Friday, February 08, 2008

Politics and Emotion

I wrote about John McCain yesterday and why, even though he's a maddening figure, he does deserve support. G-Man at Boots On has posted an excellent piece on the same topic. I want to call out one point G-Man makes in particular that cannot be repeated often enough:

Still, I know what many of you are feeling. Frustration, betrayal, anger,
disgust, and want for vindication likely sums it up. But, for now, box these
feelings – don't forget them – just set them aside for awhile. Your decision
about voting in November should be driven by clear thinking and not emotional
impulse – as is the case with most Democrats. It's time to live up to the bumper
sticker Republicans Think, Democrats Feel.

Emotion is a tricky business; because we are human, we think and feel. I have struggled to control my emotions at different times in my life; it's a universal problem. One of the hallmarks of maturity is recognizing when your emotions are taking over and finding a way to step back.

Dealing with overly emotional people is always a challenge and it's one reason why many conservatives struggle with those on the left. While it's never good to be too emotional, controlling your emotions too much can backfire. One of the signature moments of the 1988 campaign was when moderator Bernard Shaw asked Michael Dukakis whether he would want vengeance if his wife was murdered. Dukakis, ever the soulless technocrat, chose to deflect the question and offered a colorless disquisition on his opposition to the death penalty. While he might have lost the election anyway, that moment probably sealed his doom.

One of the most interesting and potentially troubling things about this campaign thus far is how masterfully Barack Obama has played with the emotions of our always-excitable friends on the port side. Obama himself is a cool, cool customer. He almost never seems to get angry; about the only person I've seen in public life who is as visibly in control is Tony Dungy, the eerily serene coach of the Indianapolis Colts. Yet when you watch Obama on the stump, and when you consider the way some of his supporters behave, it's fascinating. He stays above the fray, even as the adoring throngs come to him, looking for all the world as if they want to touch the hem of his garment.

I wrote about this phenomenon twice before, but its persistence has become, at least for me, the story of the campaign thus far. A lot of Democrats understand the world in thoroughly secular terms and a fair percentage either don't believe in God or don't think the God is particularly relevant in the modern world. One can go through life that way, I suppose, but it has to be difficult. There's something universal in humans that makes us yearn for an explanation for the unexplainable. This is the root of faith and it seems to me that a lot of people are singularly lacking in faith.

I brought up Dungy because his serenity is completely grounded in his Christian faith; he trusts in God so completely that he can be serene about everything that happens in his life. It's increasingly evident that a whole lot of people are viewing Obama as some sort of savior who will transcend the unpleasantness of our politics and point the way to something new. This yearning is largely emotional and Obama is using it masterfully. I hope Obama understands what a dangerous game he is playing, because as a politician he cannot give meaning to people's lives.

Politics is about conflict, compromise, priniciple and sometimes treachery. For Obama to govern, he will necessarily have to engage in conflict and treachery from time to time. There are many people who are getting emotional about the Obama campaign and many of these individuals are putting an enormous amount of faith in this man. I wonder who is going to pick up the pieces for these individuals when Obama inevitably has to disappoint them.


Anonymous said...

