“He’s Got A Full Head Of Hair”

Now that the damned Iowa caucuses are—finally!—here, let’s take a moment to reflect on the quality of the electorate to whom politicians on both sides have to plead or pander.

Those of us who follow this democracy stuff closely—or who spend some time talking to our family, friends, or neighbors—understand one thing about the electorate. It’s a messy mix of folks, some very familiar with the political landscape, some vaguely familiar, and many fooled by their favorite guides who lead them into bias-confirming cul-de-sacs. And there are still others, perhaps a majority, who are lost in a wilderness of ignorance and superstition and, well, bigotry.

It’s that last group of voters I want to highlight today by giving a couple of examples. First, we have this article from The Huffington Post:

A Democrat Explains Why She’s Voting For Donald Trump

This Iowan, Rebecca Thoeni, says she “was all for women’s power” and caucused for Hillary Clinton in 2008. But now she is disillusioned with Democrats for, as HuffPo summarized it, “failing to adequately turn things around.” I suppose it matters what you mean by adequately. Going from losing 800,000 jobs every month to gaining 200,000 jobs every month seems like a pretty good turnaround, but then facts have some rudimentary value to me, if not to Ms. Thoeni.

These days this proud and enthusiastic Iowan proudly and enthusiastically supports Donald J. Trump because, as we all know, “He’s down to earth and seems to have a lot of common sense.” Yes, from the minute he opened his presidential campaign by riding down that escalator in Midtown Manhattan’s Trump Tower, adorned by his newest young and glamorous wife, we could all see how down to earth he is.  In fact, one might look at that grand entrance as really The Donald signaling to the rabble that he is descending fdonald downrom on high to become one of them, just like that Jesus guy did in the New Testament. And common sense? Why, the man is full of it. His opening campaign speech that day, what Trump-supporting Ann Coulter called “That Mexican Rapist Speech,” was as commonsensical as anything the other Republicans had been saying before or have been saying since.

In any case, this working-class white woman who once loved Hillary but now fawns over Donald said,

I like how he wants to take back our country. That’s the main thing; it’s our country. And the respect. We’re getting screwed over.

“Our country,” of course, means a lot of things to a lot of people, but I’ll leave you to imagine what it means to a white gal from Dubuque who thinks Trump is a down-to-earth purveyor of common sense. As she excitedly watched 69-year-old Donald Trump’s plane land and then taxi toward her, our Iowan lady said the following, which helps me to understand, at least partly, why democracy is so frustrating at times:

He seems like such a young man. He seems my age. He’s got a full head of hair.

Down to earth. Head full of hair and common sense. How do you even begin to reach out to someone that far into the wilderness?

I’ll end with another example of someone in the political wilderness, one that requires little commentary. New York magazine recently did a piece featuring “Conversations with 100 Republicans in Iowa and New Hampshire.” You can go through it yourself and pick your favorite conversation. They talked to insurance brokers, IT people, doctors, students, business people, politicians, and even a taxidermist. But they also talked to an unemployed guy named Earle Kolb, who is from Salem, New Hampshire, and who is a Ted Cruz supporter. I will share with you Earle’s entire response, mainly because it illustrates so vividly just how scary democracy can be at times:

Ted Cruz is the most conservative guy in the bunch and he’s frankly the smartest guy in the bunch. I was leaning toward Rand Paul until Rand started to give me the impression that he was a little soft. Largely, the reason why I’m a conservative is because I’ve been on public assistance my whole life, and I have always felt ashamed of it. I have two major health conditions — cerebral palsy and an injury to my left hemidiaphragm. The whole idea of welfare and entitlements is to create a permanent underclass. They’ll give you plenty of handouts, but they won’t give you any hand-ups.

If anyone out there can explain Earle Kolb to me, I would greatly appreciate it. Because as much as I love and trust democracy; as much as I believe that self-government is the only legitimate political system; as much as I want to believe that people generally use their noggins for something other than hat-holders, I have to confess that, in terms of our experiment with democracy, Earle Kolb—the kind of person the Democratic Party has been trying to rescue from Tea Party conservatism—scares me.

[Photo credit: Igor Bobic/HuffPo (of Rebecca Thoeni on right in photo); Benedict Evans (of Earle Kolb)]

25 Comments

  1. Anonymous

     /  February 1, 2016

    Lot a Earle’s out thar my Brotha! So fuckin unreal these people! If one of those GOP jokers become President, Earle be crawling around on the ground instead of having that chair to roll along in. They’ll strip him of that aid right away.

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  2. Anonymous

     /  February 1, 2016

    Vote rich, live poor!

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  3. I too have thought about the obtusity of the average voter. It’s a conundrum. What it really means is that an individual vote is virtually meaningless, that the only thing that counts is the average sense of the average voter. That’s discouraging, as is clearly shown by your examples, Duane. Now one can hope that the votes of the careless, the dimwitted, the psychotic, the frightened, and the uneducated will somehow cancel themselves out but then there are also the single-issue fanatics who disregard reason in favor of zealotry. That, it seems to me, is more of a problem than in the past. I wonder.

