Granted, I’ve supported Paul Waldman’s thesis that politics revolves around a personal narrative and not logical discussions of policy analysis is the right way to view things–depressing as that is. But after reading this post by Kos, I’m thoroughly discouraged. Kos writes:
The key is to find that negative value, and base the entire campaign to define the opponent around it. Then, every single issue that arises can be neatly slotted into that value, reinforcing it in the media and the voters’ minds.
I think he might be right, but how the hell did we as a people get so collectively stupid? At some point, someone is going to have to develop concrete policy proposals. If the entire political discourse revolves around simplistic narratives, or for that matter, outright falsehoods*, how do citizens even have the opportunity to influence what their government actually does? Was the idea of the citizen always subsumed by the reality of the consumer?
There endeth the jeremiad.
(Maybe all the funding stuff is getting me down)
*For example, how can we begin to have serious discussions about foreign policy, when a plurality of Americans is convinced that there were links between Al-Queda and Saddam Hussein? What does one do against such willful ignorance? It’s almost impossible to respect an alternative opinion that is founded in such ignorance.
Well its pretty tough. The latest poll results I heard on the Hussein/Qaeda link aren’t quite that bad 51% for females and 35% for males, ie not quite a plurality -but this was after the official congressional report that their was no link.
Politics has been pretty bad, with the all to common campaign wisdom, “don’t try to refute a widely delieved myth, exploit it”, with all the bad results that flow from that. Some how we got to educate enough of the population about critical thinking, but of course they gotta want to spend time learning important things about the world, rather than watching American Idol -or other such drivel…
I try to expose exploitation of myths/misunderstanding, regardless of the candidate, i.e. even if it’s coming from the guy I desperately want to win.
I see this as just yet another similary between the modern U.S. and Imperium Romanium in it’s waning days. In the latter period of the Roman Empire, there was massive and unsustainable militaristic expansionism (sound familiar?) and an increasing reliance on the services foreign powers to maintain hegemony (once again, sound familar?). But still, on the home front people became increasingly enamored of entertainment and their comfortable lifestyles (for the period, at least).
We appear to be on the trajectory of many other empires, and it never ends on a soft note.
Campaigns not just a matter of simplistic narratives, but narratives are necessary. They are not sufficient, nor do I believe Kos thinks that they are. Voters start with a wealth of information, starting from their own experience, and including, for most voters, news from tv, papers, and so on. The narratives are tested against what the voters already know (perhaps not consciously). But unless a candidate or party can present a narrative useful to the voter, they can’t compete against one that can. As Kos explained, listing facts is in effect telling the voter, “Here, you figure out what I, the cadidate, should do.” That won’t work.
At some point, someone is going to have to develop concrete policy proposals.
Yes – but not in public. With the narrative being based around the personal qualities of the politician, the policy issues become a non-question.
If the entire political discourse revolves around simplistic narratives, or for that matter, outright falsehoods*, how do citizens even have the opportunity to influence what their government actually does?
They don’t. The system is set up – and remember, it’s set up collectively by all actors including the voting public – not to select among policies, but to select among people with different personal qualities, in the hope or belief that someone of the “right character” will do “the right thing”.
It’s representational democracy taken very far from the direct democracy (with it’s own problems) it arose from. You select the kind of people you’d want to run the place and then trust them to do so implicitly.
All very illuminating answers. I think all of us desire to change the system so that decisions are more likely to reflect the realities of the world. I think the only way to do that is through painstaking education of the public. This won’t be easy, nor can it be accomplished quickly. Only by the consistient application of good truth seeking methods, by an increasing number of people over a long period of time has any hope of doing this. At this point all we can do is try to kickstart that process.