In previous elections, the Republicans have been very successful in labeling their opponents and making the elections an emotion-driven affair. In Drew Westen’s recent book, “The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of a Nation”, he argues that that emotion-driven decision making is the key to understanding how the electorate votes. He extrapolates this argument to America’s Presidential politics. He argued that Democrats have been losing elections because they have generally been appealing to rational policy issues rather than emotion. He then argues that Republicans have been successful in using emotion-driven politics by effectively labeling their opponent and making rational issues ancillary to gut-level decisions. This argument appears attractive to some extent. Naturally it would appear that rational logic and emotion complement each other to inform a voter’s decision making process. However, it appears to me that emotion plays a more important role than I had initially thought.
I believe that this election was driven largely by irrational exuberance. On the Democratic side, there was a particularly aggressive form of this exuberance and I argued that,
“Those Muslims campaigning for Obama or who are supporting his candidacy need to understand that if he is elected, it will be a Pyrrhic victory. Those who argue in favor of Obama most often steep their arguments in a negative premise. The argument goes that you have to vote for Obama because his opponent, i.e. McCain, is so much worse. This flawed logic then goes on to say that if you don’t vote for Obama, you are essentially voting for McCain. This is a fallacy perpetuated by those in power who only want to maintain their grip on power.”
This is essentially what was repeated over and over again by those who supported Barack Obama. People argued this with such religious devotion that if you choose to argue against their logic, they would immediately denounce you as a heretic. A common look of frustration would cross their faces followed by anger and then when/if their passions subsided, they would look at you like an alien and write you off as some starry-eyed idealist who “doesn’t understand the way the world works.” I like to think that I understand how the world works (at least to some extent) and that one should take a stand on issues that one is unwilling to compromise on. Remember, those who stand for nothing fall for anything. Alas, it was nearly impossible to engage in a dispassionate critique of Obama. Even if you chose to do so (as I too often did), you were generally ignored and ostracized for not seeing the light.
These actions spoke to a number of things. One obvious issue was that Muslims and progressives were more than willing to vote out of fear. People spoke in hushed tones about what would happen to America if Sarah Palin became Vice President and—God forbid!—possibly the President. This message and others like it was repeated over and over again to the tune of well over $600 million dollars by the Obama campaign. Fear-mongering drove both the Democrats and Republicans in this election. The potency of the Democratic fear-mongering was particularly egregious. If you didn’t tote the party line you would be treated like a leper. A rabid emotionalism overtook many Muslims and progressives that ignored logic and instead prayed on fear. The argument almost seemed as though if Obama lost the election, the sky would fall and the world as we know it would come to an end. Everyone seemed to have forgotten Franklin D. Roosevelt’s sage declaration that “we have nothing to fear but fear itself.” This collective dementia was frightening to observe.
Another issue is that many people were not only willing to unconditionally support Obama but also to rationalize his actions/statements. For example, one of the most ridiculous assertions that I heard before the election was that Obama wasn’t actually threatening to attack Pakistan. Obama has said, “If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets in Pakistan and the government is unwilling or unable to act, we will do so." Obama’s language in this statement is crystal clear and is a ringing endorsement of the Bush Doctrine. I was told to ignore this illegal threat against the territorial integrity of Pakistan. This in spite of the fact that the Bush Administration has already launched at least one cross border raid into Pakistan on top of the seventeen airstrikes in the past two months that have killed at least 100 people. Other than the fact that I think this policy is ludicrous and illegal, the main problem I had was that Muslims went out of their way to rationalize this irrational policy for Obama. This was shocking. Sure you should support a candidate but that doesn’t mean unconditional support for all of his policies. I would like to believe that most voters qualify their support for the candidate of their choice, but statements like this were perturbing. Blindly following whatever the President—whether Bush or Obama—believes to be right will lead to unjustifiable support for unjust policies. Isn’t this what the Democrats have been complaining about with Bush supporters for the last eight years?
One other issue (although there are others I will stop with this one) is the role that the media has played in supporting Obama. As everyone knows, I neither supported Obama or McCain but I clearly saw a media bias in favor of Obama. As problematic as that was, the greater issue lies in what will happen in the future. Justin Raimondo, the editorial director of the website Anti-war.com, noted that:
Another danger that looms large on the horizon of Obama World is the prospect of a ovesick media corps, one so enamored of their Messiah-in-the-White-House that, while failing to examine his policies overseas, they swallow his explanations too readily. It is all too easy to imagine our besotted press corps capitulating to a new era of political correctness in Washington, where all criticism of the Dear Leader is deemed "reactionary" and implicitly racist. When the Obama administration assures us Iran is building "weapons of mass destruction," how many in the mainstream media will be inclined to question them? I'm very much afraid of the answer to that question.
The central issue here is that we must continue to question our President’s actions and not blindly support him. The cult-of-personality that has surrounded Obama is disconcerting. This has, in the recent past, led to catastrophic demagoguery that the world is still trying to recover from. Realize that he is just a man and only a politician at that.
So Obama has won the election in a landslide. With his election, he has won a considerable mandate crafted through a savvy political campaign in which millions of dollars were spent to manufacture consent. People should qualify their support for Obama and urge him to take better policy positions. People should not blindly follow his actions or rationalize for his errors. This election showed that neither the Muslims nor the progressives were willing to support those who had supported them (namely Ralph Nader and Cynthia McKinney). Ralph Nader commented on DemocracyNow! that:
I think the big story for us, Amy, in the progressive world is the hardcore progressive voter in the slam-dunk McCain and Obama states, like Massachusetts and New York, Obama, and Texas, for example, McCain, didn’t turn out for the progressive candidates, for Nader-Gonzalez, for Cynthia McKinney. They didn’t turn out. The real problem in this country is the voters are in a two-party prison. They don’t get access to other candidates on the presidential debates, which are controlled by the two parties. The candidates are blacked out by the national media. They’re drained for five months in the presidential year just trying to get on the ballots because of the hurdles that the two parties have placed in front of their potential competition.
Chris Hedges, the indefatigable journalist, commented back in April that:
The failure of the left is the failure of well-meaning people who kept compromising and compromising in the name of effectiveness and a few scraps of influence until they had neither. The condemnations progressives utter — about the abuse of working men and women, the rapacious cannibalization of the country by an unchecked arms industry, our disastrous foreign wars, and the collapse of basic services from education to welfare — are not backed by action. The left has been transformed into anguished apologists for corporate greed. They have become hypocrites.
Overall this election was determined by irrational exuberance and a degree of emotionalism that is unhealthy for our consensual democracy. I really applaud John McCain for an honorable concession speech and can only wonder if Obama would have done the same.
Finally, I would strongly encourage everyone to always challenge your leaders and push them in the correct direction. It was interesting to engage in various debates this election season and I would specifically like to thank those people who read or helped spread my article on Obama. This piece can be used as a reference for ways to challenge Obama’s policy in the future. Links to it can be found in the numerous places listed at the end of this article.
As a final thought, I would say that it was very fitting that an atheist of Jewish origin (i.e. Norman Finkelstein) was the most helpful in disseminating my article. I also appreciate the friends who did pass along my piece to others. It is interesting how some Muslims discouraged my dissent, while a Jew both helped and supported my effort to spread information that challenges the status quo. That, in essence, is the true beauty of America.
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
-Martin Luther King Jr
See also: Obama and the Muslim Vote
On my blog:
On my facebook:
On the Muslimmmatters blog (at the end of the debate portion and made available as a pdf):
On Norman Finkelstein’s website:
On the Campaign against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran website: