Paying attention to political events in the last decade or so, one cannot help but notice something strange and disconcerting about American (and Canadian at that) election time. One would not be going out on a limb to say that elections are predominantly about image. It is about casting one’s candidate in a way that will appeal to, and ultimately propel the maximum number of citizens to get out and vote. Over the years, elections have become more and more about image and less and less about actual policies. You know, those ideas, plans, and strategies the candidates have for running the country if elected. The important stuff, right?
Recently, what with the onslaught of our senses from Youtube and the news, citizens are usually only privy to certain sound bites, oftentimes not lasting longer than 10 seconds. This reality is partly due to the fact that the candidates (perhaps partially rightly so) don’t expect much out of their citizens. They feel that sound bites will affect us more given our ever-shortening attention spans. It is also a strategy being used by the candidates themselves, because it allows them to make a strong impression on their citizens without really doing or saying anything substantive. Sarah Palins “joke” about the difference between a pit bull and a hockey mom allowed her to show off her grit, determination, and sense of humour. Obama’s “yes we can” speech, followed by a music video featuring an assortment of B-list entertainers allowed him to paint himself as a beacon of hope and change. George Bush saying that “we’re gonna smoke em out” showed the country that they have strong, brave, and decisive leadership at the top running this thing. John McCain constantly reminding people that he was a POW. By the way, if I were pressed to say whether this was a detriment or an advantage, I’d probably say the former. Wouldn’t you? The point is that these moments remain etched in peoples minds, and for better or worse, have huge impacts on whose ticket they punch come election day. Charlie Sheen said in “Wall Street” that “life comes down to a few moments”. What a great way to also describe US politics. Unfortunately, people will often cast their ballots based on a “few moments” that succeed in defining a candidate for them.
Nobody likes long and drawn out explanations. People tend more for the snappy, to the point, and often frustatingly vague sweeping statements. For some inexplicable reason, pragmatic, sensible, and intelligent speeches are too much for many. People get bored. These moments, unfortunately, do not win elections. These moments often lead the candidate to be labeled “elitist” or “overly-intellectual”.
Which leads me to the crux of this piece: Are these bad qualities? The quick answer is, they shouldn’t be. But unfortunately, in one of the most personally disappointing developments in elections, they often are. Intelligence in terms of understanding the ridiculously complex international social, cultural, and economic system should not only be sought for, but it should be mandatory. Being president is not an easy job and requires a keen intellect at the very least. Therefore, it is unfortunate that elections are being decided with large swaths of the population believing that intelligence and sophistication are, in fact, poor qualities for the leader of the free world to have. These people love their leaders decisive, down to earth, and “just like you and me”. I don’t know about you, but I am not ready to be president. Neither are my friends. The reason why we hold elections is so that we can elect the most qualified person for the job. Not so that we can choose someone “just like you and me”. So how could a presidential candidate who reminds you of “your good buddy Joe”, is a down to earth decisive “straight talker” possibly be something you look for in a leader? I mean, isn’t decisiveness just a euphemism for hard-headedness, for stubborness, and for quick (and therefore potentially flawed) decision-making.
Nobody likes a labourer. Many Americans (i.e. Bush 2004 supporters) want somebody who has the ability to make decisions immediately, somebody who “will not blink”. Many of them clearly do not see the logic behind the idea that a carefully formulated, well thought-out, rational, pragmatic, and tempered response to an issue will more likely than not, yield a more positive outcome for all. Stephen Colbert once told Bush that he was like him because they both spoke “from the gut”. Clearly not noticing the sarcastic nature of the whole ordeal, Bush laughed along. But little by little, he realized that Colbert was in fact attacking him for making decisions that not only affect the citizens of America, but the world as a whole, “without blinking”. Sarah Palin, in her now infamous interview with Katie Couric, used those exact same words. The dogma that has defined America for the past 8 or so years has been one that says that compassion, intellectualism, and dragging ones feet are a sign of weakness and therefore, unpatriotic. The idea that we cannot, nor will we ever show weakness to our enemies has been a cornerstone of recent US political activity. Personally, I would take a pragmatic solution, (one that is actually based on the realistic current international climate rather than losing face), from an elitist intellectual sophisticate who sips Chai Tea Lattes over one from someone who may be more “decisive” in his thinking anyday. Let’s hope Americans agree with me this time around.