I think we all need to start looking at the strategies going on in politics. All of us - both on the right and left sides of the aisle. Because the strategies used to convince us of one thing or another use our own psychology to convince us of one thing or another.
For us, interest in politics is a sincere hope to make our country better. We do this for several reasons. We love our country, we are patriotic, and we want to make our own lives and the lives of our friends and families better. Some people might want to use our government's policies to help strangers they have never met too, but not everyone wants that, and that is fine. I don't appreciate hearing that one side or another hates America or hates freedom. Questioning our leaders to make our country better intrinsically implies a love for America.
For some of our leaders, their interest in politics is also a sincere wish to improve America and the world; for some, their interest is money; for some, power; for some, recognition and fame; for some, all of the above. If our leaders are really trying to improve the country, then there is no problem with this scenario. They tell us how they wish to make the country better, and we vote for them. In all other cases, there is a disconnect between what the candidates want (money, power, fame), and why anyone would vote for them (to make America better).
This brings me to my first point. I am sick and tired of allowing my good intentions and the good intentions of others be used to elevate greedy sons of bitches to power.
My second point is: I am also fed up that I cannot always tell the difference between the politicians who really want to improve the country and the ones that are just after money and power at the expense of their own constituents.
In any situation, there is the truth and there are our perceptions. There is always a gap between the truth and our perceptions. Politicians use our perceptions to get into power. Those who are good at this win elections, and those who are not lose, regardless of which one makes the better leader.
In marketing terms, here are the strategies they use:
1. Segmentation - Our politicians can divide up the electorate into different segments. If they tried to speak directly to every single individual voter, they would never be able to make any sense of the job. Instead, they must package together issues that a certain group of people places a high value on. For example, let's say Group A cares about outlawing abortiong more than anything else and will even vote for this if it against their own economic self interest. Group B is filthy rich, tends to own businesses, and they want tax breaks, a low minimum wage, and little regulation of businesses but do not really care about so-called "moral issues." Group C wants to let people make their own moral choices and does not want the government regulating morality but wants fair economic policies for all.
2. Targetting - Next a politician examines their own beliefs, strengths, and weaknesses, and chooses which groups to target. A person here might figure they can go after both Groups A and B, because they can fuck over Group A on economic issues while pandering to B, and at the same time give A the moral issues they want (which are ignored by B anyway).
3. Positioning - The politician tries to figure out how to make him or herself appealing to the segment of voters he or she is targeting by positioning themselves to them. This might include covering up past DUIs, going to church, talking about specific issues, etc.
To position an ideology, candidate, or party, they use PR, advertisements, and other methods of promotions. People believe things more if they look like they are not coming from the candidate but rather from an independent or non-partisan source. Ads still have a certain amount of effectiveness.
This is where it gets sticky. The facts are out there, and they can be manipulated in a dishonest way or just plain lied about. Senate voting records in particular are very convenient to manipulate. When we go to vote, the facts have nothing to do with how we vote: our perceptions are what matter. Perceptions may or may not match the facts. (Case in point, I met a woman in an airport terminal back in early 2003 who did not want to go to war against Osaddama. The sad thing there is she is a fourth grade teacher in public school)
Three things here are going on in our country that bother me.
First, interest groups with enough money and power can create "news channels" or "think tanks" that push a point of view that benefits the interest group that is giving America the "facts." There is Air America and the Center for American Progress that give a liberal point of view, but they TELL YOU they are giving you the liberal point of view. But then there is the Heritage Foundation and Fox News network that claims to be "fair and balanced" when in fact it is not. There is nothing out there forcing any of these groups to give us the true facts. Some lies may be honest mistakes but many are not.
Second, partisan forces are re-defining our traditional news sources and language for us. In marketing, this is referred to as The Constanza Effect (as in the Chicken Roaster episode of Seinfeld). The idea is if you repeat something over and over enough, someone might not agree with it the first time, but after hearing it again and again, they assume it is true. We suddenly have new catchphrases. Liberal is a dirty word. The mainstream media is "liberal media." Etc. All the while as this happens, the mainstream media becomes more and more paranoid about seeming liberal so they make a conscious effort to avoid carrying stories that may be seen as "liberal." When they do come up with something that the right wing - who is not always striving for honesty - disagrees with, those facts or stories are branded as liberal, invalidating them.
Third, our government has been paying columnests to promote government programs. The three that have been discovered so far are Armstrong Williams, Maggie Gallagher, and Mike McManus.
It may look like I am blaming the right and saying liberals are blameless but I'm not. I can't come up with a good example off-hand, and the neocons are in power so they can frame the debate whereas liberals can't.
The end result is all of us well-meaning patriotic Americans (from both parties) go to vote with a jumble of facts and lies that we perceive as true, and vote for people who we hope will improve our lives. We are being used and I am sick of it. If we all found some good news sources and put a bit more effort into finding the truth and telling others, then we can do something good for our country.