Bad Vs. Good Pitch to Voters
By Tibor Machan - June 27, 2011

Do voters actually believe it when candidates promise them health, happiness, vacations, clean air and all those other goodies while also demanding that they stop being selfish, stop joining special interest groups and dedicate themselves only to the public good? I doubt it very much. This sort of pitch seems to me to put most reasonable voters on guard. Something is up, a ruse is afoot, for no one can deliver on these promises. (Or are voters like all those gamblers flocking to Las Vegas who think they will come away big winners?) So a great many people stay away from the voting booth and it's all left in the hands of dreamers.

I am not sure if candidates have actually given this a try but I would count on a different strategy. How about promising voters just one thing, namely, a competent defense against the violence of those of their fellows who are inclined to be violent, against those who wreak crime and war. And then urge them not to stop being selfish but to be intelligently self-interested. That would be thinking of some broad benefits that we all should be striving for, such as freedom, the security of our rights, peace, and justice. These are benefits all voters would gain from big time! So they are objectives that are quite reasonably considered self-interested, for everyone.

But such self-interested benefits need some education to be effectively appealing to voters. Too many people shun being thought of as selfish because they associate selfishness with trivial pursuits. Yet, genuine, serious, big time selfishness is about broad, lasting values such as justice and peace. Those are what is really good for us all!

In that very famous movie, Casablanca, Rick, the character of Humphrey Bogart, turns to Ilsa, the character of Ingrid Bergman, near the end of the film and delivers a little speech that goes like this: "Ilsa, I'm no good at being noble, but it doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you'll understand that. Now, now… Here's looking at you kid…."

Unfortunately a great many who've seen the film take Rick to be talking of self-sacrifice whereas, in fact, what he is talking about is devotion to great values, such as liberty and justice – values that Ilsa will in time realize outweigh those she would like to have now, namely, romantic bliss.

If those running for office were truly devoted to high ideals, they could explain to voters that these high ideals are of great importance to all. They are to everyone's self-interest both short and long term.

That is what proper, uncorrupted politics is about: devotion to very high human community values, such as rights, liberty, justice, the rule of law, peace and all those conditions that are indispensable for people aiming to live flourishing lives in their communities. To think that devoting oneself to these values amounts to unselfishness and self-sacrifice is bizarre. These are everyone's most important values, with everything else – including (and this comes from a died in the wool romantic) a great romance – paling in comparison.

Urging people to renounce their self-interest will simply never fly for very long. The idea that serving others is more important than serving oneself just sounds nice – yes, nice – but is by no means noble. Noble objectives are all elevating to those who pursue them. Saving one's child from a blazing fire is noble but not because it is unselfish. (Is there anything that's more genuinely selfish than saving one's family from disaster? And one's friends, and sometimes even strangers?)

No, candidates need to educate voters about how utterly selfish and proper it is for them to vote for those who will secure for them justice, the protection of their rights, peace and other social conditions that make a decent, good human life possible for us all. And if they cannot do this, then they are not good candidates for political office. Then they are merely vying to gain power so as to implement some kind of agenda they can never fulfill.

Bona fide politicians, serving us as honest political representatives, are very much to our self-interest. And the candidate who can deliver on that promise must also see it as something of grave importance to him or her! That is the way constituents and politicians can come together without cynicism, without suspicion.

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