I can feel it again, that aura of being slightly ill at ease. The oppressive weight of the less than credible and self serving rhetoric crowds the air waves. It is near the eve of Election Day, 2008 in Buffalo, N.Y.. Today, seven separate mailers arrived at our doorstep urging us to vote for this “angel” or against “that devil.” The collective cost of the mailers would feed thousands of the poor for months.
Why does it make me feel so uneasy? I also feel this way when I see “eating contests” at fairs and picnics. The thought of how many of the needy who could be able to eat, even a fraction of the food consumed, makes me uneasy. It isn’t any logical argument that I can articulate, just a vague notion that “something is out of balance here.” Am I the only one who feels this way or just the only one goofy enough to voice such feelings?
And then there is the cast of characters involved. After thirty five years in the trenches, I “know a few things” about many who are involved. Is that really such and such that they are portraying as a Kennedyesque figure? I know that person to be nice enough, but an amiable boob! And is that other person really as bad as they say? I don’t think so. Flawed like the rest of us maybe, but not as evil as he or she is portrayed. What has happened to our political discourse that such feats of verbal and artistic magic can transform people this way? Who is the man behind the curtain pulling the levers like the Frank Houston Character in the Wizard of Oz? Why is he doing these things? “What’s in it for him” the cynic in me asks? It is the wrong time of year for Santa Claus. The Easter Bunny I know to be a fraud. How do we sort all of this rhetoric out?
Voters are pretty sophisticated if not readily articulate of their feelings. They get a “certain sense” of things and cast their votes accordingly. Sometimes they get fooled temporarily. But in the long run, it usually works itself out. I think the common voters may be the great saving grace of our system, a philosophical leavener that lets the air out of the gas bags and separates the chaff from the wheat. The notion that this is true may be somewhat idealistic, but a comforting rationalization to me. I have been the lab tech, “Igor” helping create the monster enough times to make me feel uneasy when the current crop of Frankensteins wreak their havoc on the system. I have also taken down enough ogres to hopefully atone for my part in all adventures. In any case, I hope everyone votes on Election Day. Whenever citizens come out in large numbers, things seem to work out pretty well. Rascals only thrive and prosper in secret.
The psychology of elections is simple enough. Get people to like your candidate and believe he/she will do more for them than “the other guy.” And how do we do this? Is it running some visually pleasing television and radio commercials, making phone calls and sending out slick mailers that say your candidate is the best thing since sliced bread? Well, partly so. Clever media utilization reinforces visually ideas that voters already hold about candidates.The actions of some involved in elections are a puzzle to me. They ignore the fundamentals. In most small communities in our country, there is an innate distrust of “outsiders.” The tendency is to back “one of our own” for election. It behooves candidates then to make themselves known, through a lifetimes activities, to the electorate. Barring that, second party validation serves the same purpose. It means someone that you do know and respect says ”this candidate will be good for us.” You trust the speaker’s wisdom and adopt his/her opinions, voting for the candidate that they recommend.Why don't they all do this? In some cases, it may be a fundamental lack of understanding of the process. In others, it is a professional arrogance that suggest that a small group of operatives can sell anything to any body. Sometimes it is true, usually it isn’t. The dynamics of winning the trust of the electorate are age old, since the first cave man promised to clean up the dinosaur doo doo from the cave entrance.
It is mildy humorous for me to watch a television ad trumpeting the intelligence, initiative and qualifications of someone I know to be but an amiable boob. Who does anyone think they are fooling? The exception maybe sports and military figures. Americans, as George C. Scott narrated in his introduction of the movie classic “Patton,” love a winner. We over look faults that would disqualify other mere mortals. Is it fair? No, but it is human. It was always thus I suppose. “A “chicken in every pot,” “forty acres and a mule” and a cavalcade of other attractive hooks have lured in, and in some cases hoodwinked, voters since the dawn of our republic. As ugly as it can get today, it was even worse “way back when.”
Is there a solution to this electoral myopia? Perhaps not. Sometimes we get “stuck with a lemon” no matter how discerning our judgment. Still, the fundamentals exist. Show voters the goodness, innate decency and favorable intentions of a candidate and usually they will adopt him/her as one of their own. All of the slick media ads, glossy mailers and catchy phrases won’t help a candidate unless he reaches out on a broad level to “engage the electorate.” Most people know this intuitively. Those who do it successfully win, those who don’t eventually lose. Vote as if your life and family’s health depends upon the election, for it does every time.
Joseph Xavier Martin