The incentive system in politics has a structural flaw.
Our elected representatives are aptly named. They represent our values or our policy preferences.
Those representatives are people though; subject to all the perverse flaws that we people have. Sometimes we get stuck with bad apples. The trouble with the political incentive system is that admitting you’ve got one of those bad apples also means admitting, on some level, that the other side was right.
We don’t really win anything in the short term for holding a standard. We don’t get to “fix” our guy. He just goes away. The other side wins. They did after all, spend a lot of time and money telling the world that your candidate wasn’t the one. And now, it turns out they were right.
In today’s environment of identity politics, telling someone they’re wrong means literally telling them that THEY are wrong. Their ethnicity, their religion, their beliefs etc.
It’s not something we’ll admit on our own very often. So we don’t. The sad result is that we’ll tolerate just about anything if we think not tolerating it opens up our side to ceding power.
Some of this is new. Some of it isn’t. What we tolerate, is our standard. Ours is pretty low right now.
Being caught in a lie isn’t really enough to get rid of someone today. To be fair, that’s always been a slippery slope in politics. I’ve used this analogy before. So, I risk a bit of repetition. I just don’t have a better one.
When it comes to political honesty, Americans have always had the kids pool party approach to our standards.
No one ever uses the bathroom at that party. You know what’s going on in the pool. But if anyone ever stands on the side of the pool and takes to wiz into it, everyone has to get out. As it is with lying politicians and pool parties, there’s something about deniability that enables the process.
We assume things like our politicians being in the pockets of special interest. As long as it’s our special interests, we’re ok with it.
Outright criminal activity used to be a no-no. That’s even starting to get a little wobbly too.
It’s getting tough to disqualify someone.
After the 2016 presidential election, I openly wondered exactly what would have to happen for modern political stalwarts to abandon a candidate. After Donald Trump said a half dozen things that would have disqualified him in previous elections, he won the Republican primary by a landslide. And then he won every conservative state by just as much in the general.
The disqualifying answer I came up with for that mental exercise was irrefutable proof of predatory sexual behavior with minors.
I thought that was pretty sound ground. Now I’m not so sure.
42% of Alabama Voters think Roy Moore should represent their state in the United States Senate. That number comes from a poll taken after a Washington Post article sourced dozens of people with knowledge of Roy Moore’s habit of preying on teenage girls as young as 14.
Prior to the article, the number was 48%.
That means that if you get eight Alabama Roy Moore supporters in a room, seven didn’t care that credible evidence that he molested a child has been presented to them.
More have come forward since. So this may change.
If that’s surprising to you, then you haven’t read much history.
I’m not going to pile on the state of Alabama. I lived there for a year. And I found the people friendly and welcoming. The political machine there has been centuries in the making though. Alabama, like other deep southern states is a low wage, low regulation, low educational investment state.
The political power structure is set up to emphasize authority of the ruling class and the maintenance of the status quo.
In Alabama, that means white male authority rules the day.
Generally speaking, Alabama hasn’t responded well to outside influences to challenge that. The rallying cry that the Alabama voters will “see through” the coastal elite conspiracy against Roy Moore is the same one shouted northward at abolitionists, re-constructionists and federal efforts to end segregation.
George Wallace who stood on a platform and declared “segregation forever” in his first inauguration speech was Governor of Alabama as recently as 1987.
The point isn’t Alabama’s response to Roy Moore. The response to Roy Moore in Alabama is the least surprising thing I’ve heard in a while. And the problem that’s growing in America isn’t Alabama. Alabama is the same as it’s ever been.
There’s a new problem.
The problem is that the campaign to discredit any parts of the media that stand up to the current administration has had a powerful effect. The distrust in a well sourced piece of journalism that has since been corroborated by what seems like endless sources as a “fake news” conspiracy is a problem.
The result is that the “outsiders” in the age old mindset that we Americans don’t respond well to outsiders telling us what’s what is now too commonly the free press.
That’s a tough way to run a democracy.