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

Chancellor Sutler
Chancellor Sutler (played by John Hurt)


  1. About the gaffes & mistakes in the campaign
  2. What conclusions can we draw from recent elections?
  3. The Bad News about America’s future
  4. 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:

  1. Lilliput or America – who has a better way to choose its leaders?, 19 November 2008
  2. About campaigns for high office in America – we always expect a better result from the same process, 17 June 2009
  3. The winners and losers from this election, hidden amidst the noise, 3 November 2010
  4. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. Alaska is near Russia, and Gov Palin’s other foreign policy experience, 1 September 2008
  3. It’s is not just McCain who believes we’re dumb – it’s a crowd, 3 September 2008
  4. Campaign Update – news from the front, 25 September 2008 — Includes part 1 of Couric’s interview of Palin.
  5. Gov Palin speaks about foreign policy, 26 September 2008 — Part 2 of Couric’s interview.

About the 2012 election:

  1. The hidden dynamics of the 2012 campaign, and what it’s doing to America, 9 March 2012
  2. President Romney will prove an effective President, reshaping America for his constituents., 17 April 2012
  3. Romney back on top. More evidence that the campaign news matters little. It’s the economy!, 19 July 2012
  4. The significance for America of Romney’s choice of Ryan as VP, 11 August 2012

Posts about the birth of the New America:

  1. America is the new Rome. Late Republican Rome (not the best of times), 13 October 2011
  2. What will replace the Constitution in Americans’ hearts? Let’s check for Fascism., 29 March 2012
  3. A look at the future of the Republic: we will choose leaders that we trust, 14 May 2012
  4. 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
  5. More evidence that the military is slowly cutting itself off from civilian control, 15 July 2012
  6. Gallup’s polls show who we trust, pointing to a dark future for our Republic, 15 August 2012


18 thoughts on “Our choice of a leader reflects our true self. What does 2012 tell about America?”

  1. I didn’t realize how partisan my filter was before this year with regards to how I viewed politics – I essentially would seek out those stories and news sources that told me what I wanted to hear. I also realized most of my close friends had very nearly the same political and world view.

    Once I realized that, I was concerned. I have since tried to expand my horizons to others and listen to what they say or get their opinion on certain matters to see how they view it – usually in ways totally opposite to me (I think the GM bail-out was the most interesting juxtaposition of interpretations for me). Doing this has caused me to re-evaluate why I think the way I do and come to the conclusion that I don’t know or understand nearly as much as I thought I did and that my critical thought on political discourse was not truly engaged.

    I am most amused now by the posts on Facebook from my extreme political spectrum friends on Facebook, as they seem to only have two views – President Obama is the savior or Obama is the devil – there is little discourse about the merits and failings of Romney. It is almost like the choices are really down to Obama or not Obama, and then the real change is not going to be very noticeable. I like to ask people to names the policy differences between Bush and Obama – gays in the military and healthcare are usually the two biggest answers, but when I try to ask about meaningful strategy like international engagement, domestic policy, taxes, and the like they usually get confused and then get mad at me because there is no real difference, but they don’t want to see it.

    1. My congratulations on breaking out of your political blinders. It will take some effort to keep from falling back into bad old habits but it will be, IMO, well worth the trouble.

      Now you duty, IMO, is to try to free other Americans from their political blinders. Good luck on this as it is very, very hard. But I feel that it is well worth the effort. The most effective way to do this in my experience is to send links to FM’s most powerful posts (“Death of the Constitution” for example) to your most flexible friends and see what happens. If nothing else, you’ll learn who can bend with the times and who cannot.

      My most vivid experience in this effort was a series of FM posts I sent to a somewhat thoughtless but easy-going arch-conservative. After sending 3-4 posts without receiving a comment (which is rare, people tend to respond quickly) I asked him what he thought of the posts. His response was, “They make me so angry I can hardly see. Please keep sending them to me.” Since that time I’ve detected more flexibility and consideration in his comments.

      The worst experience I’ve had was that my father, the person who taught me to think critically and whom I greatly respect, asked me to stop sending the posts to him. When I asked why, he said, “Because I don’t want to have to think about that sort of thing anymore. I can’t do anything about it and it just makes me sad.”

  2. A small correction if I may, FM…changing the caption of the photograph may be in order. It’s true that John Hurt appeared in the film version of “1984”, but he was not the face of “Big Brother”…he played the protagonist Winston Smith. This photograph looks more like the character he played in “V For Vendetta”, Chancellor Sutler (the head of the fascist party Norsefire that rules Great Britain with an iron fist in the film).

    Just an observation from a film buff and a fan of John Hurt’s work…

  3. Presidential elections here in California are a non-event. When the Republican primary was held here, basically, Romney already had it in the bag. I mailed in my ballot, but somehow I completely missed any coverage of the election in the local news, and nobody I knew talked about it. The vote was only a formality to confirm a decision that had already been made in previous states.

    California will vote for Obama, unless Obama massively craters, which isn’t happening, so the whole election is a big yawn around here. Both candidates support the wars and the big banks more or less, and Obama wins California, so there’s no conversation to have about it. I guess all the campaign effort for the general is going to Ohio, Florida, maybe a few others, so on TV I’m not seeing much about the election, unless I happen to click by the network news or something, and then it’s just the usual bloopers contest — which Romney is losing, I guess. On the internet, I’m not that interested in these ‘manufactured non-issues’ — about what Romney said about the 47% and all this, and I find if I don’t read any of this the entire election vanishes in a poof of vapor.

