Saturday, January 12, 2008

Dissing the Electorate II

A postscript to the prior post about Christopher Caldwell's complaint that HIllary Clinton successfully yanked the chain of New Hampshire voters: it always irks me when people disparage the electorate, which I believe is smarter than all of us. That's not to say that we're collectively always right, but that Lincoln's can't-fool-all-the-people-all-of-the-time formulation is still the deepest wisdom. It's patronizing for Caldwell to spank voters for allegedly "identifying" with Hillary. He just does not know why people voted for her or why the polls were wrong. No one really does. Caldwell also implies that because women in NH favored Clinton by margins roughly comparable to those by which men favored Obama, women's votes are more based on emotion, or 'servile' identification, than men's. If the gender gap were reversed, would he accuse women of hormonal voting?

In my 80% Democratic home town, I heard many friends and neighbors complain bitterly after the 2004 election agony about the alleged stupidity of American voters. I see Bush's '04 win as the end of a long unfortunate causal chain stretching from Monica through Gore's awful campaign through our Constitutional electoral college flaw through 9/11 and Bush's wartime bonding and finally through Kerry's dithering. It wasn't till after Katrina that the worm turned on Bush. Later than many of us would have liked - but when it turned, it turned decisively.

To be fair, Caldwell may be on to something in suggesting that politicians' histrionics -- and, I would add, sophisticated media manipulation -- may corrode voters' decision-making powers -- and even, for a long season, "fool all of the people some of the time." Saturation negative advertising, for example, apparently has worked in many cases. So does fear, as exploited by Bush after 9/11. But I suspect that the electorate adapts over time to manipulative techniques. One of the more refreshing things about this election so far is that neither negative advertising nor a huge campaign chest have gotten Romney any traction so far.

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