November 5, 2012
Four days prior to the General Election Dr. Charles (Chuck) Graham presented a lecture: Why We Love To Hate Politician. His audience was his fellow Becketwood Cooperative members. Known as Chuck here at Becketwood he is beloved and respected and a stimulating contributor to Mancave discussion. With a doctorate in political science he served as an aid to Senator Proxmire of Wisconsin in Washington, served as professor, and is President Emeritus of St. Cloud and Hamline Universities. I took notes of his lecture much as I did as an undergraduate and graduate student. Because of interest and relevance to the current political scene I share my notes. I realize consideration of the subjectivity of what I recorded is to be taken into account. But I attempted to be faithful in recording what I heard.
Why do politicians behave as they do? Why the often negative view of politicians? As Mark Twain put it politicians are “Like diapers need changing and for the same reasons.” Running down politicians is sport for many. Politicians have to please their constituents but this is a very difficult thing to do. Politicians have to speak in generalities to avoid offending. Only recourse is to dodge matters and hedge their statements. Campaign rhetoric can be a hazard and backfire. Recall Romney’s recent attack on Sesame Street’s Big Bird, or his undercutting FEMA prior to Sandy and his need in recent days to support FEMA. Politicians have to tread a fine line having to be politically realistic and also champion the personal mandate of ideological principle. Recall President George H.W. Bush campaign rhetoric “Read my lips – No new Taxes.” The realistic necessity of “new taxes” may very well be the cause of his one term presidency. Life is, therefore, very difficult for the politician due to the very complexity of the voter constituencies in terms of religion and ethnicity. Nineteenth century American political landscape, on the other hand, was rather uniform – rural, agricultural, Protestant, and white. A much more welcoming context for the politician.
Europe has a multiparty political system. Each political area has proportionate representation. Our system having one party candidates makes it necessary to seek allies inside the party. This leads to contention. We think in terms of groups and not as individuals. This necessitates building coalitions. Consider the New Deal coalition of FDR joining Southern conservatives with Northern business interests. The parties are after the same constituents. Sharp opinions are expressed often with vitriolic language. This results in the need for negativity in the give-and-take of American democratic politics. Negativity is further increased in our contemporary political system influenced by TV political advertising. There is a need for political compromise but gridlock seems inevitable. Politicians need to make deals and compromise. Politicians must determine for principle (their mandate) or compromise. Which shall it be? Added to this is the need for campaign funding. “Deep Pockets” become involved but those interests are not for all and may represent political extremes. It is hard to have democracy function well with extreme divisive issues such as abortion or gay marriage.
Dr. Graham suggested that actually Romney and Obama are really rather close in viewpoint ( observe how in view of Hurricane Sandy Romney now embraces a role for FEMA). Once in office in either case the parties can come together in political compromise.