Our Choice: Honest Enemies or Phony Friends

Matt Lewis
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Posted: Nov 12, 2007 12:28 PM
Republican voters this cycle -- the ones who are paying attention, at least -- face a major dilemma that isn't about any of the usual choices.  This year's decision has little to do with arguments such as a new generation versus an older one -- electability versus idealism -- or even the usual left vs right ideological split ...

Instead, absent a true Ronald Reagan conservative heir, we are asked to choose between two unusual alternative types of candidates:  Honest enemies and phony friends.  (Of course, I'm exaggerating, a bit.  Our honest enemies aren't always honest -- and they aren't always our enemies.  And our phony friends aren't always phony, and aren't always friendly. But you get the idea...)

It occurs to me this is a psychological decision that has more to do with ones experience in making bad choices, rather than a desire to advance any one policy decision.  This, of course, is unfortunate.  But that's life.  So how will we muddle through?

The argument for embracing an honest enemy is that ... well, they are honest

If you're inclined to be persuaded by the argument that, "At least you know where so-and-so stands" -- then you are probably going to end up supporting a candidate who has been in favor of any number of bad policy decisions over the years, but is at least up-front about many of them.  "Hey," you might say, "at least he's honest!"  (The implication is that if he's honest about the things he disagrees with you on, he will also be honest about the things he actually agrees with you on, too).

... Of course, this sort of truth in advertising rarely works.  But sometimes being brutally honest is the sneakiest thing you can do, as was the case in the "Volvo, boxy but good" advertising campaign in the fictitious movie, Crazy People...

It strikes me that most cynical reporter-types and pseudo-intellectuals might come down on this side of the aisle.  But who knows, it could have a populist appeal, too ...

Conversely, Republican voters may instead choose to vote for a phony friend -- someone who is merely telling them what they want to hear.  There are two logical compelling reasons to do such a thing:

1.  You believe it's okay for a candidate to pretend they agree with you, so long as they are flip-flopping your way (accepting this implies you either believe the conversion was sincere, or do not believe the flip-flopper has the guts or ability to turn on your side.  This is also the same logic that allows someone to marry the person they cheated with).

2.  You admire someone who is at least willing to placate you.  After all, you may say, if a candidate is not sincerely going to agree with me, you might as well have the decency of at least pretending they do ...

... Of course, it is unlikely most voters will consciously weigh any of these arguments when making their primary decisions.  Instead, these decisions are usually made based on experience and "gut" instinct.  Some voters may also argue the phony friends are actually true friends, or that the honest enemies aren't really enemies -- but either case is probably, at best, wishful thinking.  As such, whether or not we admit it, I believe many of us will be wrestling with the phony friends vs. honest enemies question internally.

So who will win?  If human nature remains true, I'd put my money on the guy who tells us what we want to hear.