My Dad is Bigger Than Your Dad! Contemporary Politics and the Moral Superiority of Six-Year-Olds

Lincoln-Douglas Debate

Bluster. Bullies. Big Mouths. Fulminating, furious, fanatics. The world of politics and political attack ads is a lot like the playground.

Lots of assertions, name calling, and one-sided arguments intended to support my candidate’s moral superiority over yours:

Party A: “So-and-so never met a tax or a spending proposal he didn’t like. Who would you rather trust with your money, you or a government with guys like him in it? And he is an ex-trial lawyer and a tree-hugger!”

Party B: “He only cares about rich people. He wants to cap your Social Security and increase your age of eligibility to receive it. He’s a global warming denier who is in bed with the insurance companies and the gun lobby, too!”

Party T: “So-and-so is a communist, a Muslim, a socialist. Where was he born, really? He isn’t a U.S. citizen! The son-of-a-gun just wants to control your health care and dismantle the Constitution!”

And then there is the worst indictment of all: “He is a career politician!!!!!”

Yes, dear, the world of work would be better served by the amateurs, rather than a career surgeon, a career therapist, or career auto mechanic. The next time I go to a concert, I’d like to pay to hear a singer who only performs in her spare time for friends.

I recently had a conversation with a very intelligent man who believes that we would be better off if every one of the current incumbents is thrown out of office, to be replaced by whomever. “It couldn’t be worse,” he said, “regardless of who replaces them.”

Well, actually, it could. How about the Third Reich, Hitler’s Nazi state? Or Cold War Communism under Stalin? Millions and Millions of the enemies-of-the-state being murdered by each of these leaders. Or perhaps life in genocidal Darfur today?

Or maybe you would prefer to live in the 1930s, our own Great Depression, with 25% of the population unemployed, no Social Security or Medicare or Unemployment Insurance, the down-and-outers coming to your back door for food, and another 25% of the population under-employed? Even in 1937, eight years after the Stock Market Crash, President Roosevelt could describe “one-third of a nation” as “ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.”

Of course, it is not that things today are terrific or that our legislators are doing such a bang-up job; and there are some really bad guys on the ballot.

But, “throw the scoundrels out,” is not much of a political agenda. Anger is a self-justifying emotion, without a plan for governance by itself.

“Let’s cut government spending and lower taxes,” doesn’t tell you which programs will be cut, or how to pay for our collapsing infrastructure. “I’ll eliminate waste and fraud,” is an old standby promise of political challengers which, however good in principle, rarely seems to be accomplished very well once they are in office themselves.

As the election campaign boils over, many of us begin to resemble little boys:

“My dad is stronger than your dad!”

“Oh yeah? Well, my dad is smarter than your dad!”

We seem to see only perfection in the candidate who resonates with us. We overlook his limitations. And we magnify the defects in the flawed visage of the other guy.

The good news is that the six-year-olds will grow up and many of them will realize that dad isn’t Superman.

The part of us that yearns for someone of absolute moral purity — someone who is smart enough and strong enough to take care of us forever — finally realizes that dad (and mom) probably won’t fill the bill.

The bad news is that many of us just transfer our unquestioning allegiance from parents to candidates, rendering ourselves as naive as we were at age six.

Angels and devils. Bad guys and good guys.

If only the world were always that simple.

 

The above image is Robert Marshall Root’s painting of the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debate at Charleston, Illinois.

 

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