I come at this issue – not as a partisan – but out of belief that our form of government has the potential to be the most intelligent way for a society to make decisions for itself. I say potential for, clearly, it is still a work in progress. Over the past 200 years we have struggled to overcome superstition, bigotry, racism, sexism, provincialism and partisanship in order to create that more perfect union – a union between all human beings who are a part of this grand experiment we call the United States of America.
Democracy works when all are engaged, exercising their right to participate, voicing their opinion on our collective course. But those opinions must be factually based, guided by intellectual pursuit, founded on critical thought free of prejudice, untainted by dogma. To do otherwise is to steer a course without proper bearings; sailing blind toward what lies ahead.
In that light, this previous election was sadly lacking. Elections have become an exercise in persuasion: creating an impression in the mind of the voter and facilitated by the power of modern mass media. Thus candidates are selected for the image that can be created around them: telegenic, likeable and believable. They are chosen for their ability to sell a story to the voter and not for their skills and experience to govern.
In contradiction to that impetus, shouldn’t elections be about collective decisions made for the benefit of society as a whole? Shouldn’t candidates convince voters of the validity of their ideas and programs? To convince, rather than simply persuade, one must provide proof. There must be facts and sound reason. Millions of people cannot be governed by opinions fashioned by emotion and clever marketing slogans. This is a course leading to a nation’s doom. However, in the drive to get elected, campaigns have been reduced to marketing events with an emphasis on effect at the expense of substance, driven by a desire to persuade, unwilling to make the effort to convince.
As an example of how elections are conducted, there was a moment in the third debate between Obama and Romney that illuminates this propensity to go for effect over substance. Romney threw out a series of statistics intended to create the impression that our military might, under Obama, had been severely constrained. The most notable instance occurred when he announced that our Navy had fewer ships today than in 1916! At first blush, this seemed outrageous! How could that possibly be?
Many observers commented on the response given by Obama. It was snarky and condescending, they said. But this statement was so intellectually vacuous that it deserved all the sarcasm and contempt it received – and more.
This was a good example of an oft-used rhetorical ploy. Say something that is factually correct; present it in a manner that casts dispersion on your opponent, implying inadequacy and the need for immediate corrective action. With the right presentation and packaging such a statement can create the desired effect and persuade an audience in one’s favor. The speaker counts on the audience not examining such statements closely, taking them at face value and reacting accordingly.
Now it is factually correct that there are fewer ships today than in 1916. But there is more than simple ship count to be considered. The fact is that a single carrier group in 2012, consisting of 10 or so ships has the capacity to eliminate the entire navy of 1916. Once such facts are included in the analysis, the attempt for effect quickly evaporates, the cynical veneer ripped away and the total lack of intellectual acumen and honesty is revealed.
The Obama Campaign was equally guilty of going for effect over substance. In the final days of the campaign the derisive term “Romnesia” was repeatedly used. This was clever marketing shorthand to cast dispersions on the candidate’s mental acuity and his moral turpitude.
But Romnesia is not a policy statement. It adds no substance to the discussion and decision making necessary as we face dire conditions including high unemployment, deficits and fundamental changes in our economy. It adds nothing in considering what our appropriate role in world affairs should be. It does not address our crumbling infrastructure, what should be done about changes in weather patterns or our responsibility to those in need. It is not true that the individual clever enough to come up with such a cute phrase is qualified to steer a course through the heavy seas ahead.
The trouble is that the electorate is so hyper-partisan, it has become almost impossible for opposing sides to conduct an intelligent conversation and come to a workable solution. Sadly, voters have been conditioned to react to effect. They have lost their immunity to persuasion and never achieve the state of mind necessary to be convinced based on facts and sound reasoning.
Finally, much of this lack of intelligent consideration can be laid at the feet of our modern media. They are driven by a profit making mindset choosing to ignore concrete examination of the issues in favor of sensationalism. They are too timid to challenge these cleverly packaged talking points. As a result much of the electorate forms opinion based on hyperbole designed only for effect and void of substance. This has rendered a culture where facts are not facts, science is not science and freedom is the right to an opinion that makes us feel good; that all knowledge is opinion and such opinion trumps the truth.
On the shelves of our stores we are overwhelmed with a variety of products claiming to be fat free. Unfortunately, in a government intended to be of, by and for the people, our collective efforts to govern ourselves have become fact free, opinion based, going for effect, void of substance.
Why 1916? It is inexplicable.