Sunday, October 16, 2016

Character versus Policies - Emotional Thinking versus Logical Thinking

When a politician doesn't want you to examine his policies too closely, he attacks his opponent's "character".

In the last few elections, one "issue" seems to have come to the forefront time and time again, and it really isn't an issue per se.   "Character" seems to be driving the political conversation and debates and both sides seem to enjoy wading in the mud to assassinate the other fellow's character.

And the media plays along, of course, because they love a good cock-fight and it is good for ratings, as CNN recently admitted.   And of course, we the consumers of media eat this crap up, so ultimately we are to blame for favoring flash over substance, appearances over reality, character over policy, emotional thinking over logic.

Does character matter?  To some extent, yes.   You don't want a convicted embezzler running for town clerk.   You don't want a convicted child molester on the school board.   And maybe someone who pledges allegiance to ISIS or some foreign power shouldn't be a US Congressman or President.

On the other hand, should elected officials be selected only from a pool of choir boys and nuns?   Does it make sense that we have some sort of character litmus test for public office that is so strict that none of us could ever pass it?

And that is the problem right there.   The Clintons are arguably the most investigated political couple in the history of the country.   Literally (and I mean literally) dozens of Benghazi investigations have turned up nothing - but a swell Hollywood movie begs to differ.  The decade-long Ken Starr investigation of everything the Clinton's ever did came up with nothing, other than Bill got a blowjob in the White House and then (like most honorable people) lied about it, because people with character don't brag about their sex lives in public - or in private for that matter.

And the sad thing is, there was a little meat on that bone.   I mean the perjury thing was kind of thin - expecting someone to admit an adulterous affair is kind of far-fetched.  Moreover what relevance does that have to the workings of government?   But he did apparently arrange a government job for Lewinsky after the fact, and that could have been (and should have been) the real "crime" if there was one, albeit minor in the scheme of things.

Sadly, Republicans decided to drop that line of inquiry and instead concentrate on the fact that the President had sex with someone not his wife as if that was some sort of major crime of the Century or something that never happens to the citizenry of the USA.

And they did this because it tested well.  As I recalled before, two friends of mine (who are now Hillary supporters) wanted to see Bill Clinton impeached.  They were conservative Democrats and supported Bill Clinton in the past, so their turnabout seemed odd to me.  They both explained that they had "ex'es" who had cheated on them, and they felt abused by their former spouses.  The Monica Lewinsky affair hit them right in the gut, which is exactly where the GOP hoped it would.   Go right past the logical brain and get the old emotional lizard brain to bite on some tasty tidbit.

And that is the main idea of the "character" argument.   Forget that I am selling trickle-down snake-oil or tax cuts for people who make three times as much as you do.   Forget that I am going to cut back on social programs that you benefit from - such as Social Security and Medicare - and think more about whether the other fellow slept around.  If I can distract you on the one hand, I can get away with murder with the other.   Every magician knows this.

But of course, those who live by the sword, die by it.  And in this election cycle we are seeing how Trump has been hoisted by his own petard.   Trump has been very sketchy on policies, other than to say things will be "brilliant" and "beautiful" and "great" and "huge" and the "best".   Instead, his entire platform consists on attacking the character of others - including people he beat in the primaries months ago.  He gives people derogatory nicknames and then repeats lies and half-truths about their character  as if that was enough to elect him President.

The problem with this approach is twofold.   First of all, when you don't stand for anything yourself, people get antsy - at least people who think.   The dumber set doesn't notice, as they project their own views onto your blank policy slate.   People attending Trump rallies think he is for their agenda, even if he hasn't said one word indicating so.   He is the Rorschach candidate.  He is whatever you think he looks like - white supremacist, anti-abortion crusader, pro-union trade warrior, fundamentalist Christian - even if he isn't really any of these things.

But the second and more important problem with this approach is that it leaves you vulnerable to the same kind of attack.   Hillary hasn't been asleep since the days of the Starr investigation.  She saw what they did to her Husband (and to her).  She saw how Swift-boating worked on Kerry and how Al Gore let George W. define him.   Once you let these character slurs go, the other side wins.

And often the only way to win the "character" battle is to attack your opponent, mercilessly.   Bush took what was potentially a liability - his lackluster war record - and turned it against his opponent who was a decorated veteran.  By election day, the tables were turned - Bush was the real hero, and Kerry was a draft-dodging medal-thrower.

"Bounces off me and sticks to you" is also a classic Trump move - and it worked, for a while at least.

So Trump tries to smear Hillary with Bill's alleged affairs and an entirely made-up story about how Hillary "laughed at a rape victim" (which is not true at all).   Rather than concentrate on real policy issues or real issues of character, he used these tangential claims because they involved sex and Americans are obsessed with sex.   Moreover, while Americans are very sexually liberated and our media (movies, television) depicts everyone actually having sex (a lot) - on our public stage we are still puritans, it seems, and we act shocked that anyone is actually doing it, even though we do it ourselves.

He opened the door for this sort of sleaze and Hillary drove a Mack Truck through it.   Well, we don't know if the Clinton campaign is behind the sleaze tapes and the numerous accusers (nine and counting) but they certainly aren't upset about this turn of events.

And it turns out that this - like the infidelity thing - is something that goes right to the gut and bypasses the brain.   A lot of women really don't like it when you grab their privates, it turns out.   Funny, I know, but they are that way.  Something to keep in mind, guys.  And I think these sort of revelations will help Clinton in terms of voter turnout and also in the number of "secret" Clinton voters in many swing States.   A lot of Fox-News-watching husbands will assume their dutiful wives will also be voting for Trump, but when the curtain closes on the voting booth, many a white, middle-class, middle-aged Republican woman may pull that lever (or push that button) for "one of our own."   Maybe it is time a woman ran things - after all, their pre-dementia husbands can't be trusted to even take out the trash, right?

But the sad thing about this situation is whether you root for one candidate or another, we don't really get to hear concrete answers (and criticisms) as to policy positions.  Trump is very vague on what he would do as President, other than build a wall, deport Muslims, and put Hillary in jail.  Hillary has detailed policy positions on her website (snooze!) but we never hear real concrete criticisms of them from Trump.

And perhaps this is by design.   If we actually discussed the candidate's positions on the issues, we might actually see through the smoke and fog more clearly.   Sadly, it seems many today still vote based on emotional thinking, and if you don't believe this, look at any Trump or Sanders rally footage.   People are voting for someone they think is a rock star, not a bundle of policy points.