NEGATIVE MOTIVATION

Posted in Rants on December 21st, 2015 by Ed

Every argument about the presidential election on the internet follows one of two courses. The first is the bullet train to Fantasy Land, with references to bizarre conspiracy theories, inaccurate reconstructions of history, and predictions of things that will never, ever happen. The second is the Let's Be Realistic track, wherein people defend positions that cannot be defended on their merits by appealing to being "practical" or "pragmatic."

Whenever a person describes him- or herself as a realist, they are doing something they know to be wrong and of which they are ashamed. That's a free life lesson.

You'll notice this regularly in conversations about the Democratic nomination this year, and to a lesser extent back in 2008 when Obama started out as a nobody (albeit one with considerably more obvious "electability" than 75 year old Bernie Sanders). Every argument in favor of Hillary Clinton, once stripped of the fallacy that she is distinguishable on most major economic issues from Mitt Romney and that her new-found social liberalism was not determined by focus group three or four years beyond the point at which it was deemed electorally "safe" to take those positions, boils down to "Well, you have to vote for her." If you don't, you're electing President Trump! Remember Nader? Remember Hitler? Why do you want to elect Hitler?

The strange thing is that I don't disagree with this logic. I, and millions of others, will vote for Hillary Clinton simply because the alternative is even worse. This speaks directly to the problem at the core of American politics, though. It is very difficult to get anybody interested in, let alone excited about, a process in which we are constantly reminding them that they have to participate to pick between two things they don't like and choose the one that they dislike less. Does the Clinton campaign really hope to fire up the voting base with semi-authoritarian appeals that everyone to the left of Glenn Beck is essentially obligated to vote for her? Regardless of how "practical" or pragmatic that may be, does it sound like a winning message to you?

What are the reasons to vote for Hillary Clinton? There appears to be one: she can most likely beat any of the shaved apes the GOP is considering as a nominee right now. That's it. Vote for her not because she is good or honest or trustworthy or makes us believe something better about ourselves and our nation, but because she has statistically higher odds of winning the November election than the Democratic alternatives.

I'm not saying that's incorrect. I'm saying it's pathetic, and it goes a long way toward explaining why the campaigns across the political spectrum have to struggle mightily to get half of eligible adults to show up to vote in our most publicized and high-profile election every four years. Imagine you were told that you couldn't cheer for your favorite football team, but could only root for the Chicago Bears to lose every week and support whoever they happened to be playing at the moment. How motivated would you be to devote your time and money to attending games? That would start to feel pointless and boring pretty quickly, and more than a little soul-crushing.