the right / responsibility of voting

I mentioned that Rich Lowry piece the other day about Sarah Palin’s winks knocking his socks off, and came across this possibly comparable piece by a female writer the other day, about how pictures of male candidates holding babies just makes her melt. She admits pretty much without hesitation that her rational concerns are no longer the point; it’s the look on the little boy’s face.

I tend to be a somewhat overly analytic person. To me, Sarah Palin’s winks were kinda cute in a funny way, but completely inappropriate to the context, so sort of surreal and hilarious and just bizarre. They did not make me like her more, though they didn’t necessarily make me dislike her more. They just made me feel like “what the fuck is going on in this ridiculous country?”

As for that picture of Obama and the gleeful little boy, to me it is very sweet, but that’s the end of it – if not for all the commentary, it would have been an “aww” moment, and then I’d forget about it. I guess if you are already really into Obama it is probably more deeply affecting, but even so, I’m surprised how intensely people seemed to react to it (though I wonder if that’s just the immediacy of the internet, and if they’d even remember it the next day).

All of this reminds me a bit of an article that was in the New Yorker this week; only the abstract is online, but Jill Lepore wrote a piece about the history of voting in America, and how much it has changed in the last couple centuries. In the first election, only 6% of the US population had voting rights – only property-owning men were entrusted with not voting for their own personal gain, but only for the common good – and the entire population of the country was smaller than a lot of contemporary cities. They voted in public, by raising hands or saying names in the town hall, and later by handing in hand-written ballots. This ended up being dangerous as people would attempt to stop each other from getting to polling places, so in the mid-late 19th century, after the vote had been widened to those without property and the freed slaves, we switched to secret ballots…

But things still went through the Electoral College, which was a safety measure that kept the polloi from directly choosing the president. Now we still have the EC but it’s not really meaningful anymore, as we are trying to encourage the polloi to please choose the president. Unfortunately we aren’t encouraging them to become more interested or more educated or more thoughtful when making the choice, and it seems as if a lot of candidates are all too aware of how to use various gimmicks to manipulate them.

Consider how upset FOX news was when an unretouched close-up of Sarah Palin was published by Newsweek: if Ms Palin became Ms Plain, she’d lose her whole draw. But it’s not as if the same thing isn’t going on on Obama’s side… Image is … well, a lot.

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2 Responses to “the right / responsibility of voting”

  1. rushmc Says:

    >>I tend to be a somewhat overly analytic person. To me, Sarah Palin’s winks were kinda cute in a funny way, but completely inappropriate to the context, so sort of surreal and hilarious and just bizarre.

    You sound like you’re implying that there is some sort of problem with this? Would you rather be moved to decision by cynical sentimental manipulations?

  2. drinkme Says:

    no, I was just trying to make a point that I may be somewhat less manipulated by images than whatever percentage of voters it is who identify with these reactions more strongly.

    Hopefully it is a small percentage who actually change their vote based on these things, but I expect a larger percent feel the pull, so if they are wavering, it really could be something like what picture they saw last that makes all the difference, what image they remember.

    …Which isn’t to say that physical and personality characteristics aren’t part of the presidency – I would not try to reduce the job to a list of stated opinions or the DNC / RNC platform or anything. Clearly one’s character and ability to interact with other people plays a role in how a leader brings a nation together, represents a country overseas, etc etc. But image can be manipulated, and there is a difference between a long-lasting, well built charisma that comes from years of real interactions, and a falsely taped together charm that sells something fast but fades under scrutiny.

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