Perceptions Shape Reality

So, did you hear this one?  Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders and Pope Francis walk into a bar.  The bartender looks up and — well I don’t really have a joke with a punch line here, although it would be fun to come up with something along those lines.

However, they all do have something in common, along with Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson, and in a way, John Boehner, soon to be the former Speaker of the House.  I pledged to myself that I would not comment on the current state of affairs regarding the run up to the 2016 presidential election until sometime next year.  It’s the silly season when marginal candidates make outrageous claims and promises and the field has yet to be winnowed to those serious candidates that have an actual chance to lead our nation.  (For example, four years ago at about this time it was all about “nine, nine, nine.”  How did that turn out?)

None-the-less there is a definite trend in the air.  Together Trump, Fiorina, and Carson get over 50% combined in the current polls for the Republican nominee.  Sanders, who when he started his campaign did not himself expect to get much traction, is giving Hillary Clinton a serious run in the early going. What does this tell us?  I am not sure — but to state the obvious, I think it reflects a serious message to the other, qualified, candidates that the electorate is unhappy with the way things are going.  I am not sure that it is truly a desire to “hire an outsider.”  It is more a message to the current crop of politicians on both sides of the aisle that if they cannot, or will not do their jobs, then the electorate will look for someone who can.

To me, this is reinforced by the reaction to Pope Francis during his recent visit.  Whatever one thinks of his religious views or whether or not he is too “political” (as I noted in an earlier post, I don’t think he is political but rather pastoral), one must agree that the outpouring of positive response to him as a man, by Catholics and non-Catholics, believers and non-believers alike, shows that a vast number of people are looking for someone who cares about them as individuals and for someone who brings a message of caring and hope.  Hope for them in their daily lives and hope that our future can be better. Even Speaker Boehner has reflected this (look up his comments about the “jackass” in his party and the “false prophets” in his party), now that he is not bound by party duty and can speak his mind.

This paints a picture for me that the candidate that can provide a vision for the future that is positive, yet specific — enough with the vague platitudes! — has the best chance of capturing his/her party’s nomination and indeed, of capturing the presidency.

What I worry about is that we are reaping what we have sown over the last 6 years plus.  In other words, politicians have been complaining about how bad, ineffective and dysfunctional government is these days.  They have been complaining to such a degree that maybe people are beginning to believe it.  The same politicians that barrage us with negatives about our government and our place in the world (which face it folks, if we are so bad off why are none of the complainers moving to another country) are not doing so well in the polls. They may have done such a good job painting a picture of disaster that they are now in the throes of having to recognize that maybe the electorate considers them as part of the problem.  They have painted such negative perceptions of government that they are now living in the reality of being part of the problem.  As Shakespeare said in Hamlet, they will be “hoist with his own petard.”

At the same time I do not understand why it would be a badge of honor — a selling point for gaining votes — to proclaim that as a candidate that they are complete outsiders with no government experience what-so-ever.  I would guess that Trump and Fiorina as CEOs would not hire a new CEO for a major corporation that has absolutely no experience in business at all.  And be proud of it.  While I get the “outsider” appeal, I also believe in the American people.  It is one thing to attend a rally, answer a poll question over a year before the election, and display other expressions of dissatisfaction with the status quo, and quite another to actually vote for one of the “outsiders.”  I have no idea who will be the Republican or Democrat nominee for president, but I have a pretty good idea who it will not be.

There is a ray of hope.  The politicians also should think about this.  A recent survey done by the Democrat Party (don’t dismiss it out of hand — it was not just a survey of Democrats but rather a cross-section of voters) and obtained by the Washington Post  indicates that most voters are not in favor of a smaller government.  They are in search of a more effective federal government.  Fifty-six percent of the respondents said that they were “very” or “somewhat” confident in the government to do the right thing. The top five answers to the question “what is wrong with the federal government” reflect that the electorate is most concerned that it is “corrupt” (23%), “inefficient” (18%), “out of touch” (17%), “wasteful” (14%), and “too big” (9%).  To me this means that most people don’t worry about the size of government, they worry that it does not reflect the nation as a whole, and only is responsive to big donors and lobbyists.

Perhaps the cliché that the “squeaky wheel gets the grease” applies here.  The factions that are currently making the most noise on the campaign trail are getting the most attention.  But, I do not think that most voters are single issue voters.  In the general election the voters take the full measure of the person running for office — their personality, knowledge, leadership and position on a full range of issues. The candidates that recognize this and put forward honest answers and specific plans as to how they will make the federal government more responsive will have the best chance to win.  And to help our country.

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