It is always election season – there is an election campaign going on somewhere in USA almost at any random point in time. Consequently we have been bombarded with messages on all media. I am a fan of social media, and if there is one reason I will get out of it – it will be because of extreme political messaging flooding it now. What makes me awfully sad is that people I respect a lot for their balanced opinions on sports, enterprise software, dog shows and so on take extreme views when it comes to political views. Once I see that, I start suspecting their judgment on other things they say, that I used to think were pretty balanced. In short, I go through a cycle of disillusionment every now and then.
A good reason for my situation is because I went to school and college in India, where the social policy was always left leaning irrespective of party in power. If I grew up in USA, I probably would have been used to the deep division in beliefs over the years.
Political leanings are generally based on 2 things – social views and economic views, and they are of course kind of intertwined. I remember the endless debates in Business school when various economics theories were discussed. Till our economics teacher pointed it out, I did not realize that the term “left” and “right” just referred to the groups of people sitting on either side of the seating arrangement in a French General Assembly in late 1700s . Same with the concept of “center” in politics.
In theory courses on politics, it is often explained that one person or party can take a left wing stance on one issue and a right wing stance on another issue. The world has changed considerably from the time of French revolution to today. I seriously doubt whether there is a need for such a hard distinction between left and right today. We still seem to be holding close to us the theories that developed when the world had different social and economic issues. And there is no universal distinction across the globe on this. Universal healthcare is touted as left leaning in USA. Consequently, it earned the name Obama care from the right. Well, in the UK too it was (National Health Service, I mean) established by left leaning Clement Attlee government around the time India gained independence, may be shortly after. But even right leaning Margaret Thatcher government supported it in their term. Of course in UK, you can buy additional private insurance (and get a tax break for it too I think) . Here in the US, a right leaning Romney introduced it in MA, although his party opposes it for general elections. The people of this country see through this, right?
A hard and fast stance on either extreme has hardly proven to improve anything in USA in recent past. There is a lot of criticism that despite Obama administration supporting government spending – it has had no impact on recovering the economy, and unemployment remains high. The opposing idea is that if you cut taxes, and let private companies do their thing – then employment will come back up. Well – if that was the case, then we should not have had this big an unemployment to begin with when Obama took office, right? That and the fact that companies are not short on cash – and even with low taxes – they are not investing here to create jobs with that cash. There are of course more nuances that can be brought to either side of this argument – but the fact remains that neither policy worked very well in fighting the business cycle. If it did not work in last 2 terms, one by one party and one by the other party – does it matter which party comes to power this time?
And what is the deal with personal attacks any way? Mitt Romney is an extremely successful businessman. He did not want to publish his taxes for 10 years like his dad did. He is in a hard spot now. If he publishes his tax returns – his opposition will use it to generalize and say things like “he paid less tax % than his secretary” or “he donated only to his church” or some such. He made his money in private equity, and probably was very smart in tax planning. If he did not break any law, he should be left alone to enjoy his success. Why make it a big deal on what he does with his money ? If the suspicion is that he did not make the money legally, drag him to court. Either way – criticism of his success is childish.
Same with Obama. It is unbelievable that his opposition overtly and covertly still tries to portray he was not born in USA and that he might not be a Christian. This is after he produced plenty of evidence, and leaders of his opposition stated they have no more doubts. If that isn’t silly, then what is? Did Kenya come out and claim that Obama is theirs and that he should be sent there right away? No – nothing of that sort happened. But yet, if I open my facebook page, every day I see plenty of respectable people making such claims.
When I went to school in India, I did my junior schooling in a Hindu school, then went to a Catholic high school, a Muslim engineering college, and a government run business school. At the end of it – I honestly could not find significant differences between any of their belief systems. Sure they all have differences – but none are more fanatical than the others from what I experienced. And none of those schools made me want to follow one religion over the other. I have friends from several religious backgrounds, and they have never treated me any different than friends from my own religion. And this is a big reason why I strongly believe in keeping Church and State separate. But that is not an easy thing to do always. A lot of political beliefs intermingle freely with religious beliefs and cause tremendous confusion.
There are probably several LGBT people who lean to the right on economic issues like cutting taxes and cutting government spending, but lean to the left on social issues like gay marriage. If Mitt Romney wins the election based on their support, do you think they will just stop demanding their rights ? No of course not. They will justifiably continue to demand equal and fair treatment. And they should. If right wing ideology needs limited government intervention on economic matters, then it should be the same for social matters too. Freedom of speech and expression should not have to be fought for in a free country. It should be the norm.
