Thursday, September 30, 2010

"Electile" Dysfunction

Why do Liberals go limp in November while Republicans are fully aroused? So say the poles..,.I mean polls. All that corporate money pouring in and the power it implies must be inherently sexy. And maybe malice and mendacity turn folks on; a perverse form of ecstasy.

In any case the right wing’s appeal seems more to the glands than the brain. While Democrats split hairs over agenda or lie semi-moribund, conservatives unite, rally around old myths and control the narrative however simplistic and distorted it may be.

A reasoned argument from the Left, supported with policy statements seems to address deaf ears. Indeed the opposition has grasped the concept that arguments to a mass audience can be siren songs, using simple slogans, images and signifiers.

This seems particularly true in an off-year election in which the task of both parties is primarily the turn-out of their respective bases and secondly igniting the vast, low-information middle. This is where public relations firms and advertisers play a decisive role.

Selling a candidate is indistinguishable from selling a car or a box of cereal. Why do I drive a Honda? On some level below consciousness I have a bought into a cluster of images that makes a statement matching me with my car. I’m not a Mustang. I’m not a BMW…….whatever that means.

Americans are nothing if not consumers. We not only purchase goods but we buy services the same way; evaluating teachers, judging waiters in restaurants and voting for our representatives often by subliminal impressions. Bush’s affability carried the day for eight years. He was the guy you (not I) wanted to have a beer with. If a candidate can fake authenticity the rest comes easily. The media pronounces whether he/she looks presidential as if our leaders should come out of central casting.

The agenda, the record, the issues all become subordinate to a snap assessment by the buyer-voter. A significant portion of the American electorate responds more readily to fear and loathing than to empathy and reason. It is primal; an almost instinctive reaction from the reptilian brain. The Republicans, those lucky stiffs, have tapped into this.

In 2008 when Obama won over first-time voters and independents it was also a visceral connection. Some of us projected a lifetime of expectation on him. He received other votes just because he wasn’t Bush or McCain. Since then we’ve been reminded of the deep conservative roots in this country. If an election were Masterpiece Theatre we would witness the paradox of Downstairs voting for Upstairs. The under-served identify with the privileged.

I can only hope those young people, minorities and undeclared voters get Viagrified and see through the slick ads from millions of corporate dollars and turn out as they did two years ago.


  1. I particularly liked that bit about the Downstairs voting for the Upstairs. Anger and fear create unfortunate effects. Jack

  2. Listen here Levine. If Meg Whitman is good enough to spend 120 Million of her own money to be our governor then the least we can do is vote for her. It would be a shame for all that money to go to waste.

  3. Only if you want to be bought. My ballot isn't for sale. Besides, her 120 million is probably
    represents a smaller percentage of her net worth than Brown's $10,000.

  4. I can be bought but only if she gives me a small percentage of the 120 Mil.