Mark, this is not meant to be a personal attack, but your latest blog posting has got to be the largest pile of horse crap you have unloaded in a long time. You need to get a grip man. I understand that you just got run over by the Straight Talk Express, but my Lord you were all over the map on this one. I am still quite confused: Are we Lefties soulless technocrats, or maudlin fools? Are we Godless Commies, or Millenarians who have found our messiah? I live on the South Side of Chicago, where a large majority of folks, myself included, are devout Catholics and staunch Democrats. So too are most of my extended family, who live in the Catholic/Democratic cities of Milwaukee, Boston, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. I don’t think most of us realize how spiritually bereft our leftist souls really are, or that we are all so collectively God forsaken. I am going to write it off to the pressure placed upon your brain by the vast amounts of cognitive dissonance being generated as you come to terms with the thought of pulling the lever for McCain in November.
BTW, I just finished watching McCain’s speech at CPAC. I watched as at least one third of the ‘cool and collected’ Conservatives in the room either literally sat on their hands, or stood and booed loudly for their new party leader. And then today those same level headed Conservatives at CPAC awarded their Blogger of the Year Award to the famously even handed wing nut Ace of Spades (Did Ted Nugent come in 2nd?). It is time to put the “Conservatives are logical and rational” meme to bed. You guys lost that one once you re-elected Dubya. You love to portray liberals as crazies with Bush Derangement Syndrome, but we aren’t the ones who, after 7 years of a disastrous presidency, are still clinging to the notion that Bush will be exonerated by history. The man launched a war on fabrication and exploited emotion, conducted that war with utterly reckless indifference to planning or outcome. He rendered our government at home so utterly useless that a hurricane made us look like a banana republic. He squandered our soft power throughout the world, added $30 to $40 trillion dollars of debt to be paid by our children’s and grandchildren’s generations, shamefully politicized the office of Attorney General and destroyed American global credibility by pretending that torture isn’t torture when it is carried out by Americans with the approval of their President. Sorry, but the only people suffering from BDS and acting irrationally these days have an “R” on their ballots.
So, if I am to understand your argument, we overly emotional liberals are following a cool and calculating automaton. A black Mr. Spock who exudes a faux serenity as opposed to a Tony Dungy like serenity, because Tony Dungy’s serenity is grounded in a faith in God, where as Obama’s serenity is implicitly Godless? In the mean time, the always even-tempered folks on the Right are about to nominate a new party leader who is famous for his hot-temper, irrationality and maverick streak. And to do this, they repudiated a a man who was apparently trying to win a Guy Smiley look-alike contest, and who personifies the word generic. And your assertion that politicians cannot give meaning to peoples’lives is preposterous. Is that why the GOP still calls itself the Party of Lincoln? Why Democrats who were born after Kennedy died still identify with him? Why Republicans can’t help but get misty every time someone says the two magical words Ronald Reagan? And why people all over the world still idolize Winston Churchill? Something is missing here.
First and foremost, Obama is a great orator. Perhaps the best of our generation, so there really should be no surprise that people are moved by him. Secondly, his appeal is to hope as opposed to fear, which has been mercilessly exploited by Bush and Co. for the last 7 years, and which HRC has been trying to bully the left with to secure her nomination. Now let me ask you what is more nakedly emotional: Hope or fear? If you said hope, you are wrong. Lastly, you say you are concerned we weak-minded addle-brained liberals are going to suffer some kind of horrible, collective funk when Barak “Bambi” Obama engages in conflict and treachery. Mark, you must not be paying attention, because the man is beating up on one of the most brutal and Machiavellian political machines since the demise of China’s Gang of Five in the 70’s. In one year, he put together an organization that is outraising the Clintons 2 to 1, and John McCain 5 to 1. And, Obama has taken on both Bill and Hillary in a very public way, and won. He was right about Iraq from the start, and hasn’t budged from that position. His Healthcare plan is substantially different from Clinton’s, and as far as ‘specifics’ are concerned around policy, I would turn that around on you and ask that you sight all of McCains’ specifics on anything other than turning Iraq into a 50 to 100 year Mesopotamian Protectorate.
Obama is the most rational choice for President, among the remaining three viable candidates.

Strolling Amok said...

Hey Mark - An irrational cult of personality huh? Ooooooooh, Scary! Congrats on staying up to speed with the Official Right Wing Talking Points.
We know Obama is human, dude. But I believe that he's the best shot we have at having a president who is president of the US and not of the Republican or Democratic parties as the last two have been - i don't expect to be disappointed in that. One of the biggest reasons I support him is because of his respect for people like yourself - sincere, honest, decent people who happen to be on the other side of the aisle.
Aside from that I'll just say: "Yeah, what anonymous said."

Right Hook said...

