The Campaign Spot

We the Sheeple?

The good folks at The Daily, the new iPad-only publication from Rupert Murdoch, asked me to write an item, and so I offered these thoughts about the increasingly ubiquitous term “Sheeple.”

What’s striking about the knee-jerk dismissal of the majority of voters as bleating sheep is that if you believe this assessment, then you must believe that somehow in the course of the elections of 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010, the same electorate somehow veered between wise and stupid, sharp-minded and easily manipulated, and even extremes of nobility and racism.

If you’re on the right, you think the electorate wisely found John Kerry wanting as a wartime leader in 2004, suddenly forgot all about that issue in 2006, became putty in the hands of a smooth-talking Pied Piper in 2008 and then somehow snapped back to reality and sober judgment in 2010. If you’re on the left, the country was swept up by wartime jingoistic fervor in 2004, suddenly recognized the GOP culture of corruption in 2006, ushered in a bright new era of hope and change in 2008 and then suddenly reverted to a bunch of cranky, selfish hicks who refuse to contribute to the common good in 2010.

Somehow the electorate only seems stupid when they vote for our opponents.

While few of us have too hard a time running into voters we believe are stupid, it’s probably politically unhealthy to believe that voters in general or as a whole are stupid. Think about the dumbing-down of rhetoric, the oversimplification of issues, the implausible dodges and spins one reverts to when one thinks the audience is stupid. Yet talking down to voters rarely works, because it’s hard for a candidate to hide an arrogant belief that he’s so much smarter and better than those he seeks to lead. What’s more, when a candidate tries to talk down to an audience instead of explaining things as he would to people as sophisticated as he sees himself, the lack of authenticity shows. A lot of voters can tell when someone’s talking down to them, and unsurprisingly, they don’t like it.

Have a little faith in voters, candidates.

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