Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Swing voters, not partisans, are the bane of our system

I hate this point in the election cycle.  We measure every point in the polls in response to big shows like the conventions and (less so) the debates, and responses to economic indicators, external events (both substantial and not), and media narratives of all sorts.

I grant that there are thoughtful moderates and centrists, conscientiously engaged citizens who resist the way the two parties carve up the issues between them.  Fiscal conservatives who resist the fanatic narrowness and hypocritical parsing of Freedom and Liberty often grit their teeth and vote for democrats.  Social conservatives who have a well developed understanding of the necessary interplay of the private and public sectors, who care about poverty and the opportunity promised by public education and our duty to invest in our future often wince as they pull the GOP lever.  And there are those who simply resist deciding which way to compromise their principles and weigh signs of competence and potential in the candidates.  But they are the minority.

Let’s face it.  Most swing voters aren’t independent thinkers or sincere centrists.  They are reality television addicts.  Most people who switch their vote based on a convention acceptance speech, or a sigh in a debate, or a scary headline, or who Brian Williams thinks has the electoral advantage, are shallow idiots who commit little attention to what is at stake.  And most of the last 2 months of the election cycle is spent wooing them.   If you marry a guy that offers you the biggest bouquet of flowers, drives the flashiest car, takes you to the classiest restaurant, has the better eyes, cheekbones, and abs, you’re probably gonna cheat on him with someone else with other “optics” when you get bored.

I really think these people suck.  And our future lies in their hands.  Great that they showed up after the convention came off well.  Now we wait for them to wander off and hope enough of them are lazy enough to stay (the ones who ‘harden’ as voting day gets closer).

But that’s representative democracy for you.  It’s why I still hold on to that mystified belief that liberal arts education can produce a more critically engaged and civil electorate.  That’s my dogma.  At least I admit that it’s such.  Although, an Assistant Professor at MSU just released a study that uses neuroscience (MRI) to prove that critical study of Jane Austen really does make people smarter:…  

I’m not surprised.  Reading and discussing Austen always made me FEEL smarter.  But I still don’t think we have anyway of knowing how this affects citizenship.


  1. Shaun Appleby

    That critical study of anything really does make people smarter?  It seems to me our intrepid clinician is merely replicating the conventional wisdom of the Enlightenment in the laboratory.  Where are our polymaths?

  2. While I feel your angst I think you miss a soft and wonderful point that is at the center of American sociology. There is nothing new in today’s America that the Founding Father’s would not have been acutely aware of in the late 1700s as they chose wisely between autocracy and democracy.

    That being that the aggregate wisdom of each individual is greater than the pointillistic wisdom of the literati.

    Virtually every society in human history has been based on the known fact that People Can’t Be Trusted, and that therefore the Wise need to decide for the Unwashed (for their own good, of course).

    I (rashly) assume you include me in the “few” centrists who don’t salivate at ringing bells with Pavlonian predictability. But in my extensive ongoing experience I don’t see my own views held in a vacuum being more wise than they are when immersed in the solution of my fellow humans. It is easy for the fervently anti-Obama to point to the throngs of excited youth of 2008 and say precisely what you propose – that they were led by lollipops and sunshine with no basis in reality – but for all that may be true about the sentiment I would argue that it misses the possibility that as a group they saw through their own hype and recognized a truth they themselves may not often have been able to articulate.

    So with the rest of us here in the middle. While I may often have many deeply pondered positions as to which fork is preferable based on a fairly deep understanding of particular points, I trust my instincts more than intellect more frequently than not. With nearly a third of a century of joint decision making between Donna and I her visceral method of choosing direction has shown more accuracy over time than my academically anal approach. Among my own decisions in life it is clear that where I let cogitation overrule what simply felt wise the results have been less than stellar.

    The book The $100 Startup argues that the road to entrepreneurial success is best founded on first doing what you believe is right, then figuring out why you are doing it. This speaks to the difference between myself and Mitt Romney, who has built his success on improving the execution of ideas of others rather than on having his own. Just as Japan has made a very good living out of optimization rather than innovation – an inherent direction that is at the base of the success of the Mormon church in Nippon – it is safer to avoid new thought but it also leads to stagnation.

    No, the fickleness of the middle is not a cancer on the American political landscape, it is the guiding hand of the landscaper. A first year graduate following the strictures of his Landscape Architecture texts would never have put the path around that tree or the pond at such an offset, and would also never achieve the distinct magic found only in the work of those who simply know they should be there and make it so.

Comments are closed.