The Art of Persuasion in Politics
Saturday morning, and I found myself reading Dick Morris‘s op-ed take in the Washington Post on what John McCain needs to do to persuade the American people to choose him over Barack Obama. Morris’s persuasion proposition is to get Americans to set aside their negative feelings towards the Bush administration and the damage it has done to our country and the world, and in their place build the negative feelings middle of the road voters have towards Obama. All the while, McCain is advised to dismiss the perception of differences between himself and Obama on the big issues facing our nation, like the war and the economy, and at the same time distance himself from the President.
Emotional vs. Logical Decisions
As I read this advice, I found myself pondering the emotional rather than logical nature of the electorate in making decisions about issues of huge impact and importance. Here we stand, eight years into a new century, and we the people are anything but united, except regarding the current President, whose most ardent supporters now secretly harbor at least a few serious doubts about what their verbally challenged leader hath wrought. And into the breach comes Dick Morris, who provides a devious recipe to help McCain manipulate the electorate in order not to lose the election.
Sadly, Morris is probably right about how to do it, unless we the people break the cycle of political victimization. The question for me is, just because something can be done, should it be done? Is winning at all costs worth the cost? Because the cost of such a victory would be an ever-deepening cynicism for our citizens. And there’s already plenty of cynicism without adding another disingenuous and dishonest election cycle to the burden a weary public already has to carry.
Trust Is Key to Persuasion
The most valuable currency of persuasion is trust. And trust once violated and lost is difficult if not impossible to recover. And without trust, how can anyone lead this nation? So the result of following such advice is short term gain, long term pain, of winning the battle but losing the war, of claiming the Presidency at the cost of one’s soul.
I’m not terribly naive when it comes to politics. Many years ago, a friend gave me some excellent advice, and I have heeded it ever since. My friend Scott McKeown said “Never fall in love with politicians, because they will always break your heart.” I confess that I carry within me a certain amount of cynicism when it comes to the promises made, the appearance proffered. Yet I yearn for something unique to occur in our national political life. I yearn for an honest campaign between two decent individuals who have different views of how to lead our nation. I yearn to have them each in turn tell me how their vision is the better vision, and to do so without the blatant manipulation, the concealing of positions, the cozying up to the convenient constituencies.
I’m not at all surprised by what Dick Morris is suggesting. After all, consider the source. Morris has a history of making misleadingly claims and false statements in his appearances and columns. According to Wikipedia, the Connecticut Department of Revenue Services has listed Morris as the seventh-largest delinquent taxpayer for 2007. It seems that, to him, integrity of the process is of no consequence to him, that it’s all about the end, not the means. His work with the Clinton presidency in the early 90s had the same (non) ethical foundation. Labeled shrewd, they put him in charge of the campaign for re-election, only Morris undid himself with a sordid affair with a nude prostitute listening in on Presidential phone calls.
Yet in our great land, such men as these can rise from the ashes and begin again, and so he has. And people still listen to him, because when the end justifies the means, he’s got the skills to tell you how to do it. But you don’t have to do it. Don’t manipulate the American people by pandering to one group and smearing another. Communicate. Tell us why we should choose you to lead us. If you have a case to make, then make it. Running for the sake of winning, for the sake of the power in the position, that’s just wrong, an insult to the principles on which our nation was founded.
Inspire to Persuade
I think that’s the lesson of this protracted primary season. The best campaign would have been two candidates making the case for their own leadership, instead of trying to tear each other down. We the people don’t want to be manipulated. We want to be inspired. We want to be led with integrity. We don’t want the appearance of integrity, we want the real deal. Persuade us with your vision, your drive, your values and vision. Run with the truth of who you are, and let us make the decision without meddling or muddying it up. Give us your best self and let us choose based on merit, trust, and the honest self determination our founding fathers wanted for us. Give us and our children and our children’s children an election we can point to proudly and say to the world, “Here is how a truly free and thoughtful people does this!”
What do you think about the way campaigns are run? What are your expectations, fears and desires about the impact of politics on our national identity?
The complete Washington Post article is here.
Change is inevitable, but progress is not. YOU make the difference.
Dr. Rick Kirschner