If Tocqueville is correct then elections bring out the greatest political passions of the American people. Periodically every two to four years the people are wrought and brought to extremes of anger and vindictiveness and defensiveness the likes of which would shame their otherwise day to day decent and workmanlike business and bourgeois (and in some cases sheer techno-bureaucratic) ethic.
During elections, the demand of high principle all of a sudden finds itself situated in the midst of the most base and baseless tactics of electioneering, fund raising, and vote grabbing. The most important questions—whether they are adequately and beautifully stated or not—are brought to the not dispassionate consideration of the people in terms of competing parties, platforms, and candidates. It is a time when what are considered to be most important issues and concerns are stated in the most exaggerated terms if only because the most important things regarding the government of the community are laid bare for choice. It is a fitting exaggeration.
But is it a choice? If it is a choice, it lasts the mere seconds of pulling the lever, filling in the hole, or pushing the button at the polling place. After all, beyond the marginalia of persuasion, partisans are already ready made, and past memories and present interests are foremost in the mind of the people. Besides a persuasion is more than deliberation about competing means to future aims. It is also a considered judgment made real through longstanding argument and handed down assumptions about the way the world works and ought to work. In an election, one’s understood way is either confirmed or rejected, even if neither candidate perfectly mirrors one’s own personal ideas and interests. After all, it is a question of representation and not in person rule.
Luckily any given election is never entirely over for either party to the dispute because in two to four years hence the people will be able to fight it out again—even as new unforeseen and important circumstances which must be dealt with will inevitably present themselves for the consideration of the community.
Nonetheless, whether past or future, this electoral conflagration is a popular argument made in a truly human manner, and this is something worthy of praise. Speech regarding the common advantage is countered with further such same speech, solemn promises are made by both sides, and various babies are kissed until the day that all of the ballots are counted and the popular favorite wins.
The day after the election and for several months later, the people are somewhat dumbstruck with the aftermath. A policy position and a candidate has been affirmed, or those very same things have been rejected in favor of new ones. In the aftermath, praises and recriminations are made by the partisans of each respective side about their respective campaigns, but little is spoken about the important issues that were so recently divisive regarding the common good. To be sure, the victors carry with them the regnant high of the promises from the campaign glory days, while the most partisan dissenters and losers take two aspirin in order to overcome the severe hangover resulting from investing so much energy in a truly satisfying while it lasted, but ultimately defeated cause.
However, it is needless to say that for both victors and losers the buzz gets killed and the hangover pains subside, and the American people find themselves stuck again with having to govern themselves with their inherited laws and institutions under which and through which they find themselves. They still must make their own political destiny—albeit in the light of eternity—and in the midst of the same unfortunate admixture of chance and choice in which they found themselves before the election.
So what of the role of the intelligent and knowledgeable typing fingers and talking heads in the media who throughout had prided themselves on objectively presenting the case and issues of the election in a way allowing for choice devoid of passion and in a way open to true popular rational deliberation? Oftentimes, these are people who truly care about long term issues and their consequences. They speak of these things over and over regardless of which party controls the Congress or the Presidency. But what happens when it becomes obvious that this group was already in the partisan bag for one candidate in the rhetorical spin that they gave to the campaign issues and stories? For instance, currently we hear a lot that these pundits in their hearts want Obama to win.
In their pride as objective observers of the political scene, some pundits try to rectify that bias—like recently Mark Halperin did in his comments on the way the media covered for possible mistakes the Obama administration made in its dealing with the terrorist attacks which killed four Americans (including the ambassador) in Benghazi, Libya. Halperin (and others too) pointed out that it ought to be a controversy that the general media in its reporting has ignored its own partisanship in favor of Obama in avoiding the reporting of a real scandal. Good for him and his own conscience in stating the obvious. But is Halperin himself being inflamed by electoral passion? Are electoral passions this time calling into question the rectitude of the alleged objectivity that he now must defend in order to save any and all credibility for his profession?
It makes one wonder if the so-called persuadable voters do not consist of the members of media itself. Everyone else is decided it seems, but the media keeps speaking of the undecided. Are they themselves the secret undecided? When major figures like Halperin ask questions about the generally favored candidate (in this case Obama), does that indicate an important change in the electoral polling data? This idea may sound absurd, but consider Christopher Lasch’s remarks on the dubious role and function that the media play in modern campaigns. (h/t Mark T. Mitchell)
I don’t count on the truth of this weird hunch that the members of the media are the secret undecided. But it is surely curious that we rely so much on this class of scribblers and chatterers to make what is important in the questions of our politics. But such is life in 21st century America. I guess Im one of this class too. At least I have no influence!
Just in case a reader may be confused by my apparent aloofness, I am voting for Romney against Obama for all the intelligent reasons that are put forward on Postmodern Conservative—such as this . I say that for what it’s worth.