Not surprisingly, many voters who cast their ballots for Barack Obama for president had no idea what he believed, what his voting record was or what his priorities would be as president. The YouTube videos showing voters’ ignorance during the just-completed election would be hilarious if they were not so sad. The “Emperor” leading the presidential polls had no clothes, but who would speak out? The nation’s opinion leaders threw up smoke screens that protected the public from the reality. The media certainly was not going to expose the nakedness of its crown prince. His opposition kept looking the other way. The cheering crowds clothed him to suit their individual preferences.
I watched the third and final debate in dismay. We tuned in to CNN because they carried an on-screen chart to display the reactions of 25-30 uncommitted voters set up backstage who had agreed to indicate their minute-by-minute reactions to the two candidates’ remarks by turning a dial to indicate their degree of positive or negative response to the comments of the presidential candidates. We discovered that the more emotional the comment, the higher positive response of the uncommitted voters. The more measured and reasonable the candidates’ statements, the more negative the voters’ responses. It was a riveting phenomenon that was scary in its implications — the public didn’t want to hear reasoned argument; they wanted platitudes that made them feel good.
During this election, Barack Obama said lots to make the public feel good. He made promises couched in vague language that could mean anything that the listener wanted them to mean. He used words like “change” and “hope;” he promised tax cuts to 95 percent of Americans — a promise that was ludicrous and impossible to fulfill, but people fell for it. He spoke one way in front of liberal audiences and another way in front of conservative ones. He learned the language of evangelicalism and he spoke it fluently when it served his purposes. People with diametrically opposite points of view came away from his rallies convinced that Obama agreed with their position on the issues.
Obama’s charisma and his rhetoric about “change” clearly mesmerized voters, as did the fact that he is a charming, articulate African-American family man whose election signals dramatic changes in the racial climate of a nation that is tired of racial tension and cultural division.