This Wicked, Hateful Season

This Wicked, Hateful Season

There is nothing like a scorched-earth policy when it comes to poltical races, and we’ve got such a show in full force as we near the end of another mid-term election.

While the media has been hyping all of this as the Election That Will Shake Western Civilization, what bothers me the most is the incredible amount of hatred going on. This election is not about fending off some “colorful” candidates, it’s really about the inmates having taken control over the asylum. There is so much vindictiveness among candidates and the public that it’s almost staggering. It’s also disturbing.

But rather than blame politicians, I want to point the finger at voters. We voters suffer from a long-standing thinking disorder that causes us to believe we are smarter than we really are. Politicians routinely invoke the “wisdom of the American people” and claim that we can’t be fooled, but that’s exactly what goes on. And here’s the kicker: we want to be fooled and lied to because we are not that collectively wise.

The first rule of politics is that you never tell the truth. You tell people what they want to hear. Almost all voters insist this isn’t, and can’t possibly be accurate, but it is. For example, when Walter Mondale ran against Ronald Reagan, he told people that he (Mondale) would raise taxes and so would Reagan, only he was telling them the truth. Guess what happened? Mondale lost by over ten percentage points. He didn’t lose based on his tax comments alone, but he slipped and told voters what they did not want to hear. And to cap off the irony, Reagan eventually raised taxes.

The exercise of power requires a politician to sell voters an ideology, but it must be done in such a way that voters feel they’ve arrived at a conclusion about the state of things on their own. Once a voter is sold on the ideology, it makes that person easier to accept what a politician says as being the Truth: they’ve bought the branding and now they’re loyal to it.

This does not mean that person is stupid, because even very smart people can have strange beliefs. Instead, what it means is that person can influence others because he is convinced his candidate knows what’s going on and can fix it. So it’s not in the politicians’ best interests to tell people "the Truth," but to reiterate those key points that underscore why a voter is supporting them in the first place. The candidates tells voters what they want to hear.

How do I know this is true? What is the single issue that is most on voters’ minds? The economy. Not the wars, not terrorism, but the economy that has been linked to "uncontrolled government spending." When you hear that phrase over and over again thanks to popular propagandists like Glenn Beck or Sean Hannity, people become convinced of its urgency and importance. A politician who steps forward and claims that he will fix this locks people into this brand and a vote is secured.

Except most people think they are above this, including the aforementioned voter. Whether it’s liberals or dyed-in-the-world right wing conservatives, people need to hear what they want to hear. The Republican/Tea Party base has fixated on government spending and are convinced vague, muddled plans are the answer to save the country. For liberals, witness the the hue and cry when Rahm Emmanuel colorfully upbraided Obama supporters. Was he lauded for telling liberals the truth and showing them tough love? Of course not! Many demanded his departure and spent a great deal of time licking their wounds. Now, they’re stuck with uninspired speeches about “what we’re up against” and only recently has President Obama seemed to show up for work to go on the offensive before pulling back a bit. Is there any wonder why Republican voters are more fired up?

Yet none of this fully explains the deep hatred and ugly face of the electorate, especially among right-wing voters. Whether it’s defacing images of the president as a Nazi or open displays of weapons at rallies, there seems to be a very dark streak of authoritarianism and rage that’s being encouraged by the likes of Beck, Hannity and Fox News that’s become the actual narrative of this election cycle. People won’t be voting on the economy, but rather their bitter vindictiveness over what they see is wrong with this country. Their preferred candidates have sold them this message, but the vitriol has spilled out of control.

Which means this wicked, hateful season will not end on Election Day.