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 Yesterday I was talking to some McCain supporters about how they arrived at their preference. We don't see many McCain supporters in my neighborhood, so I always take time to hear their views. Admittedly my sample is not large, but of the dozen or so McCain supporters I have spoken with, there is a common thread: Obama gives them a vague feeling of discomfort that they can't quite identify.

When I ask about this vague feeling of discomfort, the answer has something to do with how his views got formed, his past associations, how quickly he rose to prominence, and how charismatic (slick) he is.

The risk, as I understand it, is that once in office Obama would start sporting a turban and begin each speech with WAHLALALALALALAL!!!! He would appoint Supreme Court justices who favor a redistribution of wealth to unborn gay babies, and he'd legalize crack. It would all be part of his master plan to destroy America. I might have the details wrong, but it goes something like that.

It's hard to argue against someone's vague feeling of discomfort. After all, studies have shown that people are actually quite good at determining character and intelligence from nothing more than photographs. I just found it interesting that the people I spoke with described a vague feeling of discomfort in forming their preference. That is not something I ever heard in other elections.
 
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Nov 2, 2008

Hi Scott,

You need to make it so the comments are all on one page, this way people that read this at work can copy and paste the comments all at once thus appearing to reduce the amount of time spend browsing the internet
 
 
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 2, 2008
For a long time I just voted for the candidate that "felt right", and I couldn't understand why the rest of the political field was so !$%*!$ up. Then my wife, who spent some time working in the California legislature, really clued me in to how politics really works. There's a saying that if you can't find the fool, the fool is probably you. She helped me discover a corollary to that aphorism: if you think that most people are fools (at least in politics), then you're probably just as foolish as they are.

My first realization is that the era of the Jeffersonian farmer-citizen is long dead. Human endeavors have become much more sophisticated, but the human mind has not evolved to keep up. Out of necessity, society has divided labor among people such that each person's job is to know more and more about less and less. For example, gone are the days of the family doctor; now it's specialists and sub specialists. As government moved beyond the town hall and scaled up to hundreds of millions of people, politics also grew in sophistication and complexity. You just can't be an expert in all things; yet I, a voter, am asked to render a decision on national candidates. It's a daunting task.

At first I tried to judge a candidate by what they say. Unfortunately, while human nature doesn't change the art of persuasion continues to advance. Many, many people have been building a school of thought around how to win elections. In essence these people function as one large, expert brain. All politicians have, consciously or subconsciously, apprenticed themselves to this machine to some degree. By listening to the speeches of national candidates, I'm attempting to match wits with an combined intelligence far greater than my own, one which has been figuring out how to manipulate me for at least two hundred years, non stop. The result is practically mind control. I can't really listen to anything they say. If something makes sense to me, it might just be because I'm part of an expertly targeted socioeconomic demographic that a candidate calculates they need in order to win their election. Or I could just be falling for an old political trick, such as when a candidate calls for a "study" on a particular issue. Most of the time this means that in reality they have no intention of acting on an issue, but they calculate that they can't say that in public.

Most smart people intuitively know that they shouldn't trust talk. But judging a candidate by their actions is hard too. You'd think I could just put myself in a candidate's shoes and play Monday morning quarterback. But I wouldn't judge a pilot or a doctor's skill by whether they did what I would do in a particular situation; the difference in knowledge and experience is just too dramatic. The hyper evolved machinery of government is similarly complex. Many issues require a huge depth of understanding that most politicians themselves doesn't have; they're usually trusting the views of expert advisors.

Worse than that, politics is a system of rules (laws), and like any system it can be gamed. Today's games are played at a level of Machiavellian sophistication that I can't relate to. If you don't vote for a certain bill, you can't get someone to vote for your (more important) bill. If you don't please this donor or that special interest group, they will kill your chance for reelection. If you defy party leadership, you'll never get on an influential committee and your office will be moved into the basement of the building across the street. Sometimes party leaders allow you to skip a vote on a controversial bill, or vote the opposite way, if you're in a close reelection race. Sometimes they won't.

