Demagogue: A political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument.
Too often our political discourse is dominated by empty rhetoric. We lose sight of the issues facing our society and reduce everything to convenient sound bites. In a culture dominated by information, these tidbits are usually easier to digest than the complete truth. This creates a never ending cycle of hyperbole that leaves many of us confused and resigned to repeating the same talking points, rather than trying to wade through the insanity of it all. Allowing this trend to continue not only does our elected officials a disservice, but it creates an environment wrought for anger and hate created through deceptive means.
Most of us would like to see our elected representatives show the political courage necessary to move our country and world forward. While many of them would like to do just that, they instead are focused on winning elections, and telling their constituents what they want to hear. Some would argue this is the role of the politician. Which would be fine, if it was not for the massive amounts of false information out there.
For example, most credible analysis of the deficit in this country would point to a need for increased revenues or massive cuts to the entitlement programs we hold dear (e.g. social security, medicare, mortgage credits, etc). Instead, all we hear is empty rhetoric about how we need to cut wasteful government spending, with no specifics as to what that means. The details we do get are hardly solutions. They would not only do too little to solve the crisis, but would have dire effects on a large segment of the population. Can you blame them? Any politician willing to lay out the hard truth about the cuts needed to be made in order to significantly reduce the budget would be destroyed through the opposition’s distorted talking points.
On the other hand, when navigated properly this impediment to political courage is used to many politicians’ advantage. For example, the idea of cutting taxes for the richest Americans, is completely contrary to any notion of national budget deficit reduction. Yet, many of the officials who were elected on the backs of the fiscally conservative tea party movement supported these tax breaks. Why is this? It is a direct result of the misinformation used to appeal to the passion and core values of these people.
This appeal to emotion is especially dangerous when it incites us to blind anger and support of shortsighted policies. Something especially prevalent during the health care reform debates. Many opponents of the package and president used fear to rally others to there causes. Soon many citizens were using heightened rhetoric claiming supporters of the package were akin to Hitler and the Nazis. Elected representatives received death threats. This type of climate is not only dangerous for the country, but prevents real debate on policy from taking place. Leading to even more distrust from the public. Heading us down this slippery slope is good for no one.
We must avoid falling into the irrational rhetoric trap that sometimes dominates our lives. It is important to look beneath the surface of the issues to the facts that support them. While passion for the future is important, allowing it to deceive us into supporting shortsighted policies is a mistake. While avoiding the distortions is not an easy task, it is a necessary one. The hope for the future lies in our ability to look beyond the soundbites of the twenty-four hour news cycle to the heart of the solutions needed to build a better tomorrow.