Why Do Politicians Act Like Children?

Politicians. What is wrong with them? They are supposed to be the best we’ve got. Government matters. So why, why, why do they keep giving me flashbacks of highschool? No. Primary school. Wait… he said what? Damn. Kindergarten?!

Arghhhh!

Why do politicians act like children?!

Well, as experts on children are quick to point out, most kids are actually better than that. Get it right dude.

Oh.

Okay.

Why are politicians acting so immaturely that calling them children is an insult to children?!

Arghhh!

Well… power perennially summons up certain beasts.  An ego the size of Mars is a good motivator to enter politics in the first place. That explains the toddler tantrums.

Politics is also a twisty business. Compromises. Machiavellian plots. From the outside it all looks like chaos and stupidity.

More importantly, politics cuts to the core  – identity, purpose, money. Politics pits opposing sides against each other. It triggers some instinctive craziness show-down reflex: two groups of baboons throwing poo at each other. It’s going to get messy. Throw in some polarization, or some chest-thumping ideologies and you’ve got a giant fracas of offense, irrationality, and day-time news. And fist fights. For real.

Yet, the biggest cause may be that thing we value most. In a monarchy the leader must exude god-like glory. Childishness is unbecoming. In a dictatorship the leader must live surrounded by an oil-slick of fear. Childishness is weakness. In a democracy…

Talk, talk, talk, and opinion polls.

Things get nutty. The leader must win elections. British politician Boris Johnson (foolishly?) gave us an insight into political campaigning by revealing Dead Cat Theory:

“Let us suppose you are losing an argument. …Your best bet in these circumstances is to perform a manoeuvre that a great campaigner describes as “throwing a dead cat on the table, mate”.

That is because there is one thing that is absolutely certain about throwing a dead cat on the dining room table – and I don’t mean that people will be outraged, alarmed, disgusted. That is true, but irrelevant. The key point, says my Australian friend, is that everyone will shout “Jeez, mate, there’s a dead cat on the table!”; in other words they will be talking about the dead cat, the thing you want them to talk about, and they will not be talking about the issue that has been causing you so much grief.”

Who’s that great Aussie campaigner he’s referring to? Probably Lynton Crosby. This Wizard of Oz has gained a reputation for campaigns that claw at the chair legs of society. Tornado-through-a-cattery amounts of dead cats. Whether or not his reputation is justified Crosby does believe one thing: people never vote based on policy. They vote out of emotion.

Therefore erudite discussions of flat versus progressive tax structures are pointless. Appeal to identity. Appeal to the gut. Appeal to whatever gets the key voters going – even if that’s a fear of immigrants.

Indeed, a vast array of competing policies is way too complicated for even well educated voters to grasp. Better, say people like Crosby, to tell a very simple story. Clown-like Donald Trump was no mindless buffoon when he endlessly chanted ‘Crooked Hillary’ and ‘Make America Great Again’. This was strategy. Give ’em a choice: do you want greatness or a crook?

So the conundrum circles around. Politicians act like children because they believe we vote like children. When you hear childish madness you are hearing the well researched prejudices of your nation being fed back to itself. You get what you vote like – emotional and irrational.

This strategizing can get deep-nasty. Negative messages stick in the emotional gullet. Rile them up. Push the hot-buttons. And, never forget, anarchy is smart-weapon.

Wedge politics involves using controversial issues to fragment your opponents. Find an internal disagreement. Stab it. The opposition will spiral into vitriolic internal debates. Hopefully the losing side will be so pissed off they leave and join other parties. Chaos, anger, and insults – in exactly the right place.

The battleaxe of attack politics is the scandal. Virulent ad hominem attacks. Insults. Innuendo. Denigration. Lies. Hacks. Leaks. Scandals can be used to remove people from office, take them out of the race, and destroy, destroy, destroy.

Politics becomes the Thunderdome.

Two men enter!

One man leaves!

Two men enter!

One man leaves…!

As Boris kindly pointed out, you do this kind of stuff when you’re losing. Just pile-drive that other guy into the floor, and the voters will have no choice but to choose you. Voters do deserve to know the bad news too, but taken too far this tactic creates a political world in which only two kinds of people truly belong – psychopaths and sadists. I don’t know if they’re childish, but they sure aint models of maturity. Their politics becomes so off-putting decent people prefer not to touch it, voters disengage, and the attack-artists are left to grow like fungus on a dead cat.

~

Deeper Down the Rabbit-hole

Boris Johnson in the Telegraph accusing other people of using Dead Cat Theory, here.

