Politics


It’s that time again, when voters in about 20 states get to choose a president for the rest of us. Being in Texas, where I get only a symbolic vote in the presidential election, I am at some leisure to observe the mechanics of the election and consider how they might relate to the art & science etc.

There’s not a whole lot of difference between the two major parties. That’s what comes from having a two-party system: the parties cluster close together in the middle of the political spectrum because if one moves closer to its own pole (socialism on the left or fascism on the right), increasing its distance from the other party, it will lose some of the voters between the two.

I don’t like being lied to. A politician who lies to get a vote doesn’t deserve it. I also don’t like politicians trying to scare me. I have a pretty good idea of how dangerous the world is, so I recognize political scare tactics as untruths, if not lies. I believe that government should be a little smaller than possible.

When Republicans are in the process of making government bigger, I’m a Democrat. When Democrats are, I’m a Republican. Now, after eight years of a Republican administration spending money (my children’s and grandchildren’s money) like sailors on shore leave, and giving that money to big businesses, there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell that I’d vote for anyone from that tradition for president. I think that’s a pretty widely-held position. So it’s interesting to see what the Republicans are doing to try to keep the White House. Not discussing the issues, certainly — that’d be death to McCain’s campaign, and the campaign knows it.

I’ve written quite a bit on government’s use on all levels, including in courtrooms, of fear to induce the people’s compliance (before I started using categories; search for “fear”). That works, but it’s nothing new (how much of the Republican Party’s election playbook is based on Joseph Goebbels’s?).

What interested me about the convention speech written for Sarah Palin was the invocation of a quintessentially American fear: “those people think they’re better than us!” and its natural follow-up: “let’s teach them a lesson!” There is little we Americans dislike more than the idea that someone, somewhere, might have a sense of superiority to us.

Whether based in fact or not (“bitterly clinging to religion and guns” on the one hand, we’re “a nation of whiners” on the other), this is a potent metaphor in American politics . . . and in the courtroom. The Republican speechwriters’ description of how those Democrats feel about people from small towns probably matches how most Americans think lawyers feel about them.

The Republican campaign managers’ hope (that the voters’ visceral reaction to “they think they’re better than us” will distract them from the issues for long enough to hold on to the White House) would have been relentlessly focus-grouped before the metaphor was released into it into the wild at the convention. Lawyers will do well to remember this. Jurors are more likely to identify with the witnesses (and sometimes even the defendant) than with the lawyers or the government.

A lawyer who goes into court with anything other than a humble appreciation for the time that witnesses and jurors are spending to help get a matter sorted out is asking to lose the trial.

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0 responses to “Politics”

  1. Mark,
    You don’t know me, but I love reading your postings. Today I like this line the best: “I believe that government should be a little smaller than possible.” It’s clever and funny. But you disappointed today with some heavy-handed betrayals of your political biases while you tried to pass yourself off as an independent and highly reasonable thinker: “When the Dems..make government bigger, I’m a Republican; when…”

    These are today’s worst: “how much of the Republican Party’s election playbook is based on Joseph Goebbels’s?” and “socialism on the left or fascism on the right”

    Coming from someone who “has no sense of humor about totalitarianism,” it’s remarkable that you don’t see how socialism so easily leads to “soft” fascism–no jack boots, but ever-shrinking freedom.

    If there is anything resembling Nazi Germany in this election, it’s been the messianic pretensions of the Obama campaign, the worshipping and teary-eyed audiences, and the fawning press, all displaying the most irrational emotionalism ever seen in this country. And what about his statement in Berlin that he needed to change America so he could change the world? If Bush had said such a thing, they’d have called him Hitler, once again.

  2. Mary, thanks for reading, and for your thoughtful comment.

    Socialism and fascism are the traditional left and right ends of the one-dimensional political spectrum. That you are able to see the left’s socialist tendencies but not the right’s fascist tendencies says much about your own political tendencies, but it’s easier to see the mote in our neighbor’s eye than the beam in our own.

    I have, as Inigo Montoya might say, estudied my Hayek, and I understand how both socialism and fascism can lead to totalitarianism. It is, however, the tension between left and right that keeps us free. When the pendulum starts to swing too far in one direction, it’s time for a correction.

    I think it’s fair to compare the fear and division-based compliance techniques used by Republican campaign managers to avoid that correction to Nazi propaganda doctrine. The Nazis made a science of convincing masses of people to do things. Set aside politics; if you can find a campaign philosophy that Rick Davis is using that wasn’t invented, refined, or perfected in Germany 70 years ago, I’d like to hear about it.

    If the correction is an overcorrection, blame Karl Rove. I don’t really have a problem with someone wanting to change America to change the world. I think we should all be trying to change the world, working on whatever scale we can manage. If you really want to be frightened by a developing cult of personality, look further east.

  3. I met a young Russian woman in Sacramento who’d won the immigration lottery and got to move here a couple of years ago. She said that the Russian people adore Putin, herself included. Her mother manages a hotel where Putin once stayed. The employees fought over the house shoes and robe that he wore while there. Definitely a sign of Tsarist nostalgia.

    Your paragraph #3 is odd. Do you assume Republicans to be so brainless, so easily manipulated that they could not have their own, good reasons for preferring one candidate over another? That they are, like puppets, made to comply with a Republican campaign manager’s strategy? But Democrats, quite the opposite?

  4. I hadn’t given a lot of thought to Democratic propaganda because, well, it’s time for a correction.

    The Republican campaign was the one that announced that it would be avoiding the issues, which I find notable. I’m sure there are lots of people with good reasons to vote Republican, but those aren’t the voters the campaign is wooing when it says the issues don’t matter.

  5. Mark,
    I give up. I have no idea what you are talking about. Any party that announced the intention to avoid the issues would be out of the running. I live in Oregon, a solid “blue state” where anything negative about Republicans gets prominent exposure. I surely would have heard such a foolish announcement. This election is about issues, big issues, more than any other in recent history.

  6. I see. You have taken away from Davis’s comment that he’s announcing a Republican strategy. What he said was quite different. He has observed that the election is not about issues. This is not necessarily his choice or preference. In fact, it would put McCain at a disadvantage to ignore the issues, since he’s not Mr. Personality.

    I do see Davis’s point, though I don’t agree with him. When I asked some of my young acquaintances why they like Obama, their reasons are all about personality and image: “he’s a decent man”; “he’s staying above the fray”; “he doesn’t have a lot of political baggage”; “he’s young.”

    I will add that he has a great voice and convincing delivery. But when forced to give details about his views–the issues–he leans far too left for me.

    Thanks for the discussion.

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