Gee, we haven’t even finished cringing from the results of the last presidential election and it’s already that season again. A whole new batch of hopefuls are shifting into campaign mode. In my lifetime, Obama is the 12th man to hold the office of President of the United States, so it’s only natural that I’m beginning to see a pattern. Santayana’s familiar observation, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”, pretty much sums up the whole problem. Every four years, just like Charlie Brown, voters think they’re gonna give that political football a swift kick, only to fall flat on their backs. In the role of Lucy, political power brokers snatch the ball away. And the electorate keeps falling for the same tricks.
Have you ever thought about what really motivates people to vote for one candidate over another? Speeches are given and debates are held, all with the idea in mind that they’re telling you what they stand for or believe in, or what they will accomplish or fight for while in office. The assumption is that voters can then make up their minds, based on what they know about the policies and values of the candidates. This of course is total fantasy. During the 1996 and 2000 campaigns, many commentators agreed that Alan Keyes won the Republican debates, based on his eloquence. What he stood for, what he believed in and what he wanted to do as President seemed to resonate with people. But in the end he was unelectable.
Popular wisdom also tells us that so-called third party candidates are unelectable. There is an insistence that we have what is called a “Two Party System”, based on “historical precedent” which is nothing more than tradition. That’s the way it is because that’s the way it’s always been. And yet, there is nothing in the Constitution that calls for political parties. So, legally our “System” does not call for any specific number of political parties. And theoretically, the implementation of any political policy should be the result of the power of an idea as it percolates up from the “grass roots” — regardless of political party. But the sad fact is the Big Two political parties have a strangle hold on ideas. Once in power, these behemoths don’t want to represent public opinion so much as manipulate public opinion. If elections could ever be seen as a war of ideas, there would be a great deal of interest in what third parties have to say. But they aren’t and there isn’t.
Politicians will have you believe that electability is all about policy, so they come up with catch phrases designed to inspire confidence and give the impression that they represent some great vision. But there is a murky swamp between what they say and what they do. Anyone who has wised up about life knows that actions speak louder than words. So, appealing to a vast sea of voters who haven’t wised up yet, politicians invest most of their verbal capital in creating the impression that they have done something, when in fact all they’ve done is talk about it. The issue then becomes more about words than actions, especially when they explain why they did what they said they wouldn’t do. And as for the media, this is just more grist for the mill.
The media is quick to point out any possible scandals, supposedly because voters expect their leaders to have an exemplary moral character. So every candidate’s team tries to dig up as much dirt as possible on all the other candidates. As a result, scandals have become just so much theater, used for “bumping” the polls. And, despite much public lamenting on the part of the media, it remains that a large chunk of Americans are convinced “They all do it, anyway”. True believers will always forgive their favorite candidate. So then, the question is not so much what a candidate says, and not even so much what a candidate does. It’s really all about what you want to believe; which candidate makes you feel good. Being a “winner” is just so much a popularity poll. There isn’t much substance there.
Let’s review. What motivates a voter to “believe in” a candidate? Not policy. Not words. Not deeds. I have observed three primary factors that influence how voters mark their ballots: 1) The candidate’s “presence” or “impression” they give (physical attractiveness, — it helps to be tall — charisma, poise, charm, speaking ability); 2) People skills (exuding confidence, putting people at ease, making people feel significant — the same qualities a good pastor exhibits at a wedding, or that an emcee needs to keep the pace of a show going along); and last but most importantly, 3) an effective political machine behind him. The drawbacks to this are apparent: voters are putting their trust into candidates based on a subjective impression that may or may not be substantiated by a past history of performance. That’s where the spin doctors come in. They frame everything to make their candidate look good. Their trick is to get your eyes to focus on the frame rather than the candidate.
Some voters try to avoid gambling on “unknown” candidates by voting for someone who has “put his money where his mouth is” — a tried-and-true politician who’s been around long enough to have established a reputation. While all one has to do is examine voting records, this kind of fact-finding exercise is shirked by most. Most faithful supporters don’t want to face the possibility that their “tried-and-true” candidate might have voted contrary to his avowed convictions, or that their “principled” leader was willing to cave or compromise whenever the political machine told him it was in his own best interest. No one wants to admit that their candidate is more influenced by special interest groups than by his own constituents. So voters tend not to look at such things too closely.
Nowadays, it’s chic to dis our “founding fathers” as “dead white men”. Part of the appeal of Obama’s clarion call to “Change” is the presumption of some younger voters that the framers of the constitution were not only fatally flawed but pernicious in their institutionalized bigotry, notably racism, sexism and homophobia — all products of capitalism and the bourgeoisie middle class. I don’t expect to get through to anyone who believes all that communist-inspired clap trap. But to those who consider themselves open-minded, I would remind them that everyone who enjoys freedom on our shores today does so because of the genius of the founding documents given to us by those dead white men.
Our founding fathers envisioned popular elections, not the orchestrated extravaganzas of the big political machines we see today. Candidates are marketed no differently than products sold by advertising agencies. Our founding fathers designed a political “System” that requires the electorate to be mature, responsible, informed and involved in self-governance. They assumed voters would remain engaged with their representatives to make sure they were being responsive to them. They assumed that the electorate would have a deep-rooted attitude of being self-controlled, self-directed and self-realized, an attitude which is a prerequisite to living as a free people.
An election can be either a marketing opportunity for big political machines and their special interest groups or an event that enshrines the will of the people. It all depends on how you vote. You can either know what you believe in and vote your conscience or let your judgement be disarmed by a candidate’s appearance or be swayed by his charm. If you are influenced by effective marketing and think your vote only “counts” when you vote for the most “electable” ticket (which is always a compromise of your values) then you are voting for the status quo (the opposite of “Change”). Therefore, if we really do have a “Two Party System”, we are stuck between the dictatorial policies of a jackass and the almost non-existant progress of an elephant. Politically, they are both dinosaurs.
The real hope for the future of American politics is in the “third” parties. The influence of the Tea Party is probably the most apparent example of that hope. But other parties have much to offer, in terms of honest candidates who actually stand for something rather than just talking about it. For instance, the Constitution Party actually wants to hold government to the standards of the Constitution. How novel. The thrust of most “third” parties is that they wish to represent national interests and they want the government to look out for the interests of our own citizens first. The two dinosaur parties have become global in scope and are more responsive to the “international community” than to their own constituents.
Those political machines want to tell us what to do while our taxes are funding all their pet projects that benefit a chosen few. Frankly, I don’t see how that will ever change unless a majority of Americans change their voting patterns. It’s either change how and why we vote or continue doing what we’ve always done. And more of the same means a continued downhill spiral. Are you ready to change how you vote? Or are you content to let your life be changed by Obama?