Elections have many features that overlap with a psychological investigation. The life history of the candidate is increasingly revealed as the their campaign unfolds. Debates between candidates not only exposes how they think, but also how they are likely to function under stress. The announcement of a winner reveals the humility of the winner and grace of the loser(s). Voters are able to analyze the behavior of each candidate across many situations and points in time. Voters hope to gain an insight into the candidates as they are, rather than the image they would like to project.
Not surprisingly, this sort of behavioral analysis is not unique to elections. It is a microcosm of how humans evaluate other humans. Evaluating candidates, however, is much more difficult than merely judging one’s peers. Most people are not represented by a public relations firm in their daily lives. Most people do not receive specialist advice on how to mold their image. Most people do not have helpers that distribute the molded image to the public. Most of us have to muddle through life with an image that pleases many and angers some. It may be a fine way to make friends, but it is a sure way to lose an election.
The image molders are the corporate entities commonly known as political parties. In America, we have many political parties, but only two of them actually produce elected officials. In effect, these two parties are factories that manufacture candidates. The other parties are akin to boutique shops that produce specialty items. They are unique and special, but not fit for mass consumption. The big factories call the shots, and are quite habituated to their position. The question is whether these factories produce items that are useful to America, or merely the factory where they were manufactured. Moreover, each factory has eyed the other for so long, that their products are difficult to tell apart. If a winning candidate has three arms, the other factory is sure to produce an array of three armed candidates.
The preeminent goal of these candidate factories is to win elections. The candidate factories make all decisions as regards their products; how they will be constructed, how they will be advertised, and how they will be fit into their product line. All product decisions must take into account the other factory’s product line. Competing products must be constantly monitored for new features and styles. The factories are locked in an endless battle for supremacy, yet frustratingly, neither factory ever manages to gain a significant advantage over the other. Each factory is afraid the other will become dominant. Fear is the music that has played throughout this one hundred and fifty year dance.
Much of what is called group dynamics is motivated by fear. Competition is less about aggression than fear. Each factory is afraid the other will become dominate, they are afraid of a poor public image, and they are afraid of losing their jobs. If just one factory dominates the national agenda, it may have implications that last generations. More importantly, the factory directors may lose control of the national agenda, and that is their worst nightmare. They are afraid of losing power. Power has always been the flip-side of the political coin. Power is heads and fear is tails.
The desire for power and the emotion of fear are powerful vectors of behavior. They play a strong role in everyday group dynamics, but are the sine qua non of war. Other motives at play in the young factories have been stripped away in the course of their development. What remains are the ingredients for war. Not war in the sense of physical annihilation, rather war in the sense of victory at any cost. Those who work for and identify with each factory find themselves separated by their fear of the other, and their desire to control the competition. Neighboring towns begin to align themselves with one factory or the other. Middle positions are no longer tolerated. Are you with us or against us?
The truly pathetic feature of this war is that the factories that maintain and escalate the conflict are completely unnecessary. Their products are not only useless, but eschewed by most consumers. People continue to identify with a particular factory out of fear the other will dominate, and the factories are not ignorant of how to exploit this fear. People in this war have ceased to ask if the products are needed, and purchase them merely to offset the purchases made by the other side. Most importantly, what is purchased from the factory is in actuality readily available and free to all. It’s like spending dollars to purchase a pint of water in a bottle when pennies purchase gallons from the faucet. Who would do something like that?