It’s easy to pick the wrong candidate

In politics, we tend to have short memories.

What have you done for me lately? That is the question most voters ask. Regardless of personal history and a great deal of evidence of disingenuousness, we often fall in love with political snake oil salesmen (and saleswomen), who use our own emotions against us to obscure our vision. All for the goal of acquiring political power for themselves.

I wish we wouldn’t fall for it, but we do.

This is why so many of us get so disappointed when we vote for people who we believed were there for the right reasons and were going to do the right thing, only to see them betray our trust and actively work against our interest.

And yet, when the next election cycle comes around, the same group of hucksters (or, some new ones) manage to convince us that this time is different, and that they really mean it this time. Our short memories take over, and we let them get away with it.

This happens among all political ideologies and parties, and again, it is our passions that these people pray on to engorge themselves on power.

Take the general conservative base that exists today. This is a group of people that has felt repeatedly, personally assaulted and attacked by what they see as a hostile mainstream press in the tank for liberal politicians. They have felt betrayed and dismissed by the establishment power structure of their own party. They have been bludgeoned with political correctness and told that they aren’t allowed to say or believe certain things any longer.

As a result, they’re angry, and justifiably so. At every turn, they are made to feel maligned, attacked and marginalized.

They feel like it is “us against the world” in many respects, and they are desperate for leaders who will charge forward on the battlefield when all others are retreating. They want someone to pick up the trampled flag and charge and take the fight to all those who have been so condescendingly oppressive and hostile to their political beliefs.

And so, driven by that frustration and anger, the conservative voter is increasingly supporting people he or she perceives as satisfying those desires.

Unfortunately, politicians who want power are smart. Candidates get attention from voters now simply by responding to what we are upset about.

Want to get support from people who hate the media? Talk about how much the media is out to get you.

Want support from people who hate political correctness? Be as politically incorrect as you possibly can.

Want support from people who hate moderates and establishment politicians? Attack moderates and establishment Republicans as aggressively as possible.

Candidates now understand that this is a guaranteed path to relevance, and because they understand this, they play that role for the audience. And make no mistake, most who play this role are not being genuine in the least bit and are simply pushing the buttons that they know will result in money, support and votes, all in the service of their own personal egos, and their own quest for personal power.

In our current presidential contest, we obviously have a couple examples of this. I will leave you to judge whom I may be talking about.

Regardless, though, I’m very troubled by these characteristics being the thing that drives our support for candidates.

My first problem is that elevating someone based on his or her appeal to our base responses — our dislike, anger, frustration, and even hatred — is dangerous. Those feelings, no matter how justified, are not values I hold in high regard.

Emotionally charged, snap decision making is also something I always viewed as something liberals did, and it was one of my chief problems with their political ideology. It has always been something I have believed leads to poor decision making. Passions frequently (nearly always) cloud logic and judgement, and conservatism always based its appeal with me on believing in logic in the face of simplistic, sentimental nonsense.

When considering whom to vote for, I’m more interested in integrity, optimism, vision, statesmanship, dignity and leadership. None of which, by the way, is incompatible with being intensely conservative.

It is time we started making decisions about what candidate to support based on other things. Things like a genuine ideology, judgement, intelligence, political ability, experience, statesmanship and dignity.

But we will never find people like that as long as we are constantly chasing after people who are using and manipulating us. It is time to realize that, and reject it.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.