    But of course this explains demagoguery, which will always be with us. It also explains the behavior of the body politic in frightening situations (real or false), e.g., Prohibition, Pearl Harbor, the Red Scare, the Domino Effect, and yes, Terrorism. The more sinister the threats, the more intense the responses and the more successful is likely to be a disingenuous candidate. (Thus, why Bernie Sanders is doomed.)

    Then why should any thoughtful individual vote? Because of the hope that the votes will average out, and because of conscience. As Churchill famously said, this messy system, in the end, is better than all the others. Or at least it has been before now. But with the increasing polarization of television “news” and the slow death of newspapers, I have to wonder, can a representative democracy survive on sound bites? An alien invasion from space may be our last hope for unity.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thoughtful stuff, as usual, Jim. I wonder, too, if the way we are producing and consuming “news” is a long-term threat to self-governance. We can only hope that, as I have said before and you say here, there is some safety in numbers.

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    • Why does this mean Bernie is doomed, Jim? My humans don’t think there are enough stupid, lazy people in key states to counteract the Bernie surge among voters who recognize in Bernie, at last, a candidate with vision, courage and integrity. A candidate who has been a dynamic and successful leader and legislator. The candidate with more real experience than the rest of the heap put together. A guys still considered an “outsider” by people too lazy to do their homework. Lazy Americans — Republicans and Democrats and Independents. Hmmm. Maybe you’re right.

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      • Hey, Doodle. I meant that the Bern is I sufficiently disingenuous. 😳

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        • Make that insufficently

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          • Yes, Jim. I take your point. As a dog, I’m not cynical — so I hope inspiration can still motivate people. Motivate them to take an honest look at important ideas like one person — one vote. Ideas from re-reading Mark Twain’s “The Guilded Age”. Ideas like the truth about David and Goliath: David was no underdog. He knew how use that sling — had been doing it for years. No matter how much taunting, he didn’t need the King’s body armor (read: SuperPacs). He defeated that big, clumsy oaf because he was more skilled, smarter and in his element.
            There’s only one true statesman left in this presidential race. If the American people haven’t become totally jaded by big-money messaging and the inept or easily-bought corporate media, Bernie will use his skills to win the White house and take back Congress. And then — govern for the benefit of us all. If that sounds too rosy, consider the alternative.

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            • I have no doubt that were Bernie to win the White House and take back Congress, he would govern for the benefit of us all. But, yes, that outcome is too rosy. As much as I wish it were possible, there is little evidence to support it beyond his enthusiastic rallies, which, I might point out, only got him about 50% of the vote in a very liberal Democratic electorate in Iowa. And some of us are considering the alternative: that Bernie loses to a Republican and all the good that has been done gets undone and two or three more conservatives get on the Supreme Court and on and on.

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              • Duane. You’re not playing to win. You’re playing NOT to lose. Like the 2nd half of the Green Bay Packers’ inexplicable loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC 2015 Championship Game. And they lost because they didn’t play to win. You have to play harder to win than to NOT lose. When I play catch or run an obstacle course or enter a flyball competition, I play to win. I’m a Labradoodle. I’m supposed to be soft and hypoallergenic and cute and charming. I’m not supposed to win. I win anyway. If average folks don’t win in 2016, they’ll lose. Just like they have since 1980. Hillary, well-intentioned in her own way, is still not a winner for most people.

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                • I understand and appreciate your point, but I totally disagree with it. I am most certainly playing to win, which is why I am siding with Hillary Clinton in this fight. She can win and, in my estimation, Bernie can’t. It’s just that simple for me. I want to win this election because winning matters a lot, for the reasons (and more) that I have stated. I’m not willing to risk losing the few gains that have been made, watch the right do more damage to the economy and our interests in the world, in hopes that the electorate has sufficiently morphed into one that will buy what Bernie is selling.

                  Here is the problem that most of us have, including me. We look at what is going on now and don’t properly project what might happen in the future. Sure, right now, Hillary Clinton, when contrasted with Bernie Sanders and his enthusiastic young following, looks a little old-school, a little too establishment, and so on. Bernie, oddly, looks fresh and new. He has these shiny objects that attract young independents and Democrats: free health care for all, free college, tax the wealthy, break up the banks, etc. But when we properly project Bernie’s message into the future, into a future where he will face one Republican challenger with unlimited amounts of money and a propaganda machine that will brand Bernie as an uncompromising radical leftist (often using his own language), then it becomes hard to see how he can overcome that, given that the country’s demographics haven’t yet shifted to the point where the things Bernie (and I) want are popular enough to overcome the fear the right will create. And he has distinct vulnerabilities on foreign policy issues, vulnerabilities that Republicans will certainly exploit. Almost his entire focus is on income inequality, which is like trying to sit on a one-legged chair. Add to all this that I believe the Republicans will not nominate someone like Trump or Cruz, but someone more ostensibly palatable to a general audience, and someone the media will then falsely brand as an “establishment” or “moderate” Republican (none of them are moderate in any historical sense of that word).

