Selling Cars and Candidates

When I was in college, I worked one summer for a friend of my father; he owned a Cadillac-Rambler agency (no kidding!), and I was billed as the first female used-car salesman (not “salesperson” back then) in Anderson, Indiana. I soon learned that if I wanted to sell a car, I needed to find out what the buyer wanted and emphasize those features–if someone came in wanting a red car, I talked about what a great shade of red this one had; if they wanted a V-8 engine, I talked about that.

A pretty elementary lesson in marketing.

Unfortunately, that’s the one lesson political candidates at all levels have really learned well.

We like to think of the democratic system as one where candidates and parties offer us competing visions and philosophies, and we choose between them. But all too often, that isn’t what happens. Instead, candidates hide or minimize agendas that they think (usually correctly) voters won’t “buy.” They become stealth candidates of a sort. So we have a Richard Mourdock, a man who won his primary promising to be intransigent, suddenly talking about co-operation and bipartisanship. You have Mike Pence, who has spent his entire time in Congress fighting for far-right culture issues, suddenly voicing concern about ┬ájobs and economic development, and another culture-warrior, Scott Schneider, running ads touting his bona fides as a “family man, and small businessman” who serves the public in the Indiana legislature.

It’s enough to make me sympathize with the folks on the far right who are always complaining that their Republican candidates won’t run a full-throated conservative campaign. That complaint assumes that a campaign run forthrightly on Right issues–defunding Planned Parenthood, passing a “personhood” amendment to outlaw not just abortion but also most birth control, anti-GLBT measures and of course starving government until it’s small enough to drown in Grover Norquist’s bathtub–would be a winner.

Candidates who aren’t entirely delusional recognize that these positions do not reflect the will of the larger electorate, no matter how fervently they are embraced by the True Believers. So they lie. They try to re-invent themselves. They tell us what they think we want to hear. And if they have enough money and good advertising consultants, they often win.

Because selling that car is more important than admitting that it’s maroon, not red. Being elected–achieving some measure of power–trumps running a campaign based upon telling voters the truth.

It’s interesting that so many of these profoundly dishonest campaigns are run by candidates who talk incessantly about the importance of religion, and who want us to know how godly and pious they are. I guess they missed that part about “bearing false witness.”

They’d make great car salesmen.

1 Comment

  1. Since “political speech” enjoys the most unfettered protection under the First Amendment, we don’t even thinnk of applying ordinary principles of fraud, misrepresentation, breach of warranty, etc., to the statements of political candidates. And for good reason, because the threat of litigation would have a chilling effect that even an Antarctic penguