Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, November 07, 2012
 
Why not try politics?

I am disappointed in the US election. Not because who won, but because how the campaigns went. Attack ads, excessive lying on both sides, and a general attitude that voters are idiots made this election very unpleasant to an outside observer. Earlier this week I read on an MMO blog that people should vote Republican because Obama's socialism had ruined the American economy. How uneducated would somebody have to be to not know what socialism really is? Or to not know that the current economic crisis started months before Obama was even elected?

I think that there is a good case to be made for a smaller government. I'm not saying that smaller government is always better than bigger government, but it sure is a viable choice. All it takes would be a politician who explains to voters the advantages and disadvantages of smaller government in a straight way and easy to understand language.

Most people would answer the question “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” in the negative today. But as presidents actually have surprisingly little influence over the economy, and the current crisis is already relatively long compared to typical downturns, it is extremely likely that in four years most Americans will be better off than today. Just blaming the Democrats and their "socialism" for the state of the economy won't work in 2016. And with Obama out, spreading false rumors that he is a muslim or not born in the USA won't work any more either.

So why not try actual politics instead of politicking? Why not let go of the libel, the attack ads, and blaming the opponent for everything he had no influence over? Why not explain to people how a different set of policies would make them even better off, regardless how the last 4 years went? Isn't 6 billion dollars spent to achieve exactly the same result as 4 years ago a sign that the current method of campaigning isn't working? Doesn't America deserve a better class of politicians than the partisan bunch that is likely to drive the US over the fiscal cliff in 7 weeks?

Comments:
I personally feel I should get involved with the omnishambles that is the UK government before I start telling Americans how to manage their politics (at least they seemed to have a choice between vaguely competent politicians.)

Although it's nice to see that the guys who were talking shit about rape didn't get elected (imagine that.)
 
While I do agree that these days the UK government doesn't look good, I was actually quite impressed with your last election: The choice between austerity and deficit spending was rather well explained to the electorate. And the electorate made some hard choices and voted for austerity.

I just wished the UK politics on Europe had been as clear.
 
Somehow I suspect that you too are a little bit partisan, Tobold! Presidential elections in the US are always going to involve a lot of theatre. Like academic fights, the viciousness increases when the stakes are so low. Neither Obama nor Romney (if he were elected) could do more than nudge the rudder of state with regard to domestic issues. And I'm pretty sure neither was really spoiling for a fight with Iran.

Agree with spinksville re competence: the presidential debates must have been pretty reassuring to citizens on either side who swallowed the propaganda that the other guy was a raving lunatic intent on destroying America.

 
Why you ask? Because we keep telling them that we're okay with it. We keep voting their asses into office despite the fact that we all know they are greedy, selfish miscreants. They aren't going to change their methods because they don't have a good reason for doing so. I can't even begin to tell you how many times I heard people say, "I'd vote for Gary Johnson if I thought he could win." I wasn't a Johnson supporter but seriously, what kind of crazy logic is that? Why would you vote for someone you didn't care for just because he has a shot at winning? Until our country starts voting for who (and by extension, what) they want, it's going to continue to be about politicking.
 
Well while I'm glad Obama won, I'm not looking forward to four more years of talking to the many people I am related to or work with that think he is simultaneously a muslim, socialist, communist, atheist and good-ol'-boy Chicago politician all rolled into one. There's a segment of the US population that goes beyond low-information voter status and into the realm of "special snowflake" madness; my advice to the future Republican candidates is to step away from this crazy-ass minority and start looking at how to repurpose their party to be more inclusive and less extremist.


 
Well, I have four more years of being called a racist for saying Obama is a Keynesian. Although I'm not sure he really is.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gBrHkxqNT7s

 
Tobold, US politics today is about a race to the bottom. I think a lot of politicians want to do the right thing, but a large percentage of the country is still susceptible to following illogical rhetoric.

This goes for both sides. There are just too many people out there that do not have a deep understanding of the issues to make informed decisions. Their understanding is limited to a caveman level of reasoning. "Debt bad, Jobs good, Iran bad, taxes bad, deficits bad, healthcare good" So politicians are forced to speak to the people in this way.