As Uncle Rush has said, of all the things Americans are forced to pay for ignorance exacts a tremendous price in terms of monetary expense and national well being. We as a nation are paying a huge price for the years of dumbing down our educational system into a vehicle of liberal indoctrination, social engineering, lowered standards, and political correctness. The resulting uninformed electorate and lowered societal standards has given rise to politicians all too willing to posture and pander to the shallow thinking and sheer ignorance for their personal gain.

The Obama phenomenon is a glaring example of how the American political process has been manipulated by politcal correctness, social engineering, and a liberal biased mainstream media into a vehicle of entertainment akin to "American Idol". It is through ignorance or apathy in the electorate, and the mediocre-at-best field of Democrat candidates, that his campaign has gotten as far as it has.

Just what has Obama actually accomplished in life that qualifies him to be President of the United States? Where has he established a tangible record of executive skills or the ability to lead? What substantive legislation has he crafted and sheperded through the process? What experience does he have that indicates any qualifications to command the military and to prosecute a war? Has he ever presented any evidence that he understands even the basics of economics in relation to a free society? What credentials does he have pertaining to national security? Has he demonstrated the ability to even run a convenience store, let alone a large corporation, city, or state? The honest answers to questions like these do not paint a picture of superior qualifications for the job.

Senator Obama is, as Senator Biden put it, clean and articulate. He has a pleasant easy going personality, good looks, dresses nicely, and speaks well. His campaign and the mainstream media have successfully promoted him like a rock star with an entourage of celebrities from the entertainment world. The problem is that the man can articulately speak for hours and say nothing of substance, yet the popular culture eats it up like wisdom from on high.

Any serious examination of Obama's candidacy will conclude that it is little more than the culmination of slickly promoted media events. He has gotten to where he is primarily through ambition, political pandering, and largely by being in the right place at the right time for the culmination of political correctness, personal ambition, and a dumbed down and/or unengaged electorate within our society.

He is the consummate candidate for an era of political correctness and cultural vapidity. He looks good and speaks well. As a minority he cannot be rigorously questioned or scrutinized without his campaign or the liberal media loudly claiming racism. His slickly choreographed public appearances are carefully accentuated with clever and witty phases that make great sound bites that can be manipulated into any desired context within substance-free media productions that pass for television news. Oprah Winfrey, the queen of political correctness and herself a great fountain of intellect, substance, and critical thinking, endorses him. Is this all that is needed to qualify as a serious candidate for the Presidency of the United States?

Barack Obama is basically a politically hungry idealist with lots of skills in presenting himself but little with respect to substantive ideas or qualifications for the job he seeks. Having such a light-weight in the office would be a disaster for the country and the world. Obama may be a nice and articulate man but is clearly the wrong man for the most powerful position in the world.

Gino said...

"a politically hungry idealist with lots of skills in presenting himself but little with respect to substantive ideas "

yep, you just described most of the GOP field there in contrast to Ron Paul, whose ideas they refused to debate him on, but instead laughed at, like the liberals always do to ideas that make sense.

face it GOP: you dont believe in your own platform, your own ideals. you just like to mouth the words because it makes you feel good, and gins up the base for another betrayal.

but when faced with a real man, who really believes in small-limited govt,and wants to honestly do it, you dump all him because he intimidates you.

when you actually believe and do the things you say, then you will have cred.
until then, john mc cain's conservatism IS the real GOP in true to life action.

Mark said...

Well, at least I got your attention! Let's talk about this stuff.


First, I don't take what you wrote as a personal attack, so no worries, good sir.

It's pretty apparent that you're not following my argument in some ways, so let's back up for a second. Let's start with Catholicism. We both know that there's tremendous tension among American Catholics because of where the Church stands on issues. Way back when, around Christmas, you were talking about the gap between Dorothy Day and Opus Dei. And that's a real thing. Catholics were a large part of the traditional Democratic coalition for a long time. The problem is that the Democratic party, for better or worse, is now the party of abortion. And that's a huge problem for Catholics. I know you're hardly Godless, but you cannot deny that the party you support is unapologetically secular in its outlook. You apparently can make your peace with that and support the Democratic Party. I can't.