A free master class with Crosby, on Youtube here.

When Politicians Attack, action shots from ABC, here. (By attack, we’re talking fists to the face.)

 

© Under Obvious, 2017.

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Would Jesus Work as a Christian Politician?

Read the Gospels and one thing quickly becomes apparent: Jesus looks like a hippy. He gave up his worldly possessions, traveled the country with his friends, talked endlessly about love, and peace, and forgiveness, and the end of the world. He criticized the authorities, broke the rules, hung out with poor people, and beat financial traders with a whip.

In short, Jesus looks nothing like a Christian politician.

Look at Christian politicians and one thing quickly becomes apparent: they are overwhelmingly right-wing. They are often wealthy. They talk a lot about war, and fear, and crime, and the end of the world. Their policies favor the rich and powerful, and when you do catch them hanging out with a prostitute they aint giving her a Bible lesson.

Of course, these views of Jesus and Christian politics are caricatures. Jesus would hardly have been into free-love, and plenty of Christian politics is about peace. Yet, these caricatures exist for good reason.

So why does Christian politics get so… unchristian?

It’s all about power.

To get power you need to make alliances. Making alliances forces groups to work together despite their differences. These differences lead to a lot of contradictions.

Typically,  on the Left, socialist leaning economics have teamed up with social progressives – a platform of free health care and gay marriage. Meanwhile, on the Right, free-market economics teamed up with social conservatives (often Christians) – a platform of tax cuts and abortion bans.

These alliances can occur within one person’s head, yet they are still combinations of choice rather than necessity. Our own local teams tend to have such ingrained identities that it’s easy to forget that the teams can be arranged in different ways. Yet take a look at other times and places and you’ll soon find economic conservatives advocating gay marriage, and socialists promoting family values. Many key ‘Christian’ policies, are actually the result of alliances. Hence why these policies can end up contradicting Jesus.

Next, what should a Christian do with power? Jesus never gave policy advice. The political entity he cared about was the Kingdom of God – and that seems to involve a lot of stuff that’s pretty hard for a merely mortal government to do. Should the army “Turn the other cheek”? Should the justice system apply the principle of “He who is without sin cast the first stone”? These questions have been giving Christians headaches for centuries. Thankfully the Bible has so much more than just Jesus. A common answer is to forget about Jesus and ask someone from the Old Testament. What would Moses do? Turns out Moses was the kind of leader that Machiavelli admired. Hence why some Christians are more into war and executions, than peace and love.

Speaking of Machiavelli we have another problem. Power corrupts. At the very least power is ethically compromising. As Machiavelli pointed out, being a good person doesn’t necessarily make you a good ruler. Sometimes you have to kill people. Yet, even good people want the power to do good things. As a result Christians have swung back and forth between two extremes: total political disengagement, and theocratic power grabs. In the USA some Christians have been visibly hanging around the grabby end of the spectrum for a while, hence all the ethical dubiousness.

Lastly, while religion doesn’t always want to get into politics, politics always wants to get into religion. The source of all political power is belief – getting people to believe that you ought to be in charge. And no one does belief like religion. Everyone from the Divine Pharaohs, to the Divine Caesars, to the divinely mandated Emperors of China, to the divinely chosen kings of Europe, to “I love the Bible” Trump has decided to tap into the political power of religion. You don’t have to be religious to play this game, in fact it’s better if you’re not. Hence more hypocrisy. And with Christianity that hypocrisy is all the worse for one simple fact: Jesus’s main claim is that he is king, not you. Awkward.

 

 

Further Down the Rabbit-hole:

For an example of a Christian political agenda see the Christian Coalition’s site, here. Note the frequency of policies with no direct connection to Christianity that aren’t very “Jesusy” e.g. boosting the military.

For an example of different places leading to different policy combos that might be political suicide elsewhere, see a New Zealand conservative politician’s viral “Big gay rainbow” speech on YouTube Here. Watch him discuss how this works with being conservative and still getting elected in NZ, here (at 2.36). (In essence, NZ conservatives don’t need fundamentalist Christian allies. Also, due to NZ’s voting system political Christians find it easier to start new parties than fuse themselves to existing ones. Republican + Religious Right style alliances don’t happen in NZ.)

For an example of how the Bible’s political models don’t automatically lead you to meekness and sweetness, read about Machiavelli’s take on Moses as an ideal leader, including the role of religion in power, in “Moses and Machiavellism” by Steven Marx. Here.

 

 

 

© Under Obvious, 2017.