What does this mean? It means rhetoric works, negative campaigning works, and creative spin on issues works. It is truely unfortunate that the majority of the country is just not capable of real critical thinking...not yet at least.
 
@Noizy, unless you get a Libertarian in there, you will most definitely have keynesianism.
 
This sounds quite like wishful thinking. Yes, obviously it would be great if elections in whatever country could be won with only rational arguments made at a university-educated level. But they never are.

People are emotional beings, they choose and also vote emotionally. Ratio only comes in after the choice has been made, to support that choice. So appealing to emotions works much better for politicians than appealing to ratio.
 
Obama is a Keynesian. Although I'm not sure he really is.

Maybe it would help if you stopped applying labels to people. Especially if these labels do not actually correspond to values. I would consider Keynesian politics a tool which has its place in the arsenal of a government. There were parts of TARP where the government actually made a profit from bailing out companies.

What people have problems understanding is that such tools only work in specific circumstances and for a short time. You can't run an economy on government debt and bailouts forever.
 
Other than some effective ads that the Obama campaign ran in the spring and summer--portraying Romney (accurately, I think) as a largely out-of-touch rich guy--most of the billions of dollars spent on political ads seems to have been wasted. I don't think they moved very many voters in either direction. Perhaps we will see less of them in future campaigns?
 
American elections and "politicking" have been this way from the beginning. Lying and appealing to polar issues is neither new nor worse than 200 years ago.

I think the money spent telling a pretty boring story could be better spent elsewhere, but freedom is freedom. People have a right to spend their money the way they choose.

I am an American with limited knowledge of politics in other countries, but I have a difficult time believing that it's that much more rational or healthier anywhere else.

The most amazing and wonderful thing to me about American politics, is that the candidates, after the Herculean effort and massive money spent, peacefully accept the decision of the people.
 
Just politics doesn't work in America. Our politics are like our reality shows and court system: driven by conflict. Its a cultural issue.

If one side (because of how our government is set up there are only really two sides) sticks to the issues, the other guy brings up what you said 25 years ago and defines you, and you lose. This was a contributing factor for John Kerry's loss in 2004.

Obama started his campaign with his long list of accomplishments. How his idea of government succeeded in the face of economic disaster.
But voters didn't care. It didn't fire up his base, and didn't impress those not planning on voting for him.

Romney surged in the polls when he showed a good debate performance, despite a huge and chronic lack of specifics, and his campaign being almost solely a referendum against the last 4 years (which contrary to Romney's narrative was actually a big improvement since the economic crash).

Obama beat back Romney in the next 2 debates not with politics, but politicking. Being strong and hitting hard. Pundits scored both candidates on style, and how they countered each other, but not the actual arguments themselves.

American politics will provide less politicking when the voters stop voting for it.

 
Libel does nothing on net. But if I use it and you don't, I will win. The sad reality is that attack ads work.

We might deserve a better class of politicians, but we're not going to get them. Not with our current election rules, media, and population.
 
"Lying and appealing to polar issues is neither new nor worse than 200 years ago."

The difference is that politicians were willing to risk their seat to make compromises back then because their incentive was to move the country forward. This is because many of them had lives and professions outside of politics. Today, most politicians are defined by their politics, and not as scientists or philosophers or inventors or even businessmen. Today half of congress are lawyers. The renaissance men of 200 years ago are long dead and the incentives have been skewed.
 
As some others above had said, politicians run negative ads because they work. As long as that is the case, what could and should be done is probably mostly irrelevant.

BTW, I am watching CNBC (financial news channel) and the reporter just made a "what a surprise; riots in Greece." quip. As dysfunctional and disappointing as American politics are, I am not sure that the ads are less enlightened than the Moltov cocktails involved in other political action.

tl;dr; My guess is things are bad but going to get worse, in the US and elsewhere.
 
politicians run negative ads because they work

What evidence do you have that negative ads work? The Republicans poured a shitload of negative ads over Obama, and he is still president.
 