There's a reason that no senator has ascended directly to the presidency in the past forty years. Often times they have to make very calculating votes on sophisticated kitchen sink bills which can be manipulated to look bad to the average Joe. To understand a vote you really had to be there. It's much better to be a governor, who is less involved in the hard realities of politics. But, just as I shouldn't pass judgement on a player in the World Series of Poker, or a chess grandmaster, I can't really look at a senator's voting record except in the most general sense.

So if I can't trust what a politician says or does, what about what they believe; that is, their values? For starters, politicians often match their stated values to those of their constituents in order to get reelected. Being a politician is a full time job. However, Malcolm Gladwell claims that you can tell a person's values from where they're from and what they've done in life. That may be true.

A much more important reason not to trust a politician's values is that I cannot even trust my own values. From my readings on evolutionary psychology I've concluded that most human minds work oddly and their values are usually an evolutionary anachronism. People come in all sorts of shapes and sizes because evolution favors diversity in order to promote survival of the species across radical shifts in the environment. Just as some people are tall and others are short, some people are compassionate and other people are cold. Republicans are more logical, competitive and selfish while Democrats are more idealistic, emotional, and more community focused. Some of this is environmental but most of it is genetic; the brain is a lot more hard wired than people think. Imagine trying to change your sexual orientation through sheer force of will, or trying to enjoy the magazine your spouse buys in the supermarket rather than the type of magazine you would buy. It just can't be done, anymore than a cat can't help batting a piece of dangling twine.

Sadly, we aren't capable of correcting our innate biases very well; if we could do this, then these sections of the brain wouldn't be good at controlling our behavior as evolution intended them to. Just as most men are prone to thinking a woman is into them when she's really not (for good evolutionary reasons) we have huge blind spots in other areas of our thinking.

A prime example is the age old split between selfishness and community. Throughout most of evolution one's reproductive outcome was based mostly on individual !$%*!$%*!$%*! and partially on the success of the group (tribe, village) as a whole. So, naturally, the brain has evolved to be primarily self-interested and family-interested with a weaker, altruistic mode. I'd say it's about a 90/10 split.

So even though I'm hard wired to be mostly selfish, it's the government's job to look after the general welfare and promote a stable society. These days a working society is much more important to your ultimate well-being than in the hunter-gatherer days; it's probably 80/20 now. So the government should demand that I make 2x the community sacrifice that I am evolved to tolerate, and I will instinctively rebel. Voting against my interests is very hard. It's like asking a straight man to gauge the attractiveness of another man. They're not hardwired to do it, and so they can't do it. Ask them to rate females and it's done even before you finish asking the question. That's the power of dedicated circuitry.

So to in today's world, I really should be voting for a candidate that is more community focused than I naturally would be, but again, it's hard to judge how much is enough. I suspect that the rise of wealth has caused the 10% community focued part fo the brain to atrophy a little bit due to environmental influence. In the past everyone lived and died together and was super social. These days everyone hangs out with their socioeconomic niche, isolated from the trials and tribulations of their neighbor. Today we're accustomed to think selfishly closer to 100% of the time even though we still live in real communities with real problems. I used to wonder why people went to coffee shops to work, even though coffee shops are loud and distracting. I realized it was because humans have this evolved need for community. Being alone is subconsciously threatening--you could get lost, be attacked by another animal or tribe, or not find a mate to reproduce with. Coffee shops are a reflection of this primordial need for community which is gone in most aspects of life. Government is the only place where community really exists anymore; it's still important even if community is out of sight, out of mind in our daily lives.

Even if I could correct for this bias, it doesn't really help me figure out who do vote for because politicians are focused on people's values, and people's values misguide policy.

