The Strangers Living Inside Us

It’s been said that as of today the two presidential campaigns have already hosted more benefits, netted more cash, spent more money, and generated more ads, gaffes, halve-truths, and disinformation than all the campaigns of the 20th C combined. And this is only June.

But while newspapers unleash their shrewdest editorialists and cable channels uncage their most shrewish pundits, the American voters may not actually need to understand all these facts. Because in every campaign since Jefferson vs Adams in 1800, feelings not facts have been the real keys to the White House front door. Besides, we’ve been advised recently we probably couldn’t fully understand either the facts or the feelings even if we tried.

Several researchers have explained it this way. There is a stranger living inside us. The brain. An organ which, contrary to years of campaign expertise, tends to function without seriously checking in with us. Best selling books like ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ by Daniel Kahneman and ‘How Your Unconscious Rules Your Behavior’ by Leonard Miodinow appear to be saying our brains often act before we think. Call it impulse, intuition, instinct, but for heavens sake don’t call it what it isn’t:Thinking.

In tandem with the stranger that is our brain there is the stranger that is our genes. Jonathan Haidt, ‘The Righteous Mind,’ is among those who find our genes actively at work shaping our political behaviors often without our knowledge. He speaks for many today: “Genes contribute to just about every aspect of our personalities. We’re not just talking about IQ and basic traits such as shyness….Whether you end up on the right or the left of the political spectrum turns out to be just as heritable as most other traits.”

Are today’s well-funded campaign machines being sufficiently oiled by today’s brain-and-gene research? The candidates are still pumping hands, hugging babies, and catering to special interest audiences as they have for generations. And yet, it’s not hard to imagine their profilers and vetters working hard to calibrate this brain-and-gene research into their plans between now and November.

If we actually are captives of some biological determinism in that neural world known as the brain, and if we are also at times the result of some genetic functioning of our neurotransmitters, how might Mr Obama’s and Mr Romney’s writers be drafting those upcoming acceptance speeches?

I remember writing for President Clinton and some of President Bush II’s cabinet members. But back then a speechwriter had a given body of facts&stats to work with. Now however, layering in this latest brain-and-gene research must be keeping some of my colleagues up long into the night. I guess this when my calls are now answered by recordings like: “And you think you had it hard…!”

Whether or not we’re living with virtual strangers within us, there surely are actual strangers outside us. Each making an enormous difference. In effect, this election may be the first in which our national fate is inextricably bound up in history’s first globalized economy. So many strangers at work impacting so many issues in so many uncontrolled ways. And so little time….

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  • Again, so much here and so little time.

    Despite all the Presidential fundraisers, very little of that money will be spent in the Chicago market, except to get Indiana voters. We'll be stuck with incessant Tammy Duckworth vs. Joe Walsh ads, not that most of us have a vote in that election, nor would we want to vote for either.

    You also left out reflex. Supposedly, the brain doesn't even get involved when the kneecap is hit.

    Between reflex and genetics, maybe you figured out how someone like Todd Stroger gets elected. Fortunately, only once. However, there are plenty of other similarly entrenched politicians.

    And my father said over the weekend that "Once you get money then you become Republican." I guess unless you live in Hollywood. But we know that those who don't have money don't, at least in urban areas.

  • In reply to jack:

    Stroger -- now there's an election mystery NEITHER party can explain!!

  • In reply to Jack Spatafora:

    It can be explained.

    First there was Todd's explanation that "if everyone else [such as Lipinski] can pass an office off to their son, what's wrong with giving it to me?" Chicago government is about as hereditary as the English crown (or the dear leadership of the Democratic Peoples' Republic of Korea).

    Second, there basically was the viewpoint that the Daley Machine (including John Daley) could give the county as spoils to the south side organization (i.e. a certain racial group) until that proved too embarrassing.

    Third is essentially the reflexive voter in Chicago.

    There are plenty of politicians falling into that mold; I just picked on the obvious one not in a position to fight back.

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