Despite living in an increasingly disenchanted world, we seem to be in the grips of a global epidemic of naivety. People are far too easily seduced by exalted words and fine sentiments, and the result is a lot of severely dysfunctional relationships.
No, this is not a column about dating -- it's about electoral politics -- although the dynamics are exactly the same. People often seek to align their votes with their ideals -- and end up getting bamboozled. Before they know it, they're actually enabling even more dumb choices by those who suckered them in the first place. It's political Stockholm syndrome.
If you were dating someone for a week and that person proclaimed you to be the love of his or her life and promised you the world, would you believe it? Only someone desperate or gullible would, right? A more rational approach is to test a relationship over time, to approach ardor and wild promises with healthy skepticism.
So then why are people so easily hoodwinked by politicians who talk this way? I'm really not sure how else to explain the popularity, in the wake of the Iowa primaries, of candidates like Sens. Bernie Sanders or Ted Cruz.
If Sanders, a Democrat who avows being a democratic socialist, showed up in Russia and asked to join President Vladimir Putin's United Russia party, I suspect that he'd be reminded that the Soviet Union already tried his brand of thinking and it didn't work out very well. A lifelong professional activist, Sanders has a lot of free stuff built into his platform. I see a lot of spending and not much in the way of plans to create more wealth to pay for it all.
Meanwhile, Cruz, a Republican, says that he wants to "restore leadership on the global stage" while he simultaneously badmouths Putin -- who is now doing the heavy lifting against the Islamic State in Syria -- as a "KGB thug." Cruz believes that getting America more deeply involved in Syria and Iraq isn't a good idea. He told The Economist that "America's armed forces shouldn't serve as 'al-Qaida's air force.' " While some may be impressed by such words, in practice this kind of rhetoric works about as well as: "You look fat in that dress. Would you care to buy me dinner?"
Cruz reminds me of the guy whose text messages I blocked after a date in which he was oblivious to the fact that he contradicted himself at least four times in his effort to impress me. The fact that there were enough Iowans this week who were keen to "put a ring" on this rhetorical mess in the caucuses is puzzling.
In Europe, the focus on rhetoric over pragmatism has led to security and demographic problems so severe that urgent action is needed even make a dent in resolving them. But if you think Europe's political class has since awoken, you'd be wrong.
Germany and other European countries have been flooded by refugees and by opportunists posing as such -- to the point where elected officials and intelligence services have now outright admitted that Islamic State fighters have exploited Europe's open door to smuggle in terrorist sleeper cells. And we've already witnessed widespread reports of migrants attacking European women and committing crimes.
For months, no one dared credit the common-sense warnings that these problems could arise if refugees were admitted in great numbers. The nice words and thoughts related to the humanitarian aspect of the migrant phenomenon somehow prevented a whole lot of people from being able to foresee the darker repercussions.
According to the Financial Times, the European Commission is actually considering scrapping the requirement that asylum applications be limited to the first country of refuge. This is another case in which politicians fail to foresee how the migrant problem could be further spread throughout Europe like a metastasized cancer.
Meanwhile, despite having at least reinstated its borders, France is now trying to contend with an internal enemy. It is debating ridiculous propositions like stripping terrorists of citizenship. To be punished in this way, the terrorists must first be dual nationals, and then they must be convicted of terrorism -- which is hard to do after they've blown themselves up. Why do people even bother to engage in this exercise in intellectual self-flagellation?
When citizens satisfy themselves with high-minded but empty rhetoric, and elected officials echo these vaunted ideals to silence dissenting voices, nations will find themselves locked in a death spiral. If the rest of us don't more aggressively point this problem out, we may very well go down with them.