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Elections will always turn partly on emotion

Elections will always turn partly on emotion

That’s okay, to a point.

I have the deepest respect for Thomas Sowell and his work, and this column of his is no different:

It is easy to understand why there would be pent-up resentments among Republican voters. But are elections held for the purpose of venting emotions?…

Elections…have far more lasting, and far more serious — or even grim — consequences than emotional venting. The actual track record of crowd-pleasers, whether Juan Peron in Argentina, Obama in America or Hitler in Germany, is very sobering, if not painfully depressing…

Despite many people who urge us all to vote, as a civic duty, the purpose of elections is not participation. The purpose is to select individuals for offices, including President of the United States…

An election is not a popularity contest, or an award for showmanship. If you want to fulfill your duty as a citizen, then you need to become an informed voter. And if you are not informed, then the most patriotic thing you can do on election day is stay home. Otherwise your vote, based on whims or emotions, is playing Russian roulette with the fate of this nation.

Sowell is correct. But—

But elections will always turn partly on emotion.

There are intangibles that determine our reactions to even the most experienced of leaders. The ideal candidate—my ideal candidate, anyway—has knowledge and executive experience, including experience in government, which would tend to make a governor (or a former governor) ideal. That candidate also, however, has a certain forceful and yet engaging personality that engenders trust (not blind trust, but trust) in the wisdom of his/her decisions for the future. It helps, too, if that person is eloquent, articulate, and yet sincere, as well as able to convey complex thoughts with a graceful economy of expression. And of course the thoughts that he/she expresses would have to agree with my policy leanings—not 100%, but substantially so.

It’s an order so tall that few can completely fill it. In retrospect, I think Reagan probably came closest of the presidents in my lifetime.

This election cycle, when I’ve studied the governors running for president on the Republican side, I used to think “Walker’s the best.” After all, he had the admirable track record. He also seemed to have youth and energy, and what I’d seen of his speeches was, if not eloquent, then certainly eloquent enough.

But over time I’ve noticed that something is missing with Walker, and that “something” seems important. What is it? Is it something emotional, what I’ve referred to before as his blandness? Should that even matter, or does it represent a larger problem, one that would be a stumbling block in some way, or to winning election as president in the first place?

It is disconcerting that a man known for his stubborn fighting nature seems so mild-mannered, so unlike someone who has done what he has in fact done. So the seeming contradiction (which may or may not be meaningful) in Walker confuses me, and that confusion causes me to back away somewhat from him and to look at the others.

What works for a governor at the state level is not necessarily the exact same thing we look for in a president. For one thing, states are relatively local and the country is not. For another, there’s foreign policy. We want a grander vision for a president, and I don’t know that that is merely an emotional need in us. I think it might be something that matters in a president.

What of the other governors? I thought Perry had promise, but that he was handicapped not only by his 2012 performance but by the fact that he conjured up too much resemblance to George W. Bush (even more than Bush’s own brother, Jeb). At any rate, it’s moot now.

Kasich is deficient in that he’s too liberal for me, as is Pataki. Gilmore hardly registers at all and neither does Huckabee, at least for me. Jeb Bush has the same deficits as Kasich, plus he comes across as weak. Jindal and Christie are conundrums, but in different ways. Jindal is obviously bright and quite conservative, but he just doesn’t project strength and I doubt he will ever gain traction in this election.

As for Christie, I happen to be comfortable with him (I’m from New York City, after all, and he speaks to me of home), think he’s smart, and believe he’s actually more conservative than people give him credit for. But I’m well aware that the base detests him, and I share some of their doubts about him. I don’t think he has much more chance of the nomination than Jindal does, although his numbers are slightly higher.

A track record of proven executive experience isn’t enough. Agreement on political stances isn’t enough. Emotion and charisma isn’t—or at least shouldn’t be—enough. Knowledge and eloquence? Still not enough. What is enough? Some combination of all those things, plus depth of character, a ramrod spine, and an ability to project the quality of leadership. If a candidate has those things, I don’t care about a few flaws, as long as those flaws aren’t basic.

[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]


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I liked this article but the writer chickened out by not going the next step and judging the other front runners. We all can see how the group he discusses falls short but to do with the others? Come on and show some guts.

    Insufficiently Sensitive in reply to inspectorudy. | September 21, 2015 at 11:17 am

    not going the next step and judging the other front runners.

    You could have noticed that she did that in the first paragraph, by omitting them from the appraisals of those with the qualifications she’s looking for.

    Good column.

As you (and Thomas Sowell) alluded to, we are both rational and emotional creatures by nature. A particular perspective is an admixture of reasoned acceptance or rejection and warm embrace or exclusion. This process occurs during the course of most our decision making. And, this deliberative process includes deciding who should be president.

I believe the underlying point that Thomas Sowell makes is that sentimentality-a type of adolescent emotional bonding with feel-good experiences-is now guiding voting decisions.