You'll also have to show me where I said conservatives are always calm and cool. I didn't say that. What I did say was that the conservatives I know try not to be ruled by their emotions. And the key word there is try. Do conservatives fail sometimes? Hell yes. We are human. I see a lot of liberals who make no effort such effort whatsoever and that's the difference.

I might also note that you are paying a lot more attention to what's happening at CPAC than I am. And the next time I read Ace of Spades will be the first time.

As for Bush and his place in history, who knows? What happens next will put what he's done in a different context. When Reagan left office, no one knew that the Berlin Wall would fall the following year. Much of the speculation about Reagan's place in history at the time centered around the Iran-Contra scandal, which seemed like a huge deal at the time but hasn't made much difference at all in the historical assessments of Reagan's legacy.

May I ask a favor? Please search my blog and see how many times I've used the term "Bush Derangement Syndrome."

One more favor - count the number and intensity of the adjectives you use to describe Bush. "Utterly reckless." "Utterly useless." "Disastrous." "Banana republic." Really? Do you honestly look at Washington and see Tegucigalpa? Why?

Now, on to Obama. Let me state this unequivocally, just so you understand this. I do not fear Barack Obama, nor do I fear a potential Obama presidency. The republic will survive. We survived the terrible run of presidents between Polk and Lincoln. We survived Jimmy Carter. We'll be just fine. What concerns me about Obama is this: he's selling hope but it's a hope that is not grounded in anything tangible. It's all vaporous. There is nothing in his record or his life experience that tells me he is ready to lead this nation. Not one single thing. And that concerns me.

Lincoln, God love him, was an anomaly - we have never had anyone else like him in our history. The GOP calls itself the Party of Lincoln because it is, but I don't for a minute believe that the modern Republican Party is the same party it was in Lincoln's day. We are in a different time now; the modern Republican Party has different concerns and different constituencies. If the GOP stopped calling itself the Party of Lincoln tomorrow, it wouldn't bother me in the least.

And I stand by my statement that policitians can't give meaning to people's lives. I remember Reagan's presidency well; he had to compromise many times and many conservatives were grousing about his dealings with Tip O'Neill, Mikhail Gorbachev and countless other actors on the stage. I am deeply grateful to him for what he did as President, but he's 20 years in the rear-view mirror now. Same with Lincoln; we live in a world that flows from his presidency, as altered by every succeeding president, most importantly Franklin Roosevelt. I can recognize that without thinking that these men are what give meaning to my life. God and family give meaning to my life. I'd be willing to wager that you look to the same sources.

As for McCain, his temper is a concern and it's one of several reasons I didn't support him up to this point. I would have preferred Thompson or Romney, but the process gave us McCain. So be it. I can't worry about options that are no longer available.

What I see Obama doing concerns me, for the reasons I've outlined. You disagree. I can live with that. God speed, good sir and we'll see what happens.


Talking points? C'mon. I've been saying this for a while now. Maybe the punditocracy has been catching up to me.

Right Hook,

As always, a good analysis. Can't disagree with a word of it.


Ron Paul is very valuable right where he is: in the Congress. I hope he gets re-elected. But to paraphrase John Lennon: if you go carrying columns from Lew Rockwell, you ain't going to have a chance in hell.

Gino said...

and if you keep acting like ke ne dy,
you aint ever getting a chance with me.

Mark said...


Very good! Re-writing Beatles songs to fit the campaign could be an interesting genre exercise!


Anonymous said...

The first post is one of the funniest things I've ever seen. Guy is jumping up and down screaming "I'm not emotional" even as he lets fly with a blizzard of spittle. Then he complains about how unfair it is to talk about BDS after dumping over 1000 words of cheap shots and wild-ass assertions. All after telling Mr. Dilettante to "get a grip."

Criminy! Mark, why do you put up with that bullshit?

Daria said...

If we restrict the genre to the Beatles I think "Taxman" would be the place to start for the Obama campaign.

