Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Jacksonian Democracy

Robert Samuelson speculates on voters' reaction to a truth teller. Read the article and make a comment: Would you vote for Samuelson's truth teller? Why or why not?

Truth Serum on The Trail
By Robert J. Samuelson
Wednesday, May 14, 2008; A19

It's been a blast, this presidential campaign. A great story, full of drama. But no one should think it's been honest. With the possible exception of Iraq -- a matter that compels candidates to face real issues -- the campaign has been an exercise in mass merchandising. Candidates make alluring promises (to "fix the economy," "defeat special interests" or "achieve energy independence") and offer freebies to voters (more tax cuts, health care, college aid). Complete the sale: That's the point.

There's a vast gap between the country's problems and the candidates' agendas and rhetoric. The candidates dissemble because they believe that Americans don't want the truth. It would be too upsetting.

They're probably right. Let's imagine what a candidate inoculated with truth serum might say. This gauges the distance between what Sens. Clinton, Obama and McCain are saying and what they should be saying. Here's the abbreviated stump speech:

"Fellow Americans, I know you worry about the economy. So do I. But, frankly, if you elect me, I won't do much about it. It's a $14 trillion economy. Every three months, 7 million Americans change jobs. Presidents aren't powerful enough to steer this colossus. Sure, we can pass 'stimulus' programs, but if we overdo it -- as we did in the 1970s -- we will make the economy worse. Believe me, presidents would prevent recessions if they could.

"What we can do is preserve an economic climate that favors long-term growth. That means holding down the tax burden to maintain incentives for work and investments. We're already running a $400 billion or so deficit; some broad-based tax increases may be needed. This will disappoint conservatives, who think no one should pay taxes, and liberals, who think only the rich should pay them. But we must also cut spending, because, unless we do, the future tax increases will be crushing.

"Of necessity, spending cuts should focus on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. These programs are projected to grow from about 45 percent of the present budget to 70 percent over a couple of decades. Paying for that exclusively with taxes would be devastating for the economy and our children. Paying exclusively by cutting other programs would gut vital government services. I admit that raising eligibility ages for baby boomers and cutting some benefits are unfair. People should have received more warning. But our politicians have so dawdled that
there's no warning time left.

"We've also dawdled on energy. No one likes $125-a-barrel oil. Last year, we paid an average price of $64 a barrel for imports. Some blame the oil companies, but the truth is that we're all to blame. Americans like cheap gasoline and big vehicles. Nothing was done to dampen consumption. Meanwhile, Congress restricted new oil and gas exploration on environmental grounds. So, demand rose and supply fell. In 1985, we imported 4 million barrels of oil a day; now that's 12 million.

" 'Energy independence' is a fraud. We simply use too much foreign oil. All we can do is limit our dependence by shifting to more-efficient vehicles and increasing domestic production. But these measures will take years and have only modest effects. The same is true of global warming. Without major technological breakthroughs, making big cuts in greenhouse gases will be impossible.

"Finally, let's discuss poverty. Everyone's against it, but hardly anyone admits that most of the increase in the past 15 years reflects immigration -- new immigrants or children of recent immigrants. Unless we stop poor people from coming across our Southern border, legally and illegally, we won't reduce poverty. Period. That doesn't mean we should try to expel the 12 million illegal immigrants already here -- an impossible and morally dubious task. Many families have been here for years; many have American children. We need a pragmatic accommodation: assimilate most people now here; shift future immigration to the highly skilled.

"Vote for me. I'll tell the truth."

Of course, our hapless candidate would be dismissed as misinformed, offensive, possibly racist and, of course, unelectable. People say they value candor, but in practice they don't. Almost all our major national problems require patience: the capacity to take somewhat painful actions now to avoid greater future pain. In an ideal world, elections would help move public opinion toward such policies.

But that doesn't happen. Politics is mostly about immediate gratification -- about offering up convenient scapegoats and instant solutions for voters' complaints, even if the villains and promises are often false. We in the media bless this process by treating much of the self-serving rhetoric with undeserved seriousness. Is it any wonder that our genuine problems persist year after year and, in the end, foster public cynicism?

37 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wow! I agree whole heartedly. Any candidate for any office isnt looking for a change and if he/she really is then there is no way for the public to know. If a candidate who truely speaks his mind to the public, then he is dimissed as a cook (or an elitist). Society's hypocritical nature creats rejection for any honest politican forcing them to become snake-tongued.

Russ

Kommunists-are-bad Karl said...

A RESOUNDING yes!!!!!!!!!

agent gregg said...

I would vote for a candidate like that wholeheartedly. Yeah, things might be unpleasant now, but it means that things will get better for our children and their children. Always going with candidates who make outlandish promises that everything will be okay about a week after they're in office is like getting hooked on morphine. You have to keep shooting up more and more to forget about the pain, until finally it's too late.

