that would seem to undercut the functionality of his formula at the outset. Does McCain lose points for a logical conclusion emanating from a faulty premise?

Most Americans’ math skills aren’t that good; it’s hard enough for most of us to balance a checkbook and keep up with the elusive variable of the price of a gallon of gas. But American voters will prove or disprove the two formulas in November.

Until then, note the observation of Albert Einstein on the tenuous relationship between math and what we think is real. Then add politics to the equation: “As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.”
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Image credits: All in the public domain.

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