If the scope is opened up to all rock tunes the obvious ones for Hillary are "The Bitch is Back", "Bat Out of Hell", or "Don't Ask Me No Questions (and I Won't Tell You No Lies)".

Nice post. In fact, the bunch at Boots On like your fare so much that we've added "Mr. D" to our Favorite Links list.

- D

Mark said...


Thank you - that means a lot to me. You and your colleagues at Boots On do an excellent job and the writing there is always at a very high level. And I think the song contest is a good idea - I'll write that up anon.

Second anonymous,

Rich is an old friend of mine and I think very highly of him, even if we disagree on politics. It's useful to have friends who challenge what you believe from time to time. I'd argue that those are often the most useful friends to have, lest a person start to believe he is better than he is.

I do have to agree with you about one thing, though - it was pretty amusing to wade through Rich's multi-faceted screed after he had advised me to "get a grip."

Anonymous said...

Mark and Anonymous,
I never said the BDS accusations against the Left were unfair, and I don't pretend that the Democratic party doesn't have its share of whack jobs. What I implied was that such criticism is laughable coming from the Right, and that there is no small measure of irrationality on your side of the aisle as well, and I stand by that.

Anonymous, where did I say I wasn't emotional? Please show me. Then refute the points I made. I am all ears. Explain to me how Bush's administration did a good job in the preparation for and aftermath of Katrina. Convince me that he knew what he was doing in Iraq, but do it after reading "The Assassins Gate" and "Fiasco". Explain to me how politicizing 9-11 was good for our nation. And tell me how adding added $30 to $40 trillion dollars of national debt to our children and grandchildren is googd policy.

And Mark, I wouldn't compare the District of Columbia to Tegucigalpa. I made an observation about the Hurricane, and our response to it. I was in New Orleans at the end of this summer and I was shocked at how little has been done there in the way of repairs, rebuilding, and even debris clearing. I have never been to Tegucigalpa, but I would be willing to bet that nothing in that city looks any worse than the the Ninth Ward right now.


Mark said...


Pretty simple, good sir – I didn't ever say anything about BDS. You brought it up, for reasons that I won't pretend to understand. As I said before, I try not to traffic in stuff like that. And as a reminder, I said conservatives try to be rational. No one I know is completely rational 24/7. That wouldn't be rational.

I'm not sure why you're throwing all the challenges at Anonymous – don't know that he brought up any of the topics you mentioned. He (I'm pretty sure it's a he; I have a friend who visits my blog often enough who is quite fond of the word "Criminy") did say that some of your assertions were "wild-assed." So it goes. You've got your opinion and anonymous has his. I welcome both on my blog.

Finally, what I meant was comparing the Washington and Tegucigalpa as seats of power in their respective countries. When I think "banana republic," I think Honduras. If our governmental response was somehow that of a banana republic, I drew the inference that you were comparing the Bush administration to any number of ineffectual Honduran governments. By the way, I've never been to Tegucigalpa either, but I did spend a summer in neighboring Guatemala and what I saw there was absolutely horrifying.

As for what you saw in New Orleans, I'd ask this – did the federal government do all the work in the aftermath of other hurricanes or natural disasters? Katrina was especially horrific, but we've both lived through other horrific storms (Andrew, Hugo) where things are now a lot better, primarily because the local governments took responsibility for the ongoing problems. I may be wrong about this, but I've always understood FEMA's job to be providing short-term help for people in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, not to take complete responsibility for re-creating what had been destroyed. At some point you have to ask what role the local government has. Louisiana has a new governor now and perhaps things will change.

You also have to remember that a lot of people who lived in New Orleans moved away and a lot of them are not coming back. I'm currently working with a guy who lived in Metairie and decided to stay up here. People who have abandoned their properties tend not to do much to bring them back. You can blame the Bush administration for that if you'd like, but it doesn't exactly seem fair.

Gino said...

here's another:
O Blah Dee
O Blah Dah
Vote O Bah Mah