For example, Democrats are hung up on fairness because it "feels" like the right thing to do, but they seem to never ask the utilitarian question: are there cases where an unfair society may be better off than a fair one? For example, the Soviet Union can broadly be considered to be a fairer society than the United States: the gap between the rich and the poor was smaller. And yet in the United States the poorest person was better off than the poorest person in the Soviet Union. Does it ever make sense to move to a more unfair, more capitalistic society which would ultimately be more successful? I don't know, but the question isn't even being asked because people are hard-wired to get hung up on fairness, which mattered a lot prehistoric times.

Similarly, the Republicans are hung up on low taxes because they want what's best for themselves and their family in the short term. However, a fairer society in which everyone had the same opportunity to rise to the level of their ability might produce an ultra-competitive, society, resulting in efficiencies and innovations in art and science far beyond my dreams. I don't know. But nobody asks the question and I doubt the answer wouldn't change their votes anyway.

So, if I can't judge a candidate on their values, can I ask an expert? Most "non governmental organizations," by their very definition, are special interest groups. There are very few truly objective institutions out there, simply because these organizations are non-profits, and very few individuals or corporations are willing to spend good money on an organization that doesn't match their values even though in their minds, they think they are doing the right thing. Even if there were objective institutions out there they would be hard to recognize. I like the The Economist and they recently endorsed Obama, but is the Economist really free of bias? I don't know. All I know is that their biases at least match my biases.

My current solution is to try to measure a candidates judgement and sense of social responsibility and hope for the best. I define judgement as raw IQ combined with executive function (planning). Hopefully someone with good judgement can override their more primitive thoughts and emotions which are detrimental to the President. I define responsibility as the degree to which that IQ is put to the general good at the expense of the self.

Bush has a good level of personal social responsibility but no judgement at all. His chosen cabinet seems even worse: neither judgement nor social responsibility. I intensely dislike Bill Clinton personally, but he possesses both qualities and was a very good President, relatively speaking. Picking Palin shows good judgement on the part of McCain because it's the only thing that could've saved his candidacy, but it shows poor responsibility because she's clearly bad for the country (and may run in 2012, god forbid). In other decisions McCain appears to have exercised poorer judgement but shown more social responsibility. Most of those decisions were earlier in his candidacy, however, so it could be that his higher order brain functions are declining with age. Obama seems to have a very high level of both social responsibility and judgement in my view.

 
 
-3 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 2, 2008
All I can think of when people bring up these American election discussions is Sarah Palin. She makes me feel embarrassed for Americans... and I'm not even American.
Just the thought of her in a position of power makes me afraid.
 
 
Nov 2, 2008
There shouldn't be anything vague about it... it's all pretty clear:

1. He says he unites Democrats and Republicans, but he doesn't offer one single policy proposal that is attractive to conservatives
2. He says he unites Blacks and Whites, but he went to a racist church for 20 years
3. He says he wants to stop special interests, but he takes money from them just like the others
4. He says he wants to change politics, but he revels in pork barrel spending just like the others
5. He has no experience
6. He has no history of independence from his own party, and that party is going to have complete power next year

Vague???
 
 
Nov 2, 2008
Yes, Obama is nice guy. He is telling what the people want to hear... just like all populist do. He is weasel and liar, no doubt. Well, I hope, that USA will survive his rule - only everybody will be poorer than would be if somebody less socialistic win. (I'm not saying McCain is good, but Obama is worse).
 
 
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 2, 2008
I have a vague feeling of discomfort regarding John McCain. I can't put my finger on the reason, but I never have liked him. I didn't like him when he ran in 2000, and I don't like him any better now. Plus, the idea of putting Palin in such close proximity to the Presidency scares the heck out of me. I don't necessarily think Obama will do that much better, and I don't think a filibuster-proof Senate will be a good thing, but McCain will not be getting my vote.
 
 
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 2, 2008
Vague feelings of discontent you detected? I'm surprised you found ANYONE in San Francisco willing to admit they liked McCain. Their discontent was more probably the result of being afraid to publicly admit they were not one of the resident politically correct wackos that make California the way it is.

