When I was a kid there was a boy named George that everyone hung around with. He was really liked by all of us kids because he always seemed to know what to say or do that made us happy. It was almost like he was reading our minds. Our parents really liked George also because he just seemed to know the right thing to say and do to make them trust him and feel that he was really responsible. Teachers loved George because he was academically successful and seemed to ggbe a natural leader. George always seemed to be just perfect to everybody with whom he came into contact. Looking back, as we got older, we used to joke that George would make a perfect politician. When we got a little older and a little more analytical we began to wonder just how George could be so perfect and admired by everyone. Then we began to ask who the real George was and what he really believed and thought. That’s when we realized just how right we were when we joked about that fact that George would make a great politician.
Unfortunately political campaigns today are filled with Georges. They have a finely tuned ear to the desires, dreams, attitudes, proclivities, prejudices and fears of their target constituency. The magic is in the candidate’s chameleon-like ability to take on those very sets of attitudes reflected by that constituency as their own. Like my friend George they seem to know exactly what to say and do to make the voters feel comfortable, confident and convinced of the rightness of their candidacy. What we really don’t know is the nature of their core beliefs. They take great care to keep anything that conflicts with their current posture out of sight and hopefully permanently buried. There is the total avoidance of transparency. While this kind of campaigning and posturing was plausible and successful in the past, is it still a viable process today?
The important word here is transparency. While we as consumers and voters see this as a positive concept, to the politician, despite protestations to the contrary, they view it as their mortal enemy. Opposition research has become a major factor in any campaign for exactly this reason. If successful, it can lead to that diarist of all accusations—“flip-flopper”. It infers a gap between those views professed in public to one group compared to those articulated to another often just one day apart. While this practice was standard in the politics of old, it is a problem today.
Technology has had an earth shattering impact on the “art” of the political campaign. The instant transmission of information to millions of ready recipients makes consistency and adherence to a set of strongly held core values the currency of political success. While we may not agree with what they say, in fact we may abhor what they say, a candidate of conviction is one that can be respected. At least we know where they stand.
Jefferson stated clearly that democracy requires an informed and engaged populace. It is up to us to heed his words and weed out the politicians of yesterday so that our choices are based on candidates of strong and consistent convictions not those of tenuous and all too easily changed convictions. We have the tools. Let’s make sure we use of them.