Atomic Dead Head said...

I am all for injecting presidential candidates with truth serum in the future. We should do the same to Bill O'Rielly just to see what happens.
I would vote for said candidate if for no other purpose than to see the press conference following his pulling an Eliot Spitzer.

TimmyTango said...

Sure. Why not.

MerryMeredith said...

Yes I agree. Candidates are just trying to please the people so that they can win!

Anonymous said...

I love the truth serum idea. I cant stand Hillarys...I meant to say liars, sorry. I would vote for this person.

~gangsta david~

Wacky Wendy said...

Yes, I would vote for a candidate like that. In different parts of our country candidates are saying different things to please just the people they are speaking in front of.

dancer maria said...

You know, I don't blame them. They have to lie. With the intelligence this country holds (with the exception of the APUS students) there is no way politicians can tell us the truth. We'd be outraged and automatically believe their lying to us when they are actually telling the truth(b/c for some odd reason politicians should know how to fix everything *in a sarcastic voice*)
As good citizens we should put aside the negative things politicians do in order to get elected because really,lying is the only way to get elected. As the reading said, the candidate that tells the truth would definitely lose (and lets face it, the people who are running aren't idiots. They'll do what they "believe" is in the country's best interest so don't believe they're running just to put money in their pocket) Instead, when we are trying to figure out who we want to vote for we should research what the candidate has done before (sense history repeats itself). That is really the only way to know if the candidate is good enough to be a leader of the U.S.A.

Bejan R. (F) ....that's supposed to be a flower in case it doesn't show up.

P.S. Thank You to Maria for letting me comment through her account.

dancer maria said...

Umm, well, I wish it would be possible to make candidates tell the truth, but that's not very pragmatic. Like Bejan said, the majority of the people in America are not intelligent enough to understand that when a candidate says something negative, but truthful, that makes them a good leader, not a bad one.
Take the whole thing in Pennsylvania with Obama. He was right, but that didn't matter. It still made people mad. So then people vote for a bad candidate who didn't tell the truth.That's why "truth serum" would not make the government better.

chalangsta said...

I am never surprised when the presidential candidates promises are still unfulfilled. It just gets more people are mad, and at one point people will want change. Then things will be taken seriously, at least i hope.

ryanryanryann said...

Um...i think i would probably vote for the candidate who tells the honest truth. if i could choose whether or not a candidate used "truth serum", i would vote against it. Knowing the truth, honestly, freaks me out. talking about the economy and how much oil we waste...makes my head hurt. it is good for someone to tell the truth, but i cant lie, i like for the scary truth to be sugarcoated, or rather, id rather not hear it. i sound like a wimp, but i like being oblivious!

ginnypig said...

I think it's important that candidates be more honest. They need to be honest but still have an idea of how to go about fixing problems. It does kind of stink though how we say we want honesty in our politicians but then when they are honest, we don't elect them. I agree with this guy.

terrifictucker said...

Of course we want honest politicians. But, when they're really honest, we say "Gee, i don't know anymore".
hmmm.

John said...

I could take the selfish way and say that I want things to improve imediatly for me and not care about upcoming generations however I would probably vote to improve things in the future

funnyfaith said...

I think if people actually did things they believed in and just were honest with the people the world would be a better place. Most of the candidates these days have their platforms somewhere in the middle to please all voters. They should just be honest.

Anonymous said...

yes i would love to see the presidential candidates injected. it would be great to see what the politicians are actually thinking.

Chris

dropABeat said...

I would vote for someone who spoke the truth and told the American people what was going on with no bells or whistles attached.Our current candidates are trying to cover up the issues in order to get elected.

maddiecake said...

I personally would vote for a candidate who put their election (and excuse my french, but ass(quoting..russ)) on the line to deliver real issues to the American public. However, in the present day such a political strategy would never work as not everyone has the integrity or intellectual bounds to grasp such a platform.

GiveAndySome said...

Yes I would vote for this candidate. My bumper and any other bumper I come across would be covered with promotional stickers. What I like is the end of the quick fix. I believe that when you have a problem it's not a bad thing to make reasonable sacrifices to solve it within a reasonable amount of time. The current trend is to do next to nothing in hopes of fixing things soon which eventually leads to more problems. Kind of like people putting of Bailey and AMSCO for 3 weeks and then trying to get them all done in one night.

energetic emily said...

Yes, I would vote for a candidate like this and I agree with this guy. People say that they want honesty, but then they get mad when the candidates tell the truth.

ScottyB said...