Elsewhere in this nation, there are SOME people that have more than a vague feeling of dread that Obama is going to do absolutely the WRONG thing for our economy by taxing the %$#@ out everybody making (to be disclosed AFTER the election) $ per year. Smooth talk does not always equal the proper change.
 
 
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 2, 2008
Scott,

Your sample may not have been large, but I'm here to tell you that I just had an *identical* experience in an online debate with an acquaintance from New Hampshire that lasted several days. It was all there: Obama's past associations, how charismatic Obama is (specifically, how like Hitler he is in that respect), and - yes - even how Obama would appoint Supreme Court justices who favor a redistribution of wealth to unborn babies.

But the number one similarity to your account - and indeed, my acquaintance's number one argument - was that Obama as president "would not be trustworthy in a time of international crisis". To make an exceedingly long story short, when I had finished pressing my acquaintance for an exact definition of the "trustworthiness" he was looking for, he simply replied, "I have no definition."

Add one to the pile for "McCain supporters basing their votes on a vague feeling of discomfort"!
 
 
Nov 2, 2008
So, anyone who works should vote for McCain? I work my butt off everyday to make $37,000 a year, and 1/3 of every paycheck goes to taxes, etc. It is a struggle to pay the bills and rent and I drive a twelve year old car. On the other hand, our department's general manager makes 5 times what I make, has no knowledge or experience in what our department does and says things that are so stupid it makes my skin crawl. Unemployment is high in this area, so I'm lucky to have a job at all. Still think I should vote for McCain?
 
 
-2 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 1, 2008
There is no need to have any vague feelings towards Obama. I think he has been explicit.

America at present
1. The culmination of nearly a century of capitalist socialism mixed.
2. Represents that America has finally reached a point where it has entered middle ground on making any decisions,
including worship of the middle class.

Future with Obama (what change means, what belief means)
Obama
1. represents the transition to Socialism has completed.
2. The one who knows to hold the people at the tip of a whip you need to catch the economy by its neck.
3. Favors central control over individual growth.
4. Likes the idea of strong should be ruled by the weak.
5. Considers charity mandatory.
6. Knows it is not neccessary to kill the strong, only suck them slowly. Those who protest will be broken, others should take the burden of masses-the middlers.
7. Expanding the no. of ppl as middlers increases his votebank in a reinforcing loop.
8. Denies taking explicit stance on any issue. A middler and a populist himself(masses opinion).

The cold war did nothing to America. America withers from within.
 
 
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 1, 2008
"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. Allah Ackbar! "

My first decree as Madhi of the United States of Islam: Everybody must get stoned!
 
 
Nov 1, 2008
Up here in Canada, we have a tradition of deciding elections based on vague feelings of discomfort. Vague feelings of discomfort decided three of our last four elections:

2000: People had a vague feeling of discomfort about the "hidden agenda" of the biggest right-wing party, so the Liberal party got re-elected

2004: After the two biggest right-wing parties merged and became the Conservative party, people had a vague feeling of discomfort about their "hidden agenda," so the Liberals got re-elected again, but with less seats in Parliament.

2006: As more and more allegations of corruption in the Liberal party came out, the Conservative party won the election.

2008: People had a vague feeling of discomfort about the Liberal party leader's leadership ability, so the Conservatives won again.

So don't worry. If you're deciding elections based on vague feelings of discomfort, you're just becoming more like Canada!
 
 
Nov 1, 2008
Borak the Obama Spawn of Islam.
I like how the Muslim world will react, how the KKK and white supremacists will react and how his sinking of America will create a Republican State that will Last 1000 years. Jack Booting all over the globe.

On a serious note:
Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.

Borak the Obama Spawn of Islam is the punishment for Americas sins.

Remember Vote Early and Vote Often!
 
 
-5 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 1, 2008
[...vague feelings of discomfort...]