Your last paragraph outlines the qualities and aspects of a candidate that match my criteria, as well.

I am from the Midwest, so yes, I lean rationally and emotionally toward a Midwestern candidate. I get where Walker is coming from as you do with Christie.

Walker is appealing and charismatic to me. Others like Christie’s moxie. I like Walker’s Midwestern style moxie and his proven(and untainted)track record as governor.

Walker is teachable. His meekness comes across and so does his ability to lead by example. But, this doesn’t play well in the market place of media. The electorate wants razzmatazz.

You last paragraph also defines Gov. Walker, at least for me.

Unintentional and guileless charisma, I would suggest, is that feature of personable leadership qualities, qualities which are able to reach across the aisle so that reason and emotion meet, and that are held by someone who then is able to invoke trust and engage others to follow along with him or her.

    Political strategist Liz Mair is leading the online communication efforts to elect Walker.

    Liz Mair worked for Walker during the recall campaign. The campaign, as we know, was successful for Walker.

    But, based on recent polling and basic name recognition and positioning, either Mair is not doing her job and needs to replaced or she had better step it up a few thousand notches and right now!

    I do not agree with Mair’s non-conservative social agenda in any way shape or form. But if she effectively works online to get Walker (sans her agenda) into the lead pack then she is doing her job.

    Right now Walker’s numbers make it appear she is flailing.

Elections always turn partially on emotions. In fact, emotions are probably a major factor in most people’s decision making.

Americans voted for a GOP congress because they were ANGRY at the Democrats’ undemocratic process. They voted them out of power for what they did.

Now Americans are turning on the GOP congress for not doing what they were elected to do. Americans are ANGRY for what they have not done

    pesanteur in reply to MattMusson. | September 21, 2015 at 11:44 am

    You’ve hit upon the emotional theme more incisively and topically (and honestly) than the original post.

    To observe that politics is emotional or that emotion plays a large part in politics is absolutely true and hardly original. I heard it said once that politics was a dynamic between idealism and revenge. We vote for an ideal, and when thwarted either by loss or “betrayal” (or failure to honor the ideal), feel vengeful to one degree or another. It is the human condition and inescapable. The moderate hope of a collectively rational consideration of the best of two or three or how many options is only possible within a total political culture of good faith, when we can make basic, safe assumptions of the rationality and common, good faith assumptions in our politics. This culture has been razed, demolished. Emotion grows wild, like weeds in the ruins. The Left is a scourge of bad faith and has ravaged our sense of commonweal. But the Right, the ruling class GOP, has done as much to devastate our sense of good faith and also with it hopes of true rationality. The Right is in some ways worse, as it tries to condemn the natural emotion and frustration produced by their failures as our own moral defect; they do this in order to protect their ruling class franchise of nonfeasance and collusion with corrupted power.

    At some point a critical mass is reached, and at this point any dry debate about emotion good or bad simply runs out of space and oxygen to breathe. In a sense we are lucky or fortunate as the spear-point expressions of outsider frustration are still men within the realm of reason. But for the ruling class to suggest that support for Carson or Cruz or Trump is unacceptable, or in the case of this post simply not worth mentioning, is a failure of insight and an insult.

    Carson, Cruz and Trump are in fact the only reasonable hopes, or ways to ensure that emotion and frustration are provided responsible governing outlets.

    MouseTheLuckyDog in reply to MattMusson. | September 21, 2015 at 12:42 pm

    Partially correct. You forget that before that Republicans voted out a Republican legislature for what they were doing. Essentially building bridges to nowhere.

    There are some who got it and changed. There are some who go it and toned it down. There are some ( the GOPe ) who didn’t get it and figured the people would rather have Republican bridges to nowhere then Democratic bridges to nowhere.

    Because so much has happened, we forget these initial events. Really that is where it began.

    Radegunda in reply to MattMusson. | September 21, 2015 at 4:08 pm

    A lot of people aren’t just turning on the GOP Congress; they’re also rejecting governors who have acted on principle, and even the senator who has most firmly stood up to the GOP leadership.

    Instead, they’re banking on the untested promises of a brash billionaire whom they imagine to be speaking for them, and who cannot articulate the issues or his policy principles with much thoughtfulness. Trumpian statements are often pathetic, along the lines of “Some people say this and some people say that, and bad things are happening, and we’ll be looking into a lot of things.”

    If one asks, “Shouldn’t we expect more from a presidential candidate?” the Trumpians will often respond with: “Boehner and McConnell have betrayed us!” Never mind that neither Boehner nor McConnell is running for president, and both of them could still have their congressional leadership positions under a Trump presidency. (Unless, of course, the mad-as-heck crowd resolves not to vote for “the lesser of two evils,” and instead lets the greater of two evils take back the Congress.)