It's a bit complicated, but basically the entire spectrum of American politics runs way to the right compared to Europe. A super liberal Democratic center would be left-center in most European countries.

And basically, IMO, Obama is doing a basically reasonably moderate job as president, but a strong element in the right is holding the Republican party hostage because they can't win without them and for the most part their ideas are loony and/or amazingly outdated. About 10% of the country goes totally bonkers when the wrong party has the presidency and become frothing lunatics, usually to the detriment of their party. I see no solution to that.


 
In some circles in America, socialism is defined as spending tax money on anything other than National Defense.

Remember, that country was founded on rebelling agains the British Empire. The anti-tax, Government-is-bad sentiment still echoes strong centuries later.
 
In some circles in America, socialism is defined as spending tax money on anything other than National Defense.

Remember, that country was founded on rebelling agains the British Empire. The anti-tax, Government-is-bad sentiment still echoes strong centuries later.
 
Americans are numb to the political dysfunction and it's nothing new. And if you take political opinion seriously on mmo blogs you get what you get... The continuing crisis here has its roots in the FDR administration and includes the policies of all presidents since including Obama. The average American better off in 4 years...I hope so but I have my doubts. I am part of the much maligned 1% and will survive. The lower and middle classes will feel the pain. Obama now owns it. No more excuses, spin or blame. We'll see...
 
"The continuing crisis here has its roots in the FDR administration"

What crisis are you speaking of? A crisis is a short term event. If something has lasted 80 years (like you are refering)then its probably not classified as a crisis but something else entirely.
 
I believe someone else said it first, but I would like to reiterate that national level politicians are sort of trapped in their own fine, gossamer web of political strategy. There are a LOT of well-meaning, genuine, good people out there on all sides of the isle running for politician that are all held up by one crucial fact: You have to win to do anything. Even if you aren't power-hungry, you can't try and make the country a better place if you are giving the concession speech at the end of the election.

So they turn to the political wonks and campaign strategists in their dark robes with their bubbling cauldrons who hoarsely whisper "Going negative is effective" and they are usually lost from that point. Some hold out, some run nice, clean, informative campaigns, but the higher the stakes, the harder it is to resist the dark side.

The core, most depressing thing is that the strategists are right. For better or worse (obviously for worse), the American electorate is influenced by these attack ads more than they are by support ads or calm explanation of the issues and how the candidates each feel they could improve the situation. It sucks, but as long as it is an effective tactic, it is going to stick around. Similar to "If you aren't cheating, you aren't trying", there is a real feeling among campaigns that "If you aren't negative, you don't want to win".

Is the EU really so much better though? I am honestly curious, the only governmental politics I know even the least about across the pond is the UK. I suppose parlaimentary systems certainly have a great advantage here in incentives to not go negative compared to a winner-take-all fptp system where there is no downside to completely torching your opposition.
 
"What evidence do you have that negative ads work? The Republicans poured a shitload of negative ads over Obama, and he is still president."
That's why I said that it does nothing on net. Obama ran a lot of negative ads too which hurt Romney's image. Even better, the primary was one long negative ad for Romney and the entire GOP.

Chong et al (2012) LOOKING BEYOND THE INCUMBENT: THE EFFECTS OF EXPOSING CORRUPTION ON ELECTORAL OUTCOMES

Exposing corruption, which in the experiment wasn't done in attack ad format, but it's still negative information, had the effect of reducing voter turnout. However it mostly had the effect of protecting the incumbent, since once you've crushed all hope, only the political machines are left.

For all the talk about turnout, reducing turnout matters too: getting the other side to not vote. This is when negative ads can turn people off. This is where we get voter ID and intimidation tactics.
 
The operative word here is "roots". The crisis being the post '07 economy. Ron Paul may think the crisis has lasted since FDR.
 
I wish I could offer a counter argument, something to enhance the comments here, but I can't. I agree with Tobold 100%.

I'd love to see a presidential candidate so confident in their message that they could campaign without negative ads, regardless of how inadequate they perceive their opponent to be. I think this could actually work. However, it would take more faith in the American people than any politician has proven to have.
 