    1. Thanks, those are all important points about our current system. Very often the only action is in the primaries of one party — and the other party is just a protest vote.

      Sometimes the only action is in one’s own State or even local races. And, of course, those have big effects.

      Sometimes the system is de facto rigged, and people are all just passengers. Then the action is organizing to fix the system.

      The one constant is the need and opportunity to get involved. We are responsible as citizens to try. Success is something beyond our ability to guarantee.

    2. What I can’t handle anymore are they guys playing amateur pundits and hedging the election like they’re betting on a sports event. What has to die is this idea that if you’re ‘wasting your vote’ if you support a candidate who can’t win due to his position in the current polls. Always “vote your conscience” is my thought. Come to think of it, always follow your conscience — in all decisions.

    3. Cathryn – “…always follow your conscience — in all decisions”

      Excellent advice I try to follow every day. Most of my regrets come from when I fail to follow it.

  4. A friend told me to listen to this the other day. I had heard parts of it before and most people probably have but I have never heard the whole thing at once. And then I looked at the date 1964. So here is a link to at that time Citizen Ronald Reagan’s 1964 speech “A Time For Choosing.”

  5. Several entries on the Fabius Maximus website discuss the contrast between Americans’ massive support for the military and their massive distrust of other political institutions. Now Mr Maximus supposes that the sudden introduction of a strong leader would lead to enthusiastic obedience.
    I wonder if this is a prediction of a military coup?

    Let’s say some high-level military official, perhaps a general or an admiral, gets sick of watching election news and decides that he wants to be the president. So he leads a division of Marines into DC, arrests all sitting Representatives and Obama, and names himself the new leader of the nation. He declares on national TV that he has saved the the country from self-interested politicians who only cared about themselves. He announces the beginning of a new benevolent rule, and the start of a golden age of prosperity for the United States.

    How much popular support would this person enjoy? 25%? 75%? Maybe the people would love him? Maybe this would be the strong leader for whom they’ve all been waiting?
    Maybe it depends on who this new leader pays off. Maybe things would not even change that much.
    Or maybe it’s just entertaining fiction.

    1. All great questions, the answers to which are unknowable.

      My guess — emphasis on guess — is that there will be no need for a military occupation. Just an assertion of will by the Leader to the sheep. There are many relevant scenarios in fiction.

      In the Sound of Music (film) — After the Anschluss, Uncle Max says to Captain Von Trapp “that at least there was no fighting” (paraphrase). That makes the Captain (Austrian Navy) feel worse, at the dishonor.

      In Watership Down, the warrior Leader rabbit Woundwort explains that among rabbits aggression is everything. One sides wants to fight, the other doesn’t. Victory is inevitable.

  6. Certainly one of the more dispiriting aspects of this election remains the fact that in most states, the outcome has long since been decided. The coastal states overwhelmingly tilt blue and will go to the Democratic candidate, while most of the central and deep southern states tilt massively red and will go to the Republican candidate. Ony handful of battleground states like Ohio and Florida hold the key to this election. Consequently, many of us in the electorate who intend to vote understand full well that our vote simply won’t count. My state is a foregone conclusion for Obama; no matter how I vote, that won’t change. This remains true in most states in the union.

    1. Sheep are trained to return to their pens. That’s one of the things that make them sheep.

      Only 5 – 10% of voters are independent (ie, don’t vote in a consistently partisan fashion). And most of them are low-information voters, reached through appeal to image and emotion.

      To see who we are, talk to the people’s whose business requires that they understand us. For details read “The Lie Factory – How politics became a business“, Jill Lepore, The New Yorker, 24 September 2012.

  7. Here, I read this from an ex-Republican party insider, and I found it quite… symbolic I guess is the word:

    How do you screw up a balloon drop? (Sadly this blog doesn’t seem to allow direct links to posts. Scroll down a bit to see the story.)

    I didn’t know before that the Republicans had first introduced the balloon drop with Goldwater and perfected it with Nixon. You learn something new every day,

  8. Concerning Todd Guthrie’s question as to whether America will undergo a military coup, that seems superfluous. After 9/11, the U.S. military-prison-surveillance-torture complex attained de facto control of America. The annual budget of the united states government is now determined by internecine battles among colonels in the Pentagon’s E Ring. Only those funds left over and not needed for this current quadrennial defense plan’s round of endless unwinnable wars and unworkable Buck Rogers superweapons can be spent on civilian projects, and when congress and the president scrabble over those scraps, it’s like watching ants battle over crumbs while giants slurp up the main meal. The total amount spent per year by the U.S. military-prison-surveillance-torture complex has been estimated somewhere north of 1.2 trillion dollars per year, though this varies depending on how you count it. For example, should we include the DHS? Military retirements? And so on.

    Any way you slice it, America after 9/11 has become so thoroughly militarized that the military are already in effective control of most areas of American life. It’s my understanding, for example, that even the doors of elementary schools are now wired up to Department of Homeland Security monitors. The TSA is now conducting random VIPR sweeps and stopping traffic. There is no longer any aspect of American life not under military control. So a military coup is not needed. The American military-prison-surveillance-torture complex already has effective control, and Americans live for all practical purposes in a state of martial law, excepting only internal passports and nightly curfews (coming soon, no doubt, at Obama’s insistence after he wins the 2012 election).

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