Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Two Horse Democratic Race

It’s down to Clinton and Obama now and consensus thinking is that whichever does well on Super Tuesday will coast to the Democratic nomination.

I was sorry to see Edwards drop out today. I thought his drawing attention to government corruption was a worthy addition to the dialog. Every time I open my car door to exit and hear the obnoxious ding-ding-ding-ding “reminding” me to take my keys, I am infuriated again at the insurance lobby. What, exactly, is the government’s interest in keeping insurance company losses low? It’s manifest corruption. But I rant.

My main problem with Hillary is Bill. He is a clinically disturbed personality and I don’t want him anywhere near the Oval office. As recent events on the campaign trail have demonstrated, he cannot be controlled. He is a huge liability.

My second problem with Hillary is honesty, or lack of same. All politicians lie, as it is part of their job. The American people are not critical thinkers so empty slogans and feel-good sentiments are more effective than reasons and evidence. This has been well documented in the political science literature (e.g., Lau & Redlawsk: How Voters Decide: Information Processing During Election Campaigns. Cambridge University Press, 2006). In a perverse way then, Hillary’s prevarication is a strength, not a weakness.

Obama does not seem as overtly dishonest as Clinton, but he misleads by not saying anything. He gives good speech but since he has not been in the public eye long, we don’t know what he would say or do in a difficult situation. Of the ethnic violence in Kenya, his father’s birthplace, he calls for “reason and calm.” There isn’t really anything practical he can do about the situation but he also does not reflect on its meaning. He reveals nothing about himself whenever possible. His two best-selling books read like a series of Hallmark cards.

Obama has charisma, and according to Lau and Redlawsk, that matters a lot in people’s voting decisions. But how will he react when the Republicans roll out the siege engines in the fall? Can Obama be Swift-boated the way Kerry was? Everybody has skeletons. Can he talk about the meaning of race in America? We haven’t heard him do so yet. Can I visualize him confronting Putin, Kim Jong Il, or Ahmadinejad? Would he urge Olmert and the head of Hamas to have a cup of tea? Would he advocate cutting oil and corn subsidies to develop a rational energy policy (Illinois is one of the nation’s top corn producers)?

I haven’t seen enough of Obama to predict how he would react. This weakness leads Hillary to claim “35 years of experience” to her advantage, but that’s just hogwash. She has been an ordinary attorney most of her life. Her experience as First Lady counts for zilch. My wife is in the financial services industry but that doesn’t make me a stock broker. Clinton's recent record in the Senate is unremarkable but respectable, as is Obama’s.

When America is attacked again, who will respond better? Hillary will react much as George W. Bush reacted, with bellicose slogans and radical though ineffective actions designed mainly to “reassure” the public of her competence. Unlike Bush though, I believe her actions would be designed to affect ordinary citizens. She is not so hollow and confused as to invade some arbitrarily chosen country just to flex muscles.

Obama, I don’t know how he will react. He will give a stunning speech, of course. But then what? I believe he is thoughtful and intelligent enough not to act stupidly, and to listen to his advisors, something I am less sure about with Hillary. With Obama, his unknowns are the unknown unknowns, the worst kind. The bet is on his present persona as an index to future behavior.

That’s a bet I am willing to make, but I am a psychologist. I don’t think most people will make that bet. The average American, in the fog of Oedipal fantasy, wants God-like omniscience and omnipotence in the White House. That’s why they will vote for Hillary, then finally for McCain. I hope I’m wrong.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Premodernism Wins in Iowa

I was surprised that Mike Huckabee won in Iowa. After reading his Foreign Affairs essay (reviewed in this blog), I concluded that he was dishonest, not in a malicious way, but in a traditionally political, media-manipulative way. I said I did not believe voters would fall for Huckabee hucksterism. I was wrong, for Iowa, at least.

Apparently what vaulted Huckabee ahead was a huge turnout among evangelical Christian caucus goers. The New York Times reports that they constitute 60% of caucus goers in Iowa and traditionally 40% of them turn out for Republicans. In this case, evangelical turnout may have been over 50%, and most of it went to Huckabee, perhaps reflecting some disdain for Romney’s Mormonism.
(Picture: ABC News)

Iowa is not representative of the nation; at least I hope it is not. It is a frightening prospect that a born-again Christian evangelical minister, who doesn’t even believe in evolution, but who does believe in regressive taxation, could possibly win the Republican nomination. I should welcome that, since it would make an easy opponent for a Democrat to beat. But I have subterranean fear. It is not easy to turn back a tide, especially a tide of premodern values.

Evangelicals in America adhere to four core beliefs:

1. Belief in the Bible as the sole valid scripture and the inerrant word of God.

2. Belief in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus as the path to salvation.

3. Emotional and personal faith in Jesus; of being “born-again” into the faith.

4. Active proselytizing of the Christian religion after being baptized.

Reference: Ray C. Bliss Institute for Applied Politics, as reported on Wikipedia ( )

The Statistical Abstract of the United States for 2007 says just over 28% of Americans identify themselves as evangelicals (many of them living in Iowa, apparently).

A survey of Christians in the United States in 2004 asked nine questions to determine whether the respondent was an evangelical Christian. Seven of the questions asked were:

1. Are you a born again Christian?
2. Is your faith very important in your life today?
3. Do you believe you have a personal responsibility to share your religious beliefs about Christ with non-Christians?
4. Do you believe that Satan exists?
5. Do you believe that eternal salvation is possible only through faith, not works?
6. Do you believe that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth?
7. Do you believe that God is the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today?

(Source: Wikipedia: )

These kinds of beliefs are traditional, deferring to history, mythology, and authority, and that kind of thinking characterizes the premodern mind, the mentality that prevailed in Europe from the fall of Rome and throughout the medieval period and middle ages.

The big breakthrough of the Enlightenment, beginning in the 1600’s, was the transition to a modern mentality valuing individualism, humanism, reason, and empiricism as the criteria of truth. Not everybody made that transition. There are apparently a lot people in America still living in the middle ages.

Premodern does not mean driving a horse-drawn buggy instead of a Toyota Prius. In this context it refers to those fundamental attitudes mentioned above about how the world is constituted and how it is known.

Islamic terrorists are explicitly and articulately premodern in their mentality. They reject the modern mind, as Islamic societies did not undergo a cultural change comparable to The Enlightenment in the West. Islamicists specifically reject the modern values of individualism, humanism, empiricism, and reason, endorsing instead the values of tribalism, traditionalism, mythology and authority. Being premodern in your thinking does not automatically make you a terrorist of course, but there is an easy connection between premodernism and intolerance.

Could America become a theocracy under a premodern, evangelical president? We have already moved in that direction under the current president and the result has been tragic. Yet amazingly to me, there are still many Americans who would continue to pursue that premodern course. That’s why I am not willing to dismiss Huckabee as an oddball. A rising tide can swamp all boats. That tide must be turned back, for the sake of the future.