Jewish World Review Jan. 18, 2000 /11 Shevat, 5760
http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- THE CONVENTIONAL WISDOM is that the electorate is weary of slick politicians and just wants candidates to tell the truth. These are lofty-sounding sentiments but I'm not convinced.
In an interview with Fox News' Brit Hume, pollster Frank Luntz explained that voters are drawn to the campaigns of Bill Bradley and John McCain because of their "straight talk."
I have no doubt that Luntz, a superb pollster, is accurately describing the findings of his voter interviews. But I do doubt that the people he was interviewing were being completely honest with themselves.
That is, I have come to believe that far too many voters don't necessarily want to be told the truth. They prefer to be told only what they want to hear.
So whether voters like straight talk depends on what the meaning of "straight talk" is. If by "straight talk" we mean the sanctimonious condemnation of all politicians and the system as corrupt, then yes, many love to hear that. That doubtlessly accounts for much of Bradley's and McCain's popularity.
But if we define "straight talk" as "the truth," then I'm not sure voters care much for it. A few examples will suffice.
Many voters seem to respond favorably to demagogic rhetoric advocating stricter gun control laws every time another massacre occurs involving firearms. Pandering politicians calling for tighter measures are lauded, even though common sense demands the conclusion that more laws wouldn't have prevented the tragedies.
Similarly, Bradley and Gore are mopping up disenchanted voters with their promises of campaign finance reform, despite the fact that their proposed solutions will never come to fruition because they are unconstitutional.
So in these cases, and countless others, are voters craving the truth or something else?
I have no doubt that people disdain "double-talk." They want candidates to address issues directly and not talk around them. They prefer politicians who talk clearly and unambiguously. But they don't necessarily prefer that the content of those "straight" remarks be absolutely truthful.
Can anyone really doubt that Dr. Alan Keyes speaks from the heart? That he speaks the truth? But does the public always want to hear what he has to say? No, because much of it is unpleasant and to some extent an indictment of them.
Keyes has been warning of the moral crisis that pervades this nation. He recently told an assembly of students that violence in schools is merely a symptom of a larger problem: moral decay. "It is not a consequence of guns in the hands of children, but an absence of God in our hearts." If Americans can so casually kill the unborn innocent, he asked, why should they be surprised to find their offspring murdering one another in school?
In this respect, Keyes reminds me of the prophet, Jeremiah. Jeremiah repeatedly indicted Israel for willfully abandoning G-d and worshipping idols. He prophesied that judgment would follow. Jeremiah's admonitions were met with threats on his life and later he was beaten, put in stocks, imprisoned and placed in an empty well, left to die.
Keyes has not been beaten or left to die, but his words are heartily rejected by those who don't want to hear. Even some conservative commentators are referring to his ideas as "nutty" and "extreme."
Keyes is only an extremist if lying and circumlocution have become the norm for politicians. He is just saying things that make many people, including Republicans, uncomfortable. People don't want to be told that their society is ailing morally because they know they have a responsibility for its condition and its healing. It's much easier to deny the problem.
Keyes is also saying that we should return to our constitutional roots. That conservative message can only be labeled extreme if we acknowledge that we have radically abandoned those roots -- another damning admission.
Keyes' message is striking a responsive chord with many voters, but he's far from leading the pack. Yet he's talking straight and telling the truth. Just like Jeremiah.
So next time we hear the glib line that voters just want to be told
the truth we should not accept it unquestioningly. Instead, we should
probably ask ourselves whether indeed we can handle the
01/12/00: Media's McCain efforts may backfire