Why we love to hate politicians
by Chuck Graham, Becketwood Member
Whenever election season rolls around, we are barraged by political ads and speeches on television, radio, email and every other media outlet that connects us as citizens. Unless you have a stronger stomach than I do, you probably get very tired of them.
This onslaught of noisy negatives leads many of us to hate politicians as a class. Many of us also hate the fact that elected officials often seem to forget their election promises – if we are able to figure out what their promises really mean.
It seems to me that politicians behave the way they do because our country has created a system that makes it inevitable that they behave the way they do. The system is made up of several aspects that contribute to this:
- We elect representatives on the basis that there will be one representative per district. For presidential election purposes even the nation is a single-member district. Senators are elected one at a time, so for election purposes, the state is a single-member district. This means that in order to win, both candidates must appeal to the same people, without alienating anybody if possible.
- Television forces candidates to simplify their messages and raise huge amounts of money to buy media time. Often the people who will give large amounts of money don’t hold the same views as many of the voters.
- The electorate tends to punish candidates who say they will do something that is unpopular. As an example, in 1984, Walter Mondale, who was running against Reagan, said we would have to raise taxes.
- We also punish people who make specific promises and then break them. George H.W. Bush promised “no new taxes” and then found himself in the position of proposing to raise them. His one term presidency was the result.
Some candidates speak in vague generalities, which makes them seem like they are pledging something, but really they are not. They hope that we will interpret these generalities as supporting what we want. Then the candidates focus efforts on attacking their opponents. Those who can see through this approach often despise them for it. Unfortunately, negative ads tend to work in campaigns.
It is important to recognize that this negativity is part of democracy. Abraham Lincoln once said that elections are like boils – they are very painful, but when it’s all over, the body is healthier.
We can only hope this last statement proves true.