Monday, September 22, 2014

We are entering the Negative Zone

Annihilus, copyright Marvel Comics
Parliament has reconvened in Ottawa, and the buzz is already about the next election—which could be more than a year away.
I’m bracing myself for a year of public negativity to come. In Canada, all the parties are already in full campaign mode. And in the US, the presidential election process will get going in 2015 for the 2016 election.
I know. It’s waaaayyyyy too long.
But that’s not the worst part. Worse is the tsunami of negative messaging that comes with elections these days. Politicos in the 21 century seem to believe that it’s a lot more effective to criticize your opponent than it is to put forward your own ideas. So we can expect a lot of messages like these:
·         “All my opponent’s programs have failed.”
·         “That’s socialist!”
·         “That’s fascist!”
·         “That’s against the spirit of the constitution.”
·         “That’s contrary to our shared values.”
·         “That’s tax-and-spend.”
·         “That’s catering to the corporate elites.”
Image courtesy Canadian Press
And even worse than that is the tendency to get personal. Then, it’s not even about policies that you disagree with: it’s a worse-than-useless, distracting pseudo-debate about “character”:
·         “My opponent is a lightweight.”
·         “My opponent has been in office too long.”
·         “He/she’s a dreamer.”
·         “She/he is corrupt.”
To me, that’s not politics, it’s a middle-school screaming match.

The negativity dilemma

Most people I have spoken to, and most political commentators I have read, say they do not like negative messages. Yet, they must work, because all political parties use them. Some use them even when there’s no election campaign going on.
I find this whole process aggravating. It does not help me to decide whom to vote for. Sure, I may admire one candidate’s character, loathe another politician’s personality, but since I’ve never met them, I don’t think that’s any basis on which to judge a person.
But I’m unusual. It seems most people don’t make political decisions rationally. Well, we humans don’t make many decisions rationally. We “go with our gut,” fall in love and respond to a huge number of non-rational (not the same as irrational) impulses when making a decision.

Last week, I listened to a call-in radio program about Rob Ford stepping away from the mayoralty race in Toronto, and his brother Doug taking his place as a candidate for mayor. Callers were both in favour of and opposed to this series of events, but one caller in particular stood out for me. She said she favoured Doug Ford’s candidacy, because the actions of the two brothers showed the Fords are a “family that supports one another.” This spoke to their character, and apparently, means these are the kinds of people she wanted to be her city’s mayor.

What’s even more surprising was that this caller said she previously opposed Rob Ford, based on his policies. Her one-hundred-eighty degree turn was based on an emotional response to a candidate falling ill, dropping out of a political race and his brother taking on the role.

Image Creative Commons
It makes a romantic story: one man stricken by disease has to step away from a contest, so his brother steps into his place.

Personally, I try to make my political decisions rationally, based on the issues I believe important in the day, and which way the candidates will move on those issues.

I know. That makes me weird.


  1. Anonymous8:38 AM

    It does make you weird!! Usually the man with the best hair gets the women's vote.

  2. Well, that seals it for Trudeau, then.

  3. It would be nice to see a campaign season of opponents trying to out-do each other with positive things. The whole process is so long and drawn out it's exhausting.

  4. It's sad when people use their words to tear others down.

  5. I'm with you Scott. I'd much prefer to hear the facts, and less about the other opponent's personal life, bad choices, or insert any other drama… I believe the drama and antics are just a couple of the reasons people are tired of the political process and doubt it's effectiveness.

  6. We all know "promises" are just hype and sensationalism. We know 'some' facts and many 'myths' of each candidate. It really all boils down to who can sling the best mud of late and that is a pity. Oh, and who can afford to spend the most. The common man is hard set to be in any political position merely due to lack of coin. As it always has been, we, the poor, are ruled by the rich. If a poor man would be so lucky to gain access to such a position, the words to quickly come forth are: corruption. Politics - not a topic to discuss among friends... or enemies.