I sat propped up in my bed, with some Main Moon fried rice getting cold on my bedside table, staring at the CNN Tea Party debate. We were at least 40 minutes in, and the rhetoric was in full swing. It was about the time when people in the audience yelled out, "Ya, let him die!" in response to a question about an ill 30-year-old without health insurance, that I threw my hands up in the air.
"Where are all the moderates?" I thought to myself. With the exception of Jon Huntsman and maybe Rep. Ron Paul (though moderate may not be the exact word for him), all the republican presidential candidates are so far right, they make Ronald Reagan look like a hippie. On the other side, when Barack Obama ran for president, he was sitting on one of the most liberal voting records in the U.S. Senate. The extremes of both sides seem to be controlling our politics. I mean, a choice between Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann isn't really much of a choice.
A lot of Americans seem to feel this way. In almost every poll you look at, Americans want more compromise within our government. Angry gripes about candidate choices and a lack of a third party candidate have spurred a new website – americanselect.org – to give voters another option in the 2012 election. And so we, the American public, throw our hands up in despair that for some reason, our politics are more derisive and our elections lack a moderate voice.
Yet how can we complain about these people when we voted them into office? As I pondered this over cold Chinese, I realized: it's our own fault. We, as voters, have created this environment. A paper published in Psychological Science recently tells us that emotions play a huge role in voters' choice of a candidate. Specifically, the paper demonstrates that angry voters tend to rely on vague, general information that makes them easy to persuade through broad, emotionally-charged statements.Politicians know this. It is much easier for a politician to get you angry about something and then use broad emotional statements in their campaign than to actually have a rational discussion with you. And yet, we, as voters, eat it up.
Take the tea party, for example. The entire group was created because everyone in it is angry about something. The republicans can then use that anger, instead of having a reasonable, rational discussion, to promote their down-homey qualities and their love of America. Or take Obama in the 2008 election. He got you mad about George W. Bush and then fed you "Hope" and "Change." Why would a politician do their homework and come up with real ideas that might work when they can just fire up the American populace so they eat up how great that politician is?
This cycle continues throughout America, in all elections, with both democrats and republicans. It is out of this cycle that we get people applauding for the execution of hundreds and calls for the death of hypothetical thirty year olds without health insurance. We, as Americans, instead of demanding rational debate and thoughtful solutions, would rather be fed half-truths to get our blood boiling. We would rather see a commercial with a candidate shaking voters' hands in front of the American flag with the "Star-Spangled Banner" playing, than a commercial listing specific policy points to solve our economic dilemma. And yet, consistently, we lie to ourselves. We tell ourselves that, no, we really do want compromise, we really do want more moderate candidates.
We, as voters, want to feel. We don't want to think, and until we change that, we have only ourselves to blame for the political mess in which we find ourselves.