Sunday, April 05, 2015

The Invisible Political Issue of 2016

If you read this blog, you know that every few years, I like to place bets not only on who is running for President of the United States, but why they're going to win or lose. This year is no different. The names might change, but the dynamics will pretty much remain the same.

But before we get into the personalities, it's worth taking some time to understand the structure of the game.

In every national election, there may be a few major, well-publicized political issues (gay marriage, immigration, climate change, the national economy, jobs, etc.) but there is always at least one invisible issue that never really gets discussed in the media. In 2008, for example, while everyone argued the standard topics in debates, the invisible issue of 2008 was far more powerful but never articulated:

America was fed up with Bush and Cheney and just about anyone who was white, male and older than their first cell phone. This is why the Democrats produced two of the most non-Bush characters they could find: Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. This is also why John McCain was never really in contention: America viewed him as Bush's third term (Sarah Palin was simply the final nail in the coffin). In 2008, the invisible issue that nobody ever articulated was Anyone But Bush.

That was then. This is now. The same invisible issue theory applies, only this time out, it's not personal. It's philosophical. No matter how you may feel about them, the Obama policy of politically correct inclusiveness, while perhaps noble in spirit, is the main issue which will influence how Americans vote.

Hear me out. It's not what you think.

It's not that Americans are against issues like gay marriage, immigration or multi-racial representation -- nobody had a problem electing a black president twice. By the same token, Americans have not only tolerated illegal immigration, they've come to rely on it. And when the military openly accepted gays in service, there wasn't much protest. Most people accepted it as the natural conclusion to what Harry Truman started when he desegregated the armed forces in the early 1950s.

The real issue bothering Americans is that they see themselves constantly and consistently being imposed upon to accept others' beliefs and practices rather than expecting those with foreign beliefs and practices to conform to our own. They don't oppose those beliefs and practices, they just expect those with foreign beliefs and practices to be less resolute and more willing to adapt them as part of their embrace of America. Case in point would be muslim women refusing to remove their veils on state identification cards requiring facial photos. Or filing suit because one can't wear religious gear while on the job. It's not that Americans object to yarmulkes or burqas; it's more that most Americans can recall an ancestor who had to adapt his own language, customs and practices so that they fit squarely into America's traditional philosophy of acceptance.

Many Americans now feel like a welcoming host whose house guests have overstayed their welcome. Laws, codes, lawsuits and the media skew viewers' perceptions by featuring "those who are different" acting selfishly, as if entitled to impose their foreign beliefs on good-hearted, hard working citizens. Regardless of how true that may or may not be, it's reinforced every day on talk radio and every night on the national news -- and Americans are tired of it. They're angry. They feel that while they're accommodating everyone else, nobody is accommodating them.

Don't let this confuse you into thinking voters want an old, white man back in the White House (although I can easily see someone dumbing it down to that level). Americans are plenty sick of the 535 members of Congress, the majority of whom fit that description. But until and unless a candidate can and does articulate this issue, the American electorate is going to make two huge mistakes:

1. Conservatives are going to present someone who looks like their values as someone who shares those values. This means conservatives will come out swinging their bibles and ranting against anyone whose philosophies and values can be framed as "non-American." They'll misread the Constitution and leverage Americans' frustrations in an effort to avoid the real issue.

2. Liberals are going to make the same mistake on the other side: They'll bring out someone to attack the Conservatives as racist and depend on shallow knee-jerk reactions in order to scare the population into thinking that Adolf Hitler is is about to invade their neighborhoods.

The candidate who can clearly articulate the real invisible issue is the one most likely to take the prize. That means it has to be someone who knows how to convey the American balance of freedom against the perception of non-traditional/foreigners' entitlements. That's not an easy trick. Then again, nobody's ever really tried it.

It's so much easier to incite fear than it is to build trust.


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