November 6, 2004

More blog drafting

Below the continuation, my response to Gemma's latest.

One last election-related post for EGAD, dealing with maps and more maps, and perhaps some speculation on demographics and where this is all going. But then we'll call it quits for the Amero-centrism. For one thing, I should say something about the Arafat situation, and in particular the interesting calm-before-the-storm tension dominating here, now that we don't know his status but suspect that he's not coming back.

In response to Gemma's thoughts on whether some people just want to be led:

I'm going to include by reference my response to your earlier post on BSF, since we are returning to the common theme of investigating how people decide which way to vote. Again, I would claim that on both sides of the political divide, large majorities do not put any real thought into the decision. In this political sense, they do want to be led.

People do not, in general, appreciate being forced to think. There is a feeling that life in modern America is so busy, so filled with tasks and distractions already, that it is altogether an imposition to "unnecessarily" ask that serious consideration be applied to question. We live in a just-tell-me-the-answer-already culture. Any suprise, then, that successful politicians have become adept at devising ready-made answers for their constituents? He who wins elections (and in America, it is generally a "he" anywhere above the school board level) excels at presenting himself and, to a lesser extent, his positions as obvious and sensible responses to the world. A natural consequence is that the incumbent powers will always have a vested interest in shielding the voters from the true complexity of the world, ensuring that they see only simplistic issues requiring knee-jerk responses.

This state of affairs offends the liberal sensibility, of course, since it strongly suggests that having the facts on our side, as we so often do, is unlikely to win us many elections in the near- to medium-term. Long term, of course, we can try to change the culture, but even there success is far from guaranteed. But in the shorter run, are we doomed to wring our hands and complain that we could have sensible and humane leadership if only the populace would sit still for long enough to understand our arguments? Perhaps not; there are plenty of media-savvy activists on our side trying to assemble a liberal message machine to compete with theirs. A descent into propagandism, perhaps, but at least ours will probably confine itself to generally true statements.

So here we are: about 30% of eligible voters sided with Bush because he seemed resolute, or they'd been frightened into believing that electing Kerry would invite the terrorists to dirty-bomb their suburbs, or they believe God hates gays and thus it's morally required to hate those who don't; another rough 30% sided with Kerry because Bush is either a liar or just stupid, because Cheney's either a crook or an evil genius, or just because they're tired of their jobs getting shipped across the Pacific while all the young men in their neighborhood are getting shipped the other direction. And 40% were too disgusted or apathetic to care. On each side, the decision comes down to emotion, impression, stereotype, preference. Almost nobody really thinks about their vote anymore.

Now, I'm sure you'll be quick to notice that we're using somewhat divergent notions of "wanting to be led" versus "wanting to think." I think the sense that you're getting at is more along the lines of, what would I want the people to want who will be under the command of the person I'm going to elect ? Or, what would I like my relationship to the leader to be, if I were to imagine myself in the White House with him? Perhaps one type of voter likes to picture policies coming out of reasoned, passionate debates over facts and goals, while another envisions a paternalistic commander-in-chief issuing decrees based on what his gut tells him is right. But I think this is just another artifact of the warm-fuzzies dynamic of politics. Recall, everybody cringed when Kerry's positions were described as "nuanced" -- even those of us who think that is a good thing could see that you don't run a campaign by telling the voters that it's a complex world out there. They don't want to hear it.

Salient points to expand upon:

1. America is not at war. There is no credible threat of invasion, of our crops being burnt, our peopel being carried off into bondage. Any threat to this nation's survival will be entirely of the self-destructive kind. This is not a war. Find some other term.

2. Far more people want to be led than voted for Bush. People do not, in general, appreciate being forced to think. The vast majority voted based upon what common sense told them was the obvious choice, this sense having been conveyed to them by various communicative and propagandistic processes over long periods of time. To win in the short term, we must convince the undecideds in the middle, who bother to think about their vote, however superficially. To win in the long term, we must recontextualize the larger former group's interaction with the political world, such that our approach is the obvious, sensible one. It is probably hopelessly naive to hold out for a world in which most voters actually consider the facts and decide based on rational arguments. The world is too complex for that to work in practice. Bush succeeds because he projects the dominating issues of terrorism and morality through his media apparatus to represent the world as far simpler than it is, as something his supporters can readily understand.

This argument draws some inspiration from this discussion of framing, but should be larger.

Posted by mill1974 at November 6, 2004 7:12 PM