Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The politics of personal perception.

2015 is shaping up to be one of those years where I think about blogging, for a minute, and then find something far more important to do in real life.  C'est la vie right?

In reading Victor Davis Hanson's NRO article on violent extremism however I stumbled across a quote that struck me as both profound, and worthy of a bit of expansion.

How to Empower Violent Extremism, Victor Davis Hanson, NationalReview.com

Add in the fact that most people have little ideology other than wishing to ally themselves psychologically with a perceived winning cause
Hanson is dead on here. But this quote is only one piece of the puzzle. In my experience most people become interested in politics for a combination of three reasons.

1. As Hanson said, they want to be on the "winning" side.
2. People want to align themselves with what they think is "cool".
3. For the worst political hacks political activity is a desperate cry for attention.

Admittedly, this list is not comprehensive. There are, in fact, very earnest and honest political activists out there who are supporting causes for very real, very honorable, reasons. I'm not pessimistic enough to say that all political activists are attempting to make up for some flaw in their lives.  But if you look at the above reasons you begin to understand why....

Cognitive dissonance is so prevalent among partisans.

Political writers (especially bloggers) jump back and forth between disliking a candidate and suddenly finding them to be incapable of wrong-doing. (There are Houston political bloggers for whom this is the status quo)

People take it personally when their candidate/issue loses.

Successful (although not necessarily good) politicians understand this dynamic and play off of it to win elections. If they're really good at it then they can be elected on a stump speech that they have no intentions of adhering to during their term. They can then go back and get re-elected despite not living up to how they campaigned.  John Culberson is very good at this, as is most of the Texas Democratic Congressional delegation. They can do this because they understand the mind-set of the voter they are trying to attract. On the other side of the spectrum Wendy!? Davis was not.

Most, not all, of politics then is less about governing than it is about crafting a message that brings in the votes while satisfying those who supply the money. What the actual votes are on the issues matters little, with politicians understanding that a bad vote will be flushed out of the news cycle before the next election and the power of the incumbency (even in a supposed "anti-incumbent" environment) allows the message to be shaped and molded.

Of the two major parties the Democrats have been marginally better at using these dynamics to create party loyalty. They understood the power of celebrity and used it (see: The Oscars) and they dumbed down their logic to pre-teen levels. Republicans have been less successful, allowing "conservative" to become a cooler brand than themselves. What this means is that the "establishment" is now a dirty word among so-called "conservative" voters which leads to the rise of players such as Lt. Gov Dan Patrick (who is a true opportunist clothed as a conservative) and Sen. Ted Cruz (who is a true conservative who understands the mob).  Of the two give me more Cruz and less Patrick but that's a different topic altogether.

One of the off-shoots of our current "beauty pageant" election system is that, quite often, we're not voting for the candidate who would govern better but the candidate who either looks the best or sounds the best on TV. One of the reasons the political career of David Dewhurst fell apart so rapidly is that he was unable to grasp the change in the Texas Republican Electorate. He was running on establishment competence when what the voters wanted was "cool" movement conservatism.

If all of this sounds like we're beating our heads against the wall politically you're right.  We are.

It goes without saying (but I'll say it anyway) that the media's role as enabler in this dynamic is one of the reasons politicians are so successful at it. From the Scott Walker brouhaha to The Texas Tribune, the functional idiots at Vox and the other 'newsish' sites it's fairly clear that political reporting, as an industry, is dead.

The only question remaining is this: If the media is not there to report the facts and social media is only a trumpet for self-promotion, how in the world is the populace to be informed?

I don't have that answer.