Hi-Yo Silver! 

Cheers to Nate Silver, who kept hope alive.

Oh give me a land where the bright diamond sand

Flows leisurely down the stream;

Where the graceful white swan goes gliding along

Like a maid in a heavenly dream.

Throughout the long election night I kept flashing back to my boyhood when I’d listen to the Lone Ranger radio show, his cry Hi-yo Silver! ringing above the strains of Rossini’s William Tell Overture. The memory of that bracing music rushed through me as the states carrying President Obama safely home came galloping in, one after another.

The triggering connection, however, wasn’t a horse: it was Nate Silver — the brilliant statistician who’d been called a part of a horse in the days before the election, because he was predicting a solid victory for Obama.

A friend had emailed us about Silver’s 538 blog; and reading his poll-crunching charts, showing a wide Electoral College win for the president, enabled us to get some sleep during the frantic final weeks. Other polls, like the Mason Dixon Poll used by the Tampa Bay Times, often showed the exact opposite: a Romney surge gaining momentum.

Not being statisticians, we had no idea who was right, but Silver’s mathematical exactitude gave us hope: there stood his numbers, holding the fort. When Florida seemed to be slipping away — called “even” in Silver’s count — his optimism about the other swing states was all we had to sustain us.

Despite the other pundits and polls, on Election Day itself — while we watched thousands of wildly cheering Romney supporters voting in Ohio and Virginia — 538 calmed us down by giving Obama a 313 to 225 lead. As Tonto would have said, “Heap thanks, ke-ma-sah-bee.”

(Unlike nervous Democrats, who heard contradictory polls, Republicans mostly lived in the soundproof bubble of Fox News, and so were ambushed by the numbers rolling in [final count: 332-206].)

Why did the GOP lose so badly? I partially agree with Karl Rove, who said they would’ve lost by a lot more if they hadn’t spent so much money.

But a serious organization simply can’t give a group like the Tea Party so much power. President Eisenhower once dismissed the extreme right wing, saying, “Their number is negligible, and they are stupid.” Today, at least, he’d only be half right. They number in the millions, and they’ve done terrible damage to the Grand Old Party. The Tea Party may be a mixed bag (part Tetley and part demagoguery) but the Republicans need to tune out those members, no matter how raucous, who don’t believe in global warming, or science, or evolution, or Planned Parenthood, or the separation of church and state, or equal pay for women, or gay marriage, or…

Which brings us back to the Lone Ranger and Tonto.

The partnership of a white man and a dusky male partner runs deep through American popular literature. Think of Huck Finn and Jim, Natty Bumpo and Chingachgook in the Deerslayer sagas, Moby-Dick’s Ishmael and Queequeg, McMurphy and Chief Bromden in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I suppose you could trace this back over centuries and oceans to Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.

So, as a kind of bonus to the presidential election — and a sign of the shifting ground in America — Maine, Maryland and Washington became the first states to approve gay marriage by popular vote. At last — for Thanksgiving! — the Lone Ranger and Tonto can trot out of the closet and get married.

Hi-yo, Silver!

Home, home on the range,

Where the deer and the antelope play;

Where seldom is heard a discouraging word,

And the skies are not cloudy all day.

—Both quotes from the old cowboy song, “Home on the Range” (1911), said to have been sung on the doorstep of FDR’s home by reporters the night he was first elected president.

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