Election 2008: Dissecting Key Buzz Words

The 2008 Election Series:  Article #1

Dissecting Key Buzz Words
Dudley Weeks ©

Unfortunately, election campaigning bears a close resemblance to advertising.  In selling products, advertisers bombard consumers with clever but very simplistic and misleading buzz words, or "hooks", to grab consumers and pressure them to buy a particular brand of soap, automobile, cereal, diaper....the list goes on and on.  In elections, the same tactic is used. 

I believe we who vote have the responsibility to dissect those buzz words, rather than lazily allowing them to define candidates, political parties, and the entire election process.  In the 2008 election, several buzz words have already become the favorites of political advertising.  I will offer a brief dissection of some of the ones I feel are most important.

1.  Buzz Word: "Experience"

I believe the qualifications for effective leadership are measured by what a leader does, not how long he or she has been a leader.  A person who has spent x-number of years in a leadership position making unwise and harmful decisions has experience in being unwise and harmful.   The more years that person has served as a leader, the more "experience" he or she has in using poor leadership judgment.  If a person, regardless of how many years he or she has served as a leader, has evidenced wise judgment, that leader has experience in being wise and constructive.  So ask not how many years a candidate has been a leader, ask what kind of judgment and policies have charactierized that person's leadership experience. 

2.  Buzz Word:  "Values"

"Values" are defined as "standards or principles considered important in life".  As such, every person has values, and every candidate and political party has values,   For any one candidate or party to claim exclusive rights to be called the candidate or party of values is ridiculous and an insult to the intelligence of voters.   A particular candidate or party may not hold the same values a particular voter holds dear, but that does mean that candidate or party is devoid of values or supports anti-value policies.

In dissecting this buzz word, let's focus on a category that is very popular among some political advertisers:  Family Values.  It may have a nice ring to it, a kind of warm and fuzzy ambiance, but what does "Family Values" really mean?  Sadly, a very narrow interpretation restricting Family Values to two main issues has seized center stage during the past fifteen years.  Those issues are a woman's right to choose,  and gay-lesbian rights.  But what about the issues of tax policies that affect middle class and poor families, and education opportunities for our youth, and affordable health care, and employment opportunities for family wage earners, and equal pay for equal work regardless of gender...AND how well the needs of babies born with the "right to life" are served throughout their lives?   A candidate or party's policies on those critical issues relate directly to Family Values.
3.  "Change"

As the wise Confucius said, "If we don't change direction, we will end up where we are headed".  According to every socio-political measuring device, including polls and extensive interviews, the overwhelming majority of Americans believe the country is not headed in a good direction.   In significant ways that is an indictment of George W. Bush's presidency and, to a lesser degree, both Republicans and Democrats in Congress.  It is also a reason both Obama and McCain are trying to seize the title of the "change" candidate.  McCain's record of voting for Bush policies 90% of the time puts him at a credibility  disadvantage in claiming that title, and Sarah Palin's views are also very close to the Bush policies.  However, both  Republicans and Democrats will need to do much more in clarifying what they mean by "change".   Let's dissect this buzz   word a bit.

Nothing in existence is static forever.  Change is always occurring.  Change and adaptation are essential if a physical or social organism is to survive and develop positively in our evolving world.  So any candidate who does not see himself or herself as an instrument for change is going against the natural flow of life on planet Earth.   I suggest the primary litmus test of a candidate's approach toward change has four parts.  One, "What specific changes will you work for?"  Two, "How will you as a leader empower those changes?"  Three, "What resources are required and where and how will you get them?"  And four,  "Why are you the candidate who can build the effective partnerships required to bring about those changes?"
As responsible voters, let's insist on clear, detailed answers to those four questions.

