Some of you are old enough to remember the Bush (the Elder)/Dukakis debates, when they were both asked if they would be willing to raise taxes in order to cut the deficit. Governor Dukakis said, "We're both going to raise taxes, the only difference between us is that he'll lie about it." Vice President Bush famously said, "Read. My. Lips: No! New! Taxes!" And then, exactly as predicted, went on to sign into law one of the three largest packages of tax-increase legislation in American history. It may even have ended up being bigger than anything Michael Dukakis would have approved. And yes, some cranky people held it against the first President Bush that he broke his word, but the fact that remains is this. The American people are even more cynical about their politicians than the facts warrant; they had no reason to doubt that George H.W. Bush was lying to them about his intention to not raise their taxes. But that was okay with them: they wanted to be lied to.
I think that maybe the American people know for a fact that government budgets at every level of government are so out of whack that taxes are going to have to go up. But that doesn't change the fact that they want someone to promise them that it won't happen. I think that maybe the American people understand, deep down, that the fossil record shows flat-out that the Biblical account of creation just isn't true. But that doesn't change the fact that they want to be told otherwise, and even more so they react to the idea of schools telling children the Bible is wrong the way they would react if schools made it a policy to tell kids the truth about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. I think that maybe the American people know that cops and financial institutions systematically screw over black American families in ways that they don't screw over white American families, but they still want to be told that there is no racism in America, that race is problem we solved a generation ago. I'm almost completely certain that vast majorities of the American public know full well that a ban on abortion won't stop abortions, and that abstinence-only education is why America has the highest out-of-wedlock birth rate and the highest teen pregnancy rate in all of western civilization, but they still want to be told that abortion can be stopped and that telling teenagers not to have sex is all we need to do. I think they know, they can't not know, that our health care system is a wreck, even if they don't know the actual ranking (19th in the world); they still want to be told that the American health care system is the #1 best in the world.
And, come to think of it, I already know why, too.
See, I long ago got my nose rubbed in the fact that there are two competing views in American society of what a code of morality means. For a while, I thought it was a crazy vs. sane thing. When I found out otherwise, I suspected it was a social-class based thing. When I found out I was wrong about that, I concluded that no, it's just a cultural thing, something that runs in families, just as some families are shouters and some are deeply afraid of open displays of anger. Anyway, the divide is this. Some people believe that when you adopt, and state, a code of morality that that code is a sacred promise that you are making to yourself, to your family, to society. They believe that if you fall short of your sworn code of morality, it may be a sin that God can forgive, but it is a sin against yourself that you should never forgive. They (we) believe that you should hold it against yourself for the rest of your life that you knew better, promised better, and did whatever it was anyway. On the other hand, there are people who believe that no matter how high or low you set your moral standards, you're going to break them some of the time. To them, a moral code is not so much a set of promises as a set of aspirations. Which means that to them, it's not really fair to judge someone by how often they fail to live up to their own moral code (or society's). Why not? Because they sincerely believe that everybody breaks their own moral code roughly equally often, that the only thing that conceals this fact is that some people are just lucky enough or sneaky enough to hide it better when they do. Believing this, they judge people, morally, by what they promise to do, by what they say that they're going to do. Why? Because they believe that the people who promise more are the ones who will try harder.
Not that I have the slightest idea what to do with this, tactically or strategically. I just find it interesting.