Votes must be cast with reason, not out of fear
Published: Friday, October 26, 2012
Updated: Friday, October 26, 2012 00:10
Three weeks ago, when Barack Obama was widely perceived to have lost the first presidential debate, the counsel of many a pundit and left-wing activist wanted his campaign to “take the gloves off,” and give the President and his running mate free rein to contest, in a far more aggressive way, the assertions made by their opponents. It is this opinion we have to thank for Joe Biden’s wild gesticulations, interjections and turns of facial expression in the vice presidential debate that followed. But this more antagonistic strategy works, as Obama’s performance in the Town Hall and Foreign Policy debates were viewed as successful, even to the point of being declared the winner and halting a slide in opinion polls.
An overly staid, calculated or unexciting politician is widely unattractive to much of the electorate, especially to those who have definite and intractable ideological commitments on either side of the political spectrum. Not only does a rational deliberation on the merits of a candidate not motivate us to go to the polls in the way that a bold, emotionally-appealing figure does, such an explanation of voter behavior is simply wrong. We vote according to pre-existing partisan and ideological attachments, and if a candidate is to lead us in a new direction, he or she does so by pulling at our heart-strings. It certainly isn’t wrong to feel an emotional attachment to a party or candidate – indeed, it may be unavoidable. But if our heart-strings are pulled too hard, we may find ourselves in an inextricable emotional commitment that no longer befits the disciplined choices that lie before us on Nov. 6 and beyond.
Let us take for example the case of George Galloway, a member of the UK Parliament (MP). Galloway was a firmly left-wing Scottish Labour Party member, serving a Glasgow constituency throughout the onset of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As the wars began, Galloway became one of their loudest and most vituperative critics. Galloway was exorcised from the party as a result of vehemently attacking the Labour Party’s leadership on foreign policy and criticizing Tony Blair. But he became a constant thorn in the party’s side from that point onward, defeating a Labour MP in 2005 on a clear anti-war minor-party protest vote. The campaign was one of the most vicious in British political memory; Galloway accused his opponent, a loyal Blairite, of “having on her conscience the deaths of millions of Iraqis” and undoubtedly exploited racial tensions in that constituency, mobilizing its largely Muslim and Bangladeshi population against the war and against its black MP. But in his election night speech, Galloway addressed his former party leader directly: “Mr. Blair, this is for Iraq…All the people you’ve killed, all the lies you’ve told have come back to haunt you.”
After his election, Galloway’s public life took a turn for the bizarre. He appeared as a contestant on Celebrity Big Brother in 2006 and was eliminated early in the competition, though not before famously pantomiming a cat licking milk from the cupped hands of a housemate, leading another contestant to wonder why he, a sitting MP at the time, was participating in a televised game show. He has not, however, ceased his inflammatory and radical political activities – especially with regard to the Middle East, remarking at various points in time that Hezbollah is not a terrorist organization, that Iran does not execute homosexuals and that the assassination of Blair would be morally justified, provided it produces no other casualties.
George Galloway is by no means a boring politician. He is incisive, controversial and by all accounts a brilliant orator. But he is dangerous because he has gained for his brand of politics a sort of undeserved legitimacy through verbal abuse of the powerful, an indefatigable egomania and an acute ability to exploit the fears and hatred of the masses. After Galloway was defeated for reelection in 2010, he took another seat from Labour in a spectacular by-election victory two years later. Calling his triumph in the poor, largely Muslim seat “the Bradford Spring,” he has developed around himself a personality cult of acolytes with an unqualified emotional attachment to their political hero. But even his own political coalition began to fray when Galloway, ever the man of divisive remarks, referred to an instance of rape as “bad sexual etiquette.” Britain cannot get rid of this controversial figure because he thrives wherever anger and hatred boil over – hatred of a war, a party, a society, or of a political leadership – and by giving voice to that anger in the most effective and potent of words.
To return to the United States, we must realize that the success of this type of leader was the concern of the men who founded this republic. We must be wary of leaders who thrive wherever discontent is fierce and rampant. But, unlike the Founders, we cannot expect a virtuous elite to protect us from them. Our only defense is reason. When you go to the polls in November, no matter how furious or enraged you might be by the state of politics in America, think it through. Otherwise, we can only expect the same violent, emotive and volatile politics that Britain must now contend with.