"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Why Issue-Evasion Is Logical For Candidates

Last night’s debate was as it should be.  Image, acting, performance, style, emotion – the very stuff of television – were what won the debate for Romney.  He and his handlers knew that even the slightest bit of detail – not even getting down in the weeds, but simply brushing them back for a look – broke the fundamental rule of television, “Don’t Be Boring”. This is why television debates are not a good idea because they are really only about image, and simply play to the already style-focused electorate. 

Few of the millions of last election’s non-voters (the real target for both candidates, not the ‘undecided’ who have been living in caves) will read the fact-checkers and truth commissions set up this morning.  Who has the patience to figure out where the $716 billion went if it went anywhere? Politicians, even on this most visible and scrutinized stage can get away with murder, and they know it.  The one who feels that truth is more important than image – Obama, apparently – are the losers.

A much more cynical view is presented by Charles Ferguson of the Guardian (10.4.12) who argues that because of money and the political ‘base’ of both parties, neither candidate can afford to deal with important issues. Issues with serious implications for the country were avoided.

In 2008, Obama could afford to run as the reformer, and perhaps even needed to. But not so in 2012: Obama's economic positions – not just his actions, but even his public statements and promises – are the result of triangulating reality, public opinion and money. Obama still needs to get some votes from his base, so he must call for some burden-sharing by the rich. But he cannot be honest about the depth, or the sources, of America's structural economic problems, for two reasons.

First, he would be telling much of his blue-collar, minority, unionized and/or less-educated voter base that their skills are obsolete and they are economically doomed. Second, Obama cannot be honest about the economic damage caused by a criminalized, out-of-control financial sector, nor about other major industries contributing to America's economic problems (energy, telecommunications, industrialized food, pharmaceuticals) – because he needs their money.

Romney is in the same boat, and Ferguson goes on:

Obama seemingly makes himself unusually vulnerable on the economy. But he can afford to, because Romney cannot take full advantage of Obama's vulnerabilities. Romney depends even more heavily on the money and support of the financial sector, the wealthy, business and of anti-union, anti-immigrant forces. Romney's only appeal to average Americans is through "values" conservatism (religion, opposition to gay marriage, abortion, drugs, immigration, etc), vague complaints about government bureaucracy and, yet again, tax cuts.

It makes little political sense to be specific on spending cuts, because every cut is guaranteed to offend someone  The reason why Congress is approaching the Fiscal Cliff is because they know this; and rather than cause problems for any member facing election, it is better to hide behind an ideological wall.  As I have mentioned above, the electorate seems only to want ideologically-based generalities anyway; so why be specific?

It makes even less political sense to be specific about entitlements.  Millions of seniors are used to Medicare.  It is more than a health or welfare program – it has been around so long that it has become institutionalized.  Medicare is American.

And it makes the least political sense of all to be specific about defense spending.  Even though there are many ways to cut unnecessary programs for even the most practical efficiency-based reasons, it is a no-no for both parties. 

Obama could rightly and legitimately claim that the financial and economic crises were not his doing; and that no matter what he does, there are, in an age of international interdependence and globalization, few things that he can actually do to affect the inertial forces that are in motion today.  However, he cannot, for presidents are supposed to act, not to accept.  If he were to explain how his limited actions fit into the complex of Chinese debt holdings, EU financial crises, free trade and the fluid movement of labor and capital, he would get yawns in the first three minutes. 

Even if he were to explain a la Ross Perot the intricacies of the debt-deficit and the fundamentals of international finance, his words would be lost in a sea of fiction, conspiracy theories, untruths, and political screeds circulating within the Internet.  We live in an age of lies and untruths where fact and the reason to discern it are dead ducks.  The Republicans have quickly become savvy about this, and have coopted the phenomenon.  The Democrats are still clinging to traditional ways of thinking.  While I appreciate their desire to hold on to honored principles of reason, right action, ethical behavior, and the search for truth, sad to say it is a worldview of the past.  Negotiating a world of untruths, viral rumors, untested theories, and cockamamie ideas is the new challenge, and the Democrats persistently refuse to recognize it.

And so Obama can avoid all the hard issues and yet retain the grudging support of his bases [big money and the little man] simply by proposing modest tax increases on the wealthy, and by supporting the safety net (unemployment benefits, Medicare, social security) that Romney might cut.

It’s politics as usual in America, and it would be funny if it were not so serious.

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