Negative ads are fine as long as they are reasonably connected to reality.

I don't know how closely you followed it, but would you think that an ad pointing out what Todd Akin said about legitimate rape is somehow unfair? It's a legitimate point. The downsides of a candidate are fair game, and there's very little way to discuss that in a positive way. Bemoaning all negativity is silly.

But this election proves that your attack ads have to be connected to reality to stick no matter how much money you spend, something I think the Republicans had a hard time with.


 
Actually, the highlight of the election for me was that unlimited money doesn't have an unlimited positive effect when it comes to tv ads.

It seems political tv ad spending follows a very natural bell curve when it comes to results, and that's a huge relief for many Americans.
 
1) The experts who are responsible for spending the billion dollars of political advertising should know a lot better than us what works and market test ads and messages. They voluntarily choose to make negative ads even though many voters say they would prefer non-negative.

2) The factoid I remember from a broadcast last night was that, IIRC, Romney ran 46,000 ads in Ohio. I believe his main problem was Oboma ran triple that number over the same time. My understanding was that most of those from both sides could be considered negative. ( Obviously your candidate merely points out legitimate flaws while the opposition stoops to churlish negative ads. ) I.e., I believe Romeny ran a lot of negative ads but fewer than the winning side.
 
I don't agree with you, Stogie, that Mr. Obama now "owns" the economic mess we're slowly, so slowly, emerging from. The crisis still has Mr. Bush's fingerprints all over it. Could Mr. Obama have done something different? Sure. Might it, theoretically, have moved the recovery along more quickly? Sure...theoretically.

But, really, ownership of the disaster that all but the 1% (and, truly, the .1%) have experienced for the better part of a decade (since, don't forget, there was a Bush recession earlier in his Administration too) goes to the previous, not current, tenant of the White House.
 
I sometimes wonder if I am the only one who despises the labels of "conservative", "liberal" or "moderate". I also reject the notion that we all have to maintain a single point of residence on the linear line between one extreme or the other.

Todays world offers so many different ideological challenges that it is nigh impossible to plot a single point of residence on such a scale, yet much of the populace shoehorn themselves into just such a self-defining niche.

History shows that Megalomaniacs love a populace like this, and along with the death grip of binary thinking, the divisive nature of binary politics - on a single, horizontal axis - is nothing more than a tool that the politicians will continue to use to manipulate the masses.
 
Tobold,

Maybe it would help if you stopped applying labels to people. Especially if these labels do not actually correspond to values. I would consider Keynesian politics a tool which has its place in the arsenal of a government. There were parts of TARP where the government actually made a profit from bailing out companies.

Go watch that video. It'll make you laugh. :)

On topic, I agree with the majority here. Any vote which is reduced to a choice between two (or a very small group of) people will inevitably involve attacks on the other's character etc. It'll happen in the US as well as everywhere else.

Of course, the Americans are better at bringing their message across, much more clearly. I remember an ad for George W H Bush's campaign when I lived in the US. It basically listed a lot of military stuff that Michael Dukakis allegedly voted against or resisted, ending with a picture of a smiling Dukakis riding a tank and the voiceover: "We can't risk having Michael Dukakis as president" or some such. Pretty simple message and a stark contrast to what I was used to from back home. But frankly, I believe that the essence of our own attack ads in the various European nations have exactly the same intention even though they often are a bit more subtle.
 
Earlier this week I read on an MMO blog that people should vote Republican because Obama's socialism had ruined the American economy. How uneducated would somebody have to be to not know what socialism really is?

This is a difference between US and British English. In US English the word "socialism" is what in UK English is known as "civilization."
 
As an American I'm constantly surprised by how willfully ignorant people are about issues and candidates. I can't believe that there are so many people unwilling to take a little bit of time to educate themselves and make an informed choice.

What ends up happening here is that politics are treating like a national sport where people cheer for "their team" even if that's not in their best interest. It's sad.
 
The part you don't seem to realise, tobold, is that political campaigns are not targeting people like you.

There is a very significant part of the voting population who *are* idiots, and pollutions target them.


 
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