Our choice of a leader reflects our true self. What does 2012 tell about America?
Summary: We watch the campaign to learn about the candidates. But we too are a key part of the game. We help set its rules, style, and form. It reveals much about us, and the New America now under construction on the ruins of the America-that-once-was.
During the 1960 campaign against Nixon someone had asked Kennedy if he was exhausted, and he answered no, he was not. But he felt sorry for Nixon. He was sure Nixon was tired. “Why?” the friend asked. “Because I know who I am and I don’t have to worry about adapting and changing. All I have to do at each stop is be myself. But Nixon doesn’t know who he is, and so each time he makes a speech he has to decide which Nixon he is, and that will be very exhausting.”
— From David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest — It applies well to Obama and Romney, and might explain Mitt’s increasingly frequent errors
- About the gaffes & mistakes in the campaign
- What conclusions can we draw from recent elections?
- The Bad News about America’s future
- For More Information
(1) About the campaign’s gaffes & mistakes
Our political commentators are agog over the Romney’s series of gaffes and errors. Some of these are tactical errors. Some are variants of Kinsey gaffes — being caught telling the truth.
Many are incidents that liberals deplore and conservatives applaud (or vice versa). In our tribal society it’s common to have two radically different opinions of the same picture. That might be the result of the Romney speech about the 47%. Obama’s supporters laugh at his ignorance and folly. Romney’s supporters — even those who pay little or no tax — applaud, knowing they’re not in the freeloading 47%.
The undecided — mostly low-information (don’t know, don’t care) voters — might not even hear about the story.
Update: For more about the usually small effect of gaffes see this article by John Sides (Assoc Prof of Political Science, Goerge Washington U).
(2) What conclusions can we draw from recent election?
The electorate expects its presidential candidates to feign the clean-limbed idealism of college sophomores, to present themselves as honest and good-natured fellows who know nothing of murder, ambition, lust, selfishness, cowardice, or greed. The pose of innocence is as mandatory as the ability to eat banquet food, but it gets confused with the dream of power. Soon, usually within a week of the inaugural address, a new president discovers that the American political system embraces both a permanent and a provisional government.
— From Chapter One of Lewis Lapham’s Lights, Camera, Democracy! (2001) — See the rest of the quote here.
Why do we get such poorly qualified candidates? Palin, Romney, and Obama were chosen despite their weak résumé. Ryan has shown himself to be a liar, about matters large and small (eg, his physical accomplishments). Mo matter. Each tribe loyally and enthusiastically supports their candidates almost irrespective of their background and statements.
That shows the source of the problem. Once they get the party stamp of approval, we tend to support our party’s candidate (there are few real independent voters, most of them are partisans who like the label). Perhaps that’s why we get the lowest quality leaders we’ll accept.
Perhaps we will not accept superior candidates. That might be the lesson of George Romney, washed out during the 1968 election for telling us the truth about Vietnam (it seems to be the lesson his son has learned). Also, how many top-notch people would go through the degrading spectacle of an American Presidential campaign, doggedly reciting all the lies we insist they say?
Perhaps we get the leaders we deserve.
For more about America’s elections:
- Lilliput or America – who has a better way to choose its leaders?, 19 November 2008
- About campaigns for high office in America – we always expect a better result from the same process, 17 June 2009
- The winners and losers from this election, hidden amidst the noise, 3 November 2010
- Important: Why do awesome people – like us – have such inadequate leaders?, 2 April 2012 — Because we vote.
(3) The Bad News about America’s future
Our eager acceptance of these inadequate candidates raises a horrific question: how will we respond to a strong leader? My guess: with slavish, enthusiastic obedience.
My experience in politics, church, and charities (just one person’s subjective view of one point in time) shows us as a nation of followers. Passive in thought. People eager to shift responsibility onto a leader. Eager to be told what to think. Eager to obey. Eager to see their leader in the most favorable light, no matter how undeserved (eg, Jerry Sandusky).
I believe that describes today’s America. If so, we should thank our leaders (the 1%) for the life-size cardboard figures that dominate our political stage. Venial, shallow, short-sighted, unprincipled. Eager to feed our basest drives. They’re too weak to pose a threat to the Republic, except that they further its slow decay.
Eventually we’ll find a man on horseback, and then we’ll learn about America — who we really are.
(4) For more information
About the candidates in the 2010 election:
- McCain believes we are stupid. Is he correct?, 30 August 2008 — What does choosing Palin say about McCain? Esp note the intense discussion in the comments.
- Alaska is near Russia, and Gov Palin’s other foreign policy experience, 1 September 2008
- It’s is not just McCain who believes we’re dumb – it’s a crowd, 3 September 2008
- Campaign Update – news from the front, 25 September 2008 — Includes part 1 of Couric’s interview of Palin.
- Gov Palin speaks about foreign policy, 26 September 2008 — Part 2 of Couric’s interview.
About the 2012 election:
- The hidden dynamics of the 2012 campaign, and what it’s doing to America, 9 March 2012
- President Romney will prove an effective President, reshaping America for his constituents., 17 April 2012
- Romney back on top. More evidence that the campaign news matters little. It’s the economy!, 19 July 2012
- The significance for America of Romney’s choice of Ryan as VP, 11 August 2012
Posts about the birth of the New America:
- America is the new Rome. Late Republican Rome (not the best of times), 13 October 2011
- What will replace the Constitution in Americans’ hearts? Let’s check for Fascism., 29 March 2012
- A look at the future of the Republic: we will choose leaders that we trust, 14 May 2012
- A look at the future of the Republic: we will choose leaders that we trust, not the ones we need (part 2), 15 May 2012
- More evidence that the military is slowly cutting itself off from civilian control, 15 July 2012
- Gallup’s polls show who we trust, pointing to a dark future for our Republic, 15 August 2012