4.  Buzz Word:  "Religious Faith"

We humans are finite creatures living in a complex and unpredictable world.  As such, it is not surprising that many people seek more certainty about existence and turn to a belief in a Supreme Being and religious teachings.  If we look objectively at human history (including, of course, the last several years), it is clear that passionate support of religious beliefs can have both constructive and destructive effects on human society.  Belief in a God and what that God stands for is based on "faith", not on fact or proof.  Even the texts held sacred by religions were written by humans and thus reflect human interpretations of existence.  Beliefs and faith have no boundaries.  They can encompass whatever an individual or group chooses or interprets as "reality".  So it is not surprising that religious faith is highly susceptible to self-serving manipulation.

The danger comes when any individual, group, candidate, political party, nation or religion claims its interpretation of God is the only correct interpretation, and those who disagree are not as fit to be leaders, or are absolutely "wrong", or in the most extreme views, are "evil".  Such a manipulation of religion can, and has many times in history, led leaders to do whatever they desire, then justify their behavior and policies as being "God's will". 

I become concerned when a candidate or political party even remotely uses God and religion as a campaign issue.  When candidates use their religious interpretations to imply that God favors them over others, or that opposing religious interpretations are wrong, then religious faith becomes a self-serving weapon that wounds the American political process and America's effectiveness in the world community.  Candidates who hold religious beliefs as an important part of who they are as people can express those personal beliefs without belittling or claiming superiority over those who hold different views on religion.   

I feel it is quite legitimate to ask candidates why they use religious faith in their campaigns.  I do not presume to know the answers to that question, and that leads me to explore possibilities.   Do they feel a lack of confidence in their policies unless they evoke God's support or try to convince themselves and others that "God is on their side"?  Do they honestly believe God carries a particular flag, or that they have been singularly "chosen" to be the spokesperson for God...and, if so, on what are they basing those assumptions?  Are they trying to get the votes of the more extreme religious elements of the electorate?  Are they unaware of how divisive such campaigning can be, making it much more difficult to create the mutual beneift cooperation so essential to effective leadership, a sustainable society, and a constructive world?   I sincerely seek an understanding of why religion is used in political campaigns. 

Many people will no doubt disagree with my comments on the issue of using religious faith in an election campaign.  In no way am I demeaning anybody's beliefs or faith.  To me, such beliefs are personal.  Yet, when those beliefs contribute to creating destructive division, violence, and casting differing beliefs and people as "lesser" because of those beliefs, then I feel it is a societal and global issue, not just a personal preference.

5. Buzz Word:  "Truth"

Far too often, Truth is a casualty of political campaigns.  Democracy is severely wounded when candidates and parties sacrifice facts and truth at the altar of Winning.  Sadly, voters and the media often allow it to happen, and even encourage it.  Referring back to "values", should not truth and fact be critical values in the political process?   Many political campaigns are teaching our youth that using deception, manipulation of facts, and outright lying are acceptable in the pursuit of victory.  When those patterns are used in family interaction, families suffer and become dysfunctional.  So it could be argued that truth and fact are Family values, too.  To me, it is hypocrisy for a candidate or party to claim support of Family Values yet run a campaign in which truth and fact are violated.

6.  Buzz Word/Phrase:  "The single issue syndrome"

The effectiveness of democratic elections depends in part on an educated electorate taking into account the complete range of a society's needs and priorities, rather than casting votes based only on one or two issues.  Furthermore, effective leadership is never based solely on a leader's stand on one specific issue.

We all know we live in a complex world.  Fittingly, elections are also complex.  Thus, it is not surprising that many citizens try to simplify the decision of which candidate to support by becoming "single issue" voters.  Some people feel so strongly about one issue they even allow themselves to fixate on that issue as defining a candidate.  And, unfortunately, the more sensational and divisive the issue, the more tempting it is to use it as the single issue,  Every citizen is affected by more than one issue, so let's let our votes de determined by that reality.

NOTE:  In subsequent articles in the 2008 Election Series I will offer my assessment of the candidates and various issues.  I know you have your own opinions, and, hopefully, you will share those with me and others.  I believe we all benefit from such dialogue, and from moving beyond simplistic buzz words.


Dudley Weeks


(Copyright 2008: Domestic and international law prohibits the public use of this article without the written permission of the author. Any reprint must bear the author’s name and notice of legal restrictions.}