A public development of my political and philosophical musings. Occasional thoughts on current events. Primarily for personal satisfaction.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

One thing I’ve noticed in the 18 or 20 years I’ve been following politics is that people’s opinions about a particular politician have virtually nothing to do with that politician or hes policies.

For instance, Bush strikes me as a fairly decent man and moderate president (a little incoherent, maybe, where he doesn't have something like a war on terror to focus him, but it's been a long time since we had a president who ran for some reason other than that he thought it would be cool to be president). He has some liberal tendencies, some conservative tendencies. He’s very similar to Clinton—both speak to their extremist base, but generally govern to the middle. Both are loathed by the other side and are steadfastly defended by a base that isn’t entirely happy with them but have nowhere else to turn.

But back to the "love 'em or hate 'em" question: The reason why there is a disconnect between the politician and the perception is fairly obvious—we don’t know much about what’s going on. What’s the real effect of the Medicare Bill or the Tax cuts? Why did this company get awarded that contract? What’s the real motivation? Who really benefits? And who is supposed to benefit? It’s all a bit vague and rarely affects us personally. As a result, there are plenty of blanks for our mind to fill in. And virtually all of us are ready to let our biases do the filling.

What often happens is that, very early in our exposure to a politician we get a warm or cold feeling about ler—because de’s a Democrat, Republican, for or against some bill or issue, a football fan, handsome. Then for the rest of that politician’s career, unless something really big and noteworthy happens, we interpret all those vague positions and actions through the lense of this impression.

And of course the vagueness leaves plenty of room for us to interpretat to our heart’s content. Each processed action tends to reinforce the opinion we already have so that, ultimately, our opninion of the person is completely divorced from the actual person.

Today we have a country where Democrats, who were very tolerant of the personally flawed but talented and dedicated President Clinton, were chomping at the bit to hate that lying moron Bush. Much of their hate, I think, was already in place before Bush came along and gave them a target to attach it to, and what a bonanza that Florida chad thing turned out to be for them! Republicans are much the same, merely reverse the loyalties—despite the fact that, as far as I can tell, the only significant differences between the two are anatomical: Clinton has a silver tongue and Bush has a backbone.

Why this happens is understandable, but it would be nice if people, especially journalists, would do a better job of monitoring how their biases affect their perception of events. Unfortunately most people, especially journalists, don’t.
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