I don't know if I would necessarily vote for the "truthful" candidate, but I would hope that actual truth would inspire other candidates to also be truthful. I don't think the candidates should focus on what they will not or can not do, but what they will do, even if it seems minimal.

Gracefull said...

If this man ran for president I don't think the average American would vote for him. I can see how people would be offended and as Americans can be, if they don't hear what they want to hear, that’s the end of that politician's career. I understand that sometimes things need to get worse to be better but I don't think I personally have enough faith to vote for someone who starts out by saying they wont do anything about the economy. I like that he was honest with his beliefs, I give his props for that. I don't know…

laughinglizliz said...

I would vote for a candidate like that. They shouldn't say that they will do all this crazy stuff that is unattainable because that's called lying!

Where'sWeston? said...

While I would consider voting for a candidate who told the truth, the American public most certainly wouldn't. Don't frighten the masses--they prefer to live under a veil of "mission-accomplished," preferring not to seek clandestine truths. If a candidate were to shoot straight with the country, they would most certainly be lauded as unfit for public office. While I'd respect a truth-telling politician, it simply won't happen.
To quote Jack Nicholson: "You want the truth? The truth is you can't handle the truth!"

susurrous aleina said...

I really value honesty in a person, and I know there are many Americans who'd join me in respecting a candidate who "tells it like it is", but perhaps that doesn't offset the sheer mass of voters who would be more conflicted about the whole thing. It's not like people really want to hear the truth all the time,especially when they're worried about whether or not a leader is gonna make things better for us as a nation.

RidiculousRupal said...

Of course I vote for the truth teller...as long as there were no exceptions. Not only would the candidate be telling the truth, it would make voters feel like someone is on their level and understands what's going on at the middle and lower classes.

Anonymous said...

Although this person is truthful, im not going to lie by saying I probably wouldn't vote for them. When a candidate says they can't do anything about something, it makes the normal person think they are not very interested in helping the economy or whatever the issue is. I view this type of person (along with most other uninformed middle class whities) as a pessimist with the whole "The world is doomed! vote for me!" campaign. People like to see candidates who say what they want them to say even if it is impossible. That is why Obama is so popular right now. This is also why Tueting will never become President.

-Parker

Anonymous said...

It's sad but every politician has to play their cards right with the public. If they change their mind or tell the public what's actually going on, they get thrown out as crazy. Those politicians whoa actually do want to become honest are forced to weasle their way to the top.
~Baby swaz

Anonymous said...

A candidate who was genuine and honest would be great. While I am all for honesty during candidacy, sometimes things kept a secret in office keeps people from mass panic. Sometimes complete honesty all the time is more dangerous.
~Jackie

noandrew said...

yes, i believe that i'm intelligent enough to recognize some one who gives striaght answers as extremely awesome in today's political system. I'd also volunteer for their campaign, think BOUT THAT, I'm so lazy i'm doing these posts at the extreme last minute and i'd still volunteer for this guy.

Anonymous said...

I would vote for a candidate who didn't make promises they wouldn't fulfill. While it may be political suicide, I respect honesty.

~Jessy

ryan the ridiculous said...

Personally, I would more likely vote for someone who was frank and trustworthy than someone who aligned with my beliefs. This guy sounds like just the kind of guy we need in office to make politics about what needs to get done, and not just getting elected. Our government would be ridiculously efficient and productive that the negative aspects of doing what is needed like raising taxes would even hurt because that money will be put to good use.

tinytim said...

haha first I would like to say that Russ said a politician may be dismissed as a COOK. haha. O and my answer is Yes

Explorer Elizabeth said...

I personally would vote for him, because an honest politician is what we need, however, the rest of the country probably wouldn't. With the other candidates screaming that there could be other ways than to just give in and raise taxes and cut spending and such, the majority would rather try something else than looking into the truth that there is no other way out.

Anonymous said...

No one can please everyone. period. We applaude Lincoln for being a pragmatist and telling the American people what they wanted to hear to push his own agenda but then we condemn every politician since then? I guess its alright to break the Constitution as long as it puts an end to slavery but its wrong to give empty promises in order to give hope to a factory worker that their life may suck less if a candidate is elected? People need to get off their high horse and examine a candidate for themselves. If it is fact that they will say what they need to to gain your vote then research their past legislation. The truth serim idea is for the lazy voter who wants to be force fed his opinion instead of looking at the facts.

-Just a little annoyed Jordan-

joyful said...

I was blown away by this article. Wow. I'm one of those people who is still formulating my own political identity and trying not to let others influence my opinions. Although some of what this guy said was offensive and blunt I felt as though it was genuine and real. I do wish he had said more about what he could do personally for our country, but at least he's being honest about what the real problems are and what SHOULD happen. I always vote for honesty.