                  So, I very much want to win this election and the reason the Packers lost that game wasn’t because they were trying not to lose, but because early on, as I recall, the Seattle defense made them settle for field goals instead of touchdowns. There wouldn’t have been a comeback late in the game if they had taken care of business early on. It matters what happens in the first half of games often as much as what happens in the second half. Besides that, it set up a Super Bowl win for my Patriots!

                  Duane

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • I like Bill Belichick. He’s a dog-lover, you know. You have a funny take on the the 2nd half of the Packers-Seahawks game. But whatever. It’s football. It’s barbaric. We’re never gonna agree on this, so if you want, you may have the last word. My humans will continue to work on Bernie’s behalf. And by the way, they aren’t youngsters: they’re both in their 60s. They’re both highly compensated professionals with advanced degrees. To be fair, we should both — you and I — pledge to pay attention to what happens over the next months. Grrrrrrrrr.

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  4. Ben Field

     /  February 1, 2016

    Perhaps the “liberal” media the GOP is always complaining about should do a story in the week prior to election. The media could explain how a single mother living on minimum wage could feed, house, medically insure themselves, provide transportation for work, shopping, and doctor’s care. It can’t be done. If the media explained this to their viewers and explained that the GOP wants to remove all public assistance, then they might have truly earned the distinction as a liberal media. Perhaps then, some of these people you cited might get their wake up call.

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    • Ben,

      As I have watched cable and broadcast television news these past 6 or so months, I have been amazed at not only how little actual news gets reported, But I’ve also marveled at how much of the broadcast time is focused on the various food fights between candidates. Since MSNBC has changed its programming during the day, the only discussion of GOP philosophy on television–and what policy results would flow from that philosophy would mean to the average Joe–is done on MSNBC on the three evening programs and a few hours on the weekend mornings. And those shows aren’t highly rated, in terms of audience. The truth is that people prefer the mud-slinging and reality TV nonsense over an objective discussion of the repercussions of one party winning over the other.

      I suspect that people like Earle in the post above have been fed a diet of propaganda from right-wing radio and Fox “News.” I don’t know how to combat that, if a person refuses to pull himself away and listen to other viewpoints, and I certainly don’t know how to combat it if there aren’t many other viewpoints readily available for him to learn from.

      Duane

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  5. Dayan Edwards

     /  February 1, 2016

    Your article confirmed what I’ve suspected for a long time. Many (hopefully not most) voters make decisions about political candidates in much the same way they make impulsive decisions about buying the junk near the checkout counter at the store — without any rational thought.

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    • You know, I’m not sure if it is “many” or “most” either, Dayan. I suspect that most people tend to a priori support (either rationally or irrationally) one party or the other (perhaps around 40%) and that another group (perhaps 5%) lean toward one party or the other and the remaining folks (about 10%) are largely impulsive shoppers both at the checkout counter and in the voting booth. If by now one doesn’t know the difference in governing philosophy between contemporary Democrats and Republicans, one has no room to claim his or her vote is rational.

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  6. Duane,

    I don’t know if you remember or not, but we hashed out the voting issue way back in October, 2014, where you wrote a piece responding to my Op-Ed on voting in the Glob – “Is Representative Democracy Dead?” https://duanegraham.wordpress.com/2014/10/13/is-representative-democracy-dead/ You even had my picture on it.

    So, rather than repeat myself here, I would just refer you to my comments on the above post. As I re-read it, my position now is pretty much what it was back then.

    Herb

    Liked by 1 person

    • Herb,

      Of course I remember that. It was a very stimulating exercise to think through what you were advocating. I would encourage everyone to go back and read that piece and your commentary. You say your position largely remains the same, which, given my excellent rebuttal (if I might say so myself upon re-reading it!), is a little disappointing. It’s damned hard to change minds around here!

      Duane

      Liked by 1 person

  7. @ Duane and Herb

    I re-read the discussion as well, a very good one indeed. One thought that occurred to me, thinking about thoughtful voting, was that it would be a good thing if the average voter understood more about basic economics. Not necessarily so. I found evidence of just the opposite, taking economics classes correlates with “conservatism”, i.e., political self-interest. Egalitarian voting is more than mere understanding, it is about social justice and if the pendulum swings widely, that’s still better than an oligarchy.

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    • Very interesting. When you mention “social justice,” it reminded me of when I was a conservative. Conservatives don’t generally acknowledge the concept of social justice, which, I suspect, is why they tend not to get too bent out of shape about oligarchy.

      Liked by 1 person

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