Crazymaking and politics

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by Tom Heuerman, 9/13/08 • Have you ever listened to someone talk persuasively and felt confused: suddenly up was down, right was wrong, and you felt the rug was pulled out from under your experience of life?

As the 2008 election approaches, TCDP is receiving many thoughtful opinion columns about candidates and issues. The Soapbox blog offers a space for local opinion on (mostly) national and world issues, including elections.

Cognitive Dissonance is the discomfort we feel whenever what we know, value, or believe differs from what we experience. Sometimes the dissonance is the result of intentional manipulation by another person with ulterior motives. I call this “crazymaking.”

A few of the crazymakers repeated mindlessly on opinion pages by the minions of the far-right:

1. Obama can give a great speech but lacks details and, therefore, substance.

Obama is a brilliant and thoughtful thinker—at a new level in American politics. He is deep, broad, and nuanced. He understands that most things that matter are not either/or, black/white, or good/bad but are gray, complex, and both/and.

The Concord Coalition, a bipartisan advocacy group dedicated to balancing the budget examined Obama’s and McCain’s policy proposals and found Obama’s much more detailed.

A Washington Post editorial (August 25, 2008) said, “The suggestion that Mr. Obama is all rhetorical fluff is mistaken. In the course of his meticulously planned campaign, he has laid out a set of detailed policy positions—more detailed, in some key areas, such as health care, than Mr. McCain’s. He has set broad presidential priorities: getting troops out of Ira; expanding health-care coverage; promoting alternative energy and dealing with climate change. He is smart and thoughtful.”

2. Obama is motivated to be president by personal ambition not patriotism

John McCain is fond of saying he puts country first with the implication that Obama doesn’t. McCain wrote in 2002 that he sought the presidency not as some grand act of patriotism or because he wanted to implement political reforms he believed in but because it had become his ambition to be president.

Can any serious person believe that picking Sarah Palin as McCain’s vice presidential candidate was putting country first?

3. Obama is an outsider, not really American in his values, not one of us, and is unpatriotic.

This is dark code for several things: Obama is black, he’s uppity and not part of the political “good old boys” club. In other words, he is not a middle-aged white guy from the Viet Nam era—neither a war hero (McCain, Kerry) nor a draft-dodger (Bush, Cheney, Clinton).

Obama’s story is the quintessential American dream: Born of an immigrant black father and a Kansas white woman, raised by a single mother and white working class grandparents, this bi-racial man rose to great heights on his merits and courage alone. His story is the best of America and he reflects America’s near-term future: a nation that grows more racially and ethnically diverse and a nation that will be 54% minority by 2050.

4. Other crazymakers: Obama is the most liberal senator (actually he’s a pragmatist), just another politician (just better at it than most), has no accomplishments (really? A black man as a presidential nominee—no small accomplishment), McCain is a maverick (who votes with Bush 90% of the time), and McCain is a straight-talker (who panders to whoever he is talking to at the moment). A couple more: McCain is a change agent and Palin is a reformer.

We are now fully in the theatre of the absurd where cognitive dissonance will be a constant companion and much of the information coming our way dishonest. The McCain campaign wages the most deceitful campaign in modern history. Immaturity flourishes in grown ups. The self-righteous extremists on the right will demonize Obama to retain power and divert attention from their lack of solutions to our problems.

Is this how we want to elect our next president?

Thoughtful people can have legitimate concerns about Obama as they can about McCain. Mature voters will pay close attention, ponder the assertions, weigh the evidence, separate crazymakers from legitimate issues, and seek the truth as to the right course for America

Heuerman, Ph.D. is a change consultant, former Secret Service agent, and Star Tribune executive. He lives in Moorhead, MN.