Thursday, November 24, 2011

A nation of victims

Susan Jacoby has an excellent piece in the WaPo about the Republican's recent Iowa Thanksgiving Family Forum in which she notes the tendency for politicians nowadays to call attention to their hardships as a simplistic means test for the office of president.  A family member's affliction or a personal trauma can be presented as a totem that qualifies one for president, and of course, there is a heavy dose of hardly believable religiosity.

Jacoby points out that both Democratic (John Edwards) and Republican candidates do this, in sharp contrast to, say, FDR, who went to great lengths to downplay his disability in public appearances, yet he championed the cause of the less fortunate in public policy.  Jacoby: 
The Iowa forum was a triumph of the union of psychobabble and public religiosity that has come to dominate American politics. President Obama’s refusal to engage in this kind of faith-infused psychological exhibitionism is one of the main reasons why the media (and not only conservative media) have tagged him as a cool professorial type who does not know how to make a connection with ordinary people. Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney, who were not present at the faith-and-suffering group therapy session, are also bad at exploiting whatever sorrows lie in their past to advance their candidacies. That’s probably one of the reasons Republican voters aren’t enamored of Romney and barely register Huntsman in their polls.
To really get the full flavor of the Iowa Family Forum, you have to watch the video, complete with 36 minute introduction containing religious and patriotic claptrap.  Then the candidates-- Perry, Gingrich, Paul, Santorum and Bachmann-- amble onstage to bare their souls of their deepest, most meaningful personal traumas, failures and triumphs.  I cried...I almost cried...I DID cry!  Read Jerry Coyne's site (contains embedded video) for another excellent review.  I got through the video of the freak show but not without some personal trauma myself...I'll have to tell Frank Luntz about it the next time we're both in front of a camera.
Nothing new was learned.  These people are not like me; they are so unlike anything that would appeal to me that I don't know that I would hire them to change a furnace filter let alone run my country.  Such histrionic appeal to the lowest common denominator, simplifying complex coping skills, and belief in supernatural bogeymen and saviors, all seem counterproductive to tackling any remotely involved job, especially that of president of the United States, which is, as Rick Perry says, "the most difficult job in the whirl."
I don't have a problem with individuals trying to sort out their problems, but is it necessary to do it with Frank Luntz in front of millions of onlookers? 

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