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David Bouchier: Vote With Your Head

Vote Stickers
Matt Rourke

Presidential elections are emotional events, and that’s not good. Elections are supposed to be based on thoughtful policies and sensible choices. Modern democracy was an invention of the Age of Reason, the 18th century. But today’s elections seem more like an invitation to indulge our most unreasonable feelings.

Feelings are fine, within reason, but they should be reserved for situations where nothing important is at stake, like sports or TV reality shows. Then everyone can scream and shout and emote to their heart’s content, no damage done. But, at election time. we need to lock the emotions in the closet and think.

Thinking takes time, which no politician has these days. Their advisers and campaign managers must think for them. But they have no time either. Campaigns moves at a manic pace, reactions must be instant — reflection is utterly impossible. The result is like one of those Roadrunner cartoons where Wiley E. Coyote pursues the Roadrunner in an eternal battle of need versus speed, aggravation versus acceleration. They never stop to discuss things.

It all makes good TV and is entertaining for the voters. But it is no way to decide who should preside over the government of the most powerful country in the world. We usually have a binary choice between candidates and programs that are relatively emotional on one hand and relatively rational on the other, although nothing is ever quite so clear cut. Religion and patriotism, fear and resentment, race and class are all tossed into the mix to make the choice less easy, and to activate those dangerous emotions. Add in irrational loyalties, such as “My party right or wrong,” as if this was a sports event, and the trite slogans and childish conspiracy theories whipped up by social media, and you have the perfect prescription for an election choice that is about a thoughtful as a 5-year-old choosing ice cream with sprinkles over ice cream without. Even George Orwell never imagined that populations would voluntarily embrace what he called doublethink — the willingness to embrace two or more contradictory ideas at once.

It wouldn’t be a bad idea to have a National Let’s Stop and Think About This Day just before each election, with all the chattering voices silenced, the ingratiating faces off the screens, and each voter engaged in studying the facts and making the most rational choice possible. But that’s not going to happen. It would ruin the game.

In any case we can’t think clearly if we don’t know what the facts are, and what politicians tell us is scripted by professionals in doublespeak who have made this empty Orwellian language into an art form. This leaves a great many things hidden, including the real beliefs and motivations of politicians themselves — in other words, the plain truth. I know the plain truth has never been tried in the whole history of politics, but there has to be a first time.

Since we can’t make much sense of what candidates say, it all comes down to how they look, and how we feel about them. This may be a good way to choose a piece of fish or a new hat, but it’s an insane way to choose a political leader. We need to know what they know, what they think, if they think, and what they would say to us, if only they could find the words.

Copyright: David Bouchier

David began as a print journalist in London and taught at a British university for almost 20 years. He joined WSHU as a weekly commentator in 1992, becoming host of Sunday Matinee in 1996.