There is only one subject I find more fascinating than politics: psychology.
Some of us spend so much of our time focused on the candidates or those elected to public office, yet we barely scratch the surface when it comes to examining the people beyond the headlines and the hype.
Who are those people? You and me, the people in the streets.
At the risk of being redundant to the extreme, I find myself falling back again to the words of Henry David Thoreau: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”
My rather loose, modern-day translation?
The masses (you and me) tend to operate on a day-to-day hamster wheel of human obligations: family commitments, jobs and financial security, concerns about the future and the occasional circus: The Red Sox, rock n’ roll or watching Honey Boo-Boo.
The masses crave bread and circuses. And abundance of both typically leads to a sense of apathy when it comes to politics.
This dynamic was true in the days of Caesar, and it has changed little today.
An abundance of bread and circuses allows us the luxury of ignoring the machinations of the political class. But take away the bread or the circuses, and all hell can break loose pretty quickly.
You’re dumb, I’m smart
I spent the better part of this weekend representing one of my clients at the annual Maine Snowmobile Show in Augusta.
As it is every year, statewide political candidates attend the show to press flesh and talk to prospective voters. In about a year, Maine voters will choose the state’s next governor. Today, there are three leading candidates: Republican Paul LePage, the incumbent seeking a second term; Democrat Mike Michaud, a member of Congress; and Independent Candidate Eliot Cutler, who is making a second attempt to live in the Blaine House.
I had the opportunity to speak with all three candidates this weekend. These were brief, perfunctory interactions. Like them, I was there in a professional capacity so — of course — those conversations were limited, professional and cordial.
Because I was working, I did not have the opportunity to follow any of the candidates through the show or to observe all of their interactions with other exhibitors and attendees.
Thus, my observations were anecdotal and certainly limited; but I was able to observe the candidates from a decent vantage point and had the luxury of hearing public reactions long after each of the candidates left the civic center.
I began to wonder about the motivations of those who support LePage, Michaud or Cutler. What makes those people tick? What drives their political preferences? Why do they react positively to one candidate and not the other?
I got some answers to those questions only a few moments after I posted a photo of me and Governor LePage. The reaction from my “friends” was equally swift and clear.
Posting that photo on my Facebook page caused a visceral reaction that brutally revealed a harsh reality.
The angels want to wear my red shoes
One man who I consider to be a close friend made his assessment of the photo with just a pithy comment: “Maybe 100 total IQ points right there.”
Honestly, that comment stung. Without any other context offered, my friend was speculating that Maine’s governor and I had a combined IQ of 100 points, literally translated: on average, the governor and I have a respective IQ of 50 points, meaning that neither of us would be able to function at even the most basic level.
My friend’s comment was endorsed by a couple other Facebook “friends.”
These very same people will be among the first to bemoan a sorry state of political discourse or to champion “civility” and a bi-partisan approach.
Take this to its obvious conclusion: Governor LePage is stupid and so are the people who support him or even those who have the temerity to be photographed standing next to him.
Further commentary on this photo ranged from those who said they would “vomit” if they were within a few feet of the governor to another friend’s description of LePage as a “useless turd.”
What causes such a visceral reaction? Why do people react with such emotion? I suspect it is motivated by fear.
Make no mistake. We see this same dynamic on the political right. Just mentioning President Obama’s name in the wrong crowd can ignite a bonfire of emotion and even asinine comparisons to Adolph Hitler.
A while back I wrote a piece about Sarah Palin and her appeal to so many of my fellow Americans.
When we dismiss Sarah Palin, especially when we run off the rails and make fun of her penchant for shopping at Wal-Mart, her religious beliefs or her love of hunting, NASCAR or her limited education, we are subconsciously pointing the same critical finger at the millions of those who are undeniably loyal to her.
Democrats bemoan the loss of moderate Republicans (code: Republicans who tend to support Democrats).
John McCain was described by the left as an honest, independent maverick who exemplified the proud, glorious and bygone days of a better GOP – – – right up until the day he was selected as the GOP’s nominee to take on Barack Obama in 2008.
Hands down, Governor LePage received the warmest reception at this weekend’s snowmobile show. It was not universal, but it was clear and undeniable. People flocked to him, offering hugs and encouragement.
Whether you like it or can admit it, the 2014 gubernatorial race will be a battle for the political center.
Democrats are at a disadvantage, just as they were in 2010, because their own party is divided between two candidates. The Maine Democratic Party needs a major win in 2014, especially since they were crushed by an “independent” candidate in last year’s senate race.
Democrats would be well-served to better understand LePage’s appeal to those who they routinely dismiss. There are plenty of reasons to vote against LePage, but they also need some even better reasons to vote for Michaud. Otherwise, they can expect the same results we saw three years ago.