The office of the President is an important one for sure in the USA. However, if you listen to politicians speaking on the issue – it will appear that the President also gets to create laws. They conveniently forget to mention what the Congress does. Nothing ever gets done without both houses of the congress working with the president. Congress has had low approval ratings for a long time now. And every election, we hear from both sides that “Washington is defunct” . Given the citizens have an opportunity to elect congress representatives frequently, why do we continue to have this situation? No politician can afford to do the right thing if he also needs to run for an election shortly after. If you look at people who no longer have to hold an elected office, you can expect more sensible talk from them on issues we face. These are some of the smartest people that the citizens of this country send up to Washington from either side. Just that there seems to be no incentive for them to change the system.
Those who go vote at elections are susceptible to halo effect. If they really like something a candidate stands for (like say universal health care or tax cuts) , they tend to give more credibility to everything else that the candidate stands for too, even if those parts do not make sense for them. This is also the reason, people will not mind lack of facts or twisted statistics that get thrown around in political debates. And with plenty of commentary coming from TV and social media, that we hardly get a chance to do any independent thinking . Just too bad, eh? . I wonder if there is some theory in psychology that proves people like extremes better than middle of the road. I suspect there is – what else will explain the success of the likes of MSNBC and Fox news ?
We talk about disruptive innovation all the time when it comes to business. The one place that is ripe for disruptive innovation is the political system. But just like in business – there is very little actual innovation, compared to the talk about disruption and innovation.
8 thoughts on “I Get It – Middle Of The Road Is Boring, And Won’t Win Elections”
It’s funny that your post is attracting polarized responses too 🙂
Agree with your frustration, but it’s probably true for every country in the world. The American system is probably still the best, since senators and congressmen can vote (and some do) ‘crossing the aisle’. This is impossible in India (‘anti-defection law’). The policy differences in the US also seem to be mostly driven by ideological beliefs (‘laissez faire capitalism’ etc), which will always be subjective.
Middle of the road has many nuances and it’s quite difficult and time-consuming for most people to internalize – making a ‘trust-based judgment’ far easier. Hopefully more people will come to your point of view of ‘middle of the road’ to make the system better over time.
You are right – not completely unique to USA really. I however am not sure the American system is the best – with the many options available to block legislation. Agree with you on why middle of the road needs more thought, and consequently people choosing to trust based on easier concepts.
It is a failure of imagination that we are stuck in this polarity, as if there are only two possibilities. I highly recommend to check out other democracies that are not cemented in a two party system. In Germany for example over a time span of 20 years the Greens an environmental protection party was able to go from fringe to being part of the government coalition.
Such a system where new ideas are able to flourish may be the reason that Germany went from 11.4 to 7.9% in youth unemployment rate from 2007 to 2011 while the US went from 11.7 to 16.4 http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2012/may/16/youth-unemployment-europe-oecd
An easy measurement whether a system is working or not is how many people participate in it. In the US half of the population does not vote, has checked out. You need millions to get elected and you get politics that help those who spent it.
Or check out Brazil for the impact of good government: http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/good-governance-series-how-brazil-became-a-model-nation-a-843591.html
It is sad that we accept our status quo and even think it is the best system in the world.
Thanks Mark – excellent comment.
It is funny and sad that India has more Political parties than most countries , and has its own awful issues. In India, several people think a bi-party system is what is missing 🙂
Your analysis is close, except that it is “right” and “wrong”, not “right” and “left”. That’s why it is so polarizing. The policies of the left are irrational to anyone with a brain. You should not enslave citizens with social welfare – you should grow a vibrant, healthy economy and put people to work in good jobs! Duh….
Well social welfare has its place to – works ok in UK, Germany etc. And even in US – we have medicare type programs that right leaning people also benefit from.
I don’t think anyone is accusing Romney of doing anything illegal with his taxes. It’s more to do with the fact that releasing his taxes will expose the unfairness of the loopholes he may take advantage of that are not available to the regular Joe. There might not be anything illegal in having accounts in Switzerland and the Cayman’s but this is someone who is supposed to represent all Americans. Whatever he is hiding in his taxes will instead show to everyone the inherent unfairness in the current tax system and voters will not believe he will want to take any part in changing that.
The loopholes in the tax system is horrible , but they are not specific to Romney – every American can use them. That being said, people running for public office should be held to a higher standard. But similar arguments can be made on Obama’s transcripts, and surrender of attorney’s licenses too, right?