    Trump support is more emotion-based than support for any other GOP candidate, and more resistant to rational, fact-based argument.

Humphrey's Executor | September 21, 2015 at 11:17 am

Leadership ability is an important, intangible, quality we need in a president. The ability to inspire, instill confidence. It comes, I suppose, from a combination of and ability to communicate well, charisma, and competence. Part emotion part substance.

“What works for a governor at the state level is not necessarily the exact same thing we look for in a president. For one thing, states are relatively local and the country is not. We want a grander vision for a president, and I don’t know that that is merely an emotional need in us. I think it might be something that matters in a president.”

True that state level isn’t the same as serving as executive on national level. But you can at least extrapolate what a governor will do in office based on his existing record of governing a state.

Sowell is right in his observation. Voters are the worst job interviewers because in politics reason and evidence isn’t a criteria in decision making.

However, ask the same voter to vote in a jury where there are constraints on biases and legal standards for arriving at a verdict and the outcome will be different.

Elections are essentially popular verdicts rendered without the discipline of court procedures.

Executive Experience has become a buzz phrase for excluding senators and requiring governorship experience. I remember former governor Jimmy Carter. If John Kennedy had failings, was it because he had been a senator? Are obama’s failings because he had not been a governor? I’d answer No and No. Maybe obama’s history argues that being a governor is a good requirement in that disastrous failure would be more limited in geographical scope.
I suppose I am writing this because I support Ted Cruz.

leadership is often all about emotion … competence doesn’t create loyalty or energy in your followers … and elections are all about asking to become a groups leader … so of course emotion is a big part of getting elected … everything else is secondary … always has been …

everyone seems to think executive experience is important … but if your executive experience is running a dry cleaning business then its very different than running a multi billion dollar company … in fact they are almost completely different skill sets … the fact is we could go for years without a President and the federal government would run just fine … (that being relative of course, fine for the federal government is dysfunctional in the real world) …

we need the President to give direction and make a few important decisions … the “management” of government is already baked into the cake with the bureaucracy … give it the right direction and it will mostly do what you want it to do … very little management experience required …

MouseTheLuckyDog | September 21, 2015 at 12:25 pm

Is Christie about to drop out?
Is that why the hand is about to pull him off in the picture?

MouseTheLuckyDog | September 21, 2015 at 1:18 pm

Since at east Dewey, there has been a tension between the two factions of the GOP we now call the GOPe and the tea party.

My earliest awareness of this tension was with the Charles Percy race. What was then called the Moral Majority, refused to vote for him and Paul Simon was elected. Later Rush would use this as an example, pointing out that if Percy had won Bork would be sitting in Kennedys seat.

Ayotte is maybe the best candidate the GOP can hope for from that state, So fine we live with her, and respect her. At the same time she should respect the tea party.

The problem is that in recent years the GOPe have gone beyond disrepect to outright disgust.

I thought the events in Mississippi were bad. Now I realize that they were more severe than I though. THe conservative faction is never going to forget it, and the GOPe is never going to get it.

It was a sign, like Hillary openly sleeping with Monica. A sign that this particular union is over. Time for the Republican party to disolve.

Where ‘I’ is intellect and ‘E’ is emotion, I/E = Sanity and E/I = Insanity

There was a time in my life when I bought into the fiction that anger is a “negative emotion”.

I came to realize that anger is a perfectly wonderful, empowering emotion, and the only rational response to some stimuli.

Rage, however, can take us outside of rationality.

Conservatives have every right to be angry at eGOP “leaders”. We have every right to act on that anger…rationally. And we damn sure better.

The fact that humans struggle mightily in separating our emotions from our intellect is the cornerstone of the scientific method, which seeks to eliminate personal biases from observation, experimentation, and conclusions, lest one receive a monumental bonehead of an outcome.

Of course emotions are present in every election campaign. Homo sapiens! We can’t remove or isolate our emotions without setting up within our minds the hyper-rigorous protocols of a scientific laboratory, and then to never fail in keeping them. Not gonna happen.

A moment’s review shows that many of history’s turning points were fulcrumed by emotions – pissed off tyrants, monarchs in love, etc.

    Ragspierre in reply to Henry Hawkins. | September 21, 2015 at 6:28 pm

    When Winston Churchill and his monarch decided to fight, all the objective calculus of statecraft said they should seek terms from Germany to preserve their nation.

    But against that was the call of right against wrong, and the reproach of principle if they capitulated. Because of who they were, they could NOT follow what reason alone dictated. Which is, in the final analysis, what makes us the best expression of humanity when we allow it.

      Henry Hawkins in reply to Ragspierre. | September 22, 2015 at 11:00 am

      I wanted Janet Reno to run for president so bad back in the day, but I now understand it was my emotions driving my political – and other – desires for Miss Reno. Say what you want about her politically, but Jan-Jan was HOT.