Friday, June 22, 2012

elections, issues, and the metonymy of loathing

I coined a term, "the metonymy of loathing," to refer to a common phenomenon, in which a person names an easy-to-name unlikeable thing about someone as a way of criticizing some other thing about them. So, you say, "That fat bitch stole my earrings," when the woman's weight had nothing to do with her thievery. Or, you say, "Wanna hurry up there, Fabio?" to the cashier whose lack of hustle has nothing to do with his tanned muscles or long hair.

We see it all the time in politics. People who generally agreed with George W. Bush's policies had a fairly normal reaction to his verbal blunders: they shook their heads, joked about it, shrugged it off. People who generally disagreed with his policies often had a different reaction: they pounced, calling him an "idiot," taking the joking to the level of criticism. Part of this is because once you've been labeled you've been labeled. During the 2000 election campaign, Al Gore made lots of blunders and grammatical errors; George Bush said lots of things that were distorted, exaggerated, or outright false; but those things slid off like teflon, because Gore was the one branded a liar and Bush was the one branded an idiot. Everything they said that confirmed those labels stuck; the rest didn't.

Meanwhile, naturally, the real criticism that a liberal would have of Bush is that he was too conservative; the incredible attention given to his misstatements was just an example of the metonymy of loathing. Why do we do this? In general, we vote for a presidential candidate who reflects our overall philosophy of government better than the other real candidate. But rarely do we admit that. I know people who could very well have said, "I think Clinton is too liberal for my taste. Even with his centrist positions on most issues, tightening up on government spending and all that, he's still a Democrat, and therefore answerable to Democratic leaders and voters in a way I'm not comfortable with. I'd always vote for a Republican." But I rarely heard that. I did hear what a horrible husband he was and that, since a cheater is a cheater, anyone who cheats on his wife should never be the leader of our country; I heard that from people who I know voted for John McCain.

A gay group has just announced their support for Mitt Romney, further proving how true it is that we vote for overall philosophy rather than single issues. To their credit, the gay group, GOProud, is quite straightforward about the fact that that's the nature of their support.

As with fattie and Fabio, the metonymy of loathing is not healthy or productive.

There are many reasons not to vote for Obama that have nothing to do with whether he wears a flag pin or shakes hands the right way or gets a funny expression on his face or is a devout Muslim atheist. The reason you'll be voting for Romney, if you will be, is that Obama is a Democrat, and Romney, a Republican, is the better overall choice for you.

Likewise, there are many reasons not to vote for Romney that have nothing to do with how much money he has or what his wife said or whether he seems like a robot or where he put his dog carrier. The reason you'll be voting for Obama, if you will be, is that Romney is a Republican and therefore answerable to Republican leaders and voters in a way you're not comfortable with, and Obama, a Democrat, is the better overall choice for you.

Naturally, if there were 30 Presidential candidates, 30 real choices, the likelihood is that you'd vote for the one that matches you better than either of these would: the one who's strong on defense but thinks we're wasting money on the war on drugs, or the one who's a fiscal conservative but believes that government can and should have an effective role in things, or the one who would get out of Afghanistan and Iraq entirely but would push to repeal Roe v Wade. Or all the above. These issues aren't package deals. But the fact is that these issues do come packaged in various combinations every four years, and most of us rather reluctantly vote for the candidate we least disagree with. Local and state politics are a whole different story, and our voting patterns are and should be different for them, but these are just the plain facts for Presidential politics.

This political season, I challenge you to be straightforward about why you're voting the way you vote.


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