It's almost as if they ((the good guys)) were hypnotized or brainwashed into believing the ((fair and balanced)) idea that Barrack ((Hussein)) Obama ((Osama)) is a person ((a socialist)) with a secret ((muslim)) agenda.

((I'm Rupert Murdoch and I approve this message.))
 
 
Nov 1, 2008
Did you ask them if they had the same 'vague feeling of discomfort' about John Kerry, Al Gore, Bill Clinton, Michael Dukakis, Walter Mondale, and Jimmy Carter?
 
 
+8 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 1, 2008
How does their vague discomfort stack up against my abject terror of the thought of Palin as VP (let alone President)? ;)
 
 
Nov 1, 2008
"I just found it interesting that the people I spoke with described a vague feeling of discomfort in forming their preference. That is not something I ever heard in other elections."

This is also the first time a black man (with an unusual name, to boot!) has come so close to the presidency. I don't think this is a coincidence.

I'm not idiot enough to cry "racist!" at everyone who votes for McCain. These are human beings and their feelings are complicated. But I kid you not, I just received an email yesterday imploring me to "keep the White House white!" It had been forwarded around quite a bit, so it wasn't just some lone nutjob spouting off; enough people agreed with the original author to keep the chain going.

People have legitimate concerns with Barack Obama's policies and plans. While I think people on both sides are way overestimating his ability to affect change if he is elected, I get that some folks just aren't going to like him. I'm fine with that. That's sensible and reasonable and part of the election process. Of course people are going to disagree with him, and they should. But the "vague discomfort" you're talking about, the thing people feel but cannot name? I wouldn't be surprised if that was racism in vague action.
 
 
Nov 1, 2008
NCResident :
- There are inherent contradictions within your argument, and the arguments that it leads to about America's military involvement in Iraq or Iran, Afghanistan and so on.

The US government has constantly been criticised for their involvement in the war - for their funding of Saudi Princes and criminal, despot dictators. I believe the war is unjust, and cynically motivated, we probably shouldn't be there - but not you nor I nor anyone with a clue has yet to come up with a plausible solution.

Then you talk about Obama "letting Iran develop nukes" - but you cannot justifiably criticise America's involvement in the Middle East, and then complain Obama will "let" Iran develop nukes.
First of all - Iran is probably already developing nukes, and has been doing so during Bush's 8 year rule.
Second of all, you're a fool if you think America can dictate Iran to do anything. They've got way too many vested interests in controlling the world supply of oil, America is no longer the heavy weight it used to be.
If America takes a stand against Iran it will be an all out war. It will not happen with idle threats and sanctions ot diplomacy. But I regret that Iran is already way too strong to be dictated to.
Obama has explicitly stated this, that if diplomacy does not work, then action is required. To me this does not sound like a passive ruler.

There's also an inherent irony: you're concerned Iran will develop nukes, but yet not concerned for the millions of Iranian people who have been forced to live in poverty due to corrupt leadership which America - yes AMERICA was responsible for setting up. See - The Shah of Iran - google it - you might be suprised to learn that Obama is the least of your worries.

Your concerns for Iran are lacking substance and I believe you may have alterior motives for being suspicious.
You haven't expressed an issue with your country's leadership over the past 8 years - hell the past 80 years for that matter. So why are you expecting more from Obama than the government you voted for - who did the very same thing?
 
 
-4 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 1, 2008
The "feeling of discomfort" is probably latent racism.
 
 
Nov 1, 2008
I wish I could say this was new to me. My mother, an intelligent woman who has no problem with homosexuals, is pro choice, has been lower middle class at best her whole life and got through vocational training through the use of government programs has given me this argument several times. She voted for Dole because Clinton "scares (her)." She voted for Bush because Gore "scares (her)." She voted for Bush again because Kerry "scares (her)."

I asked what she thought about Obama. She said "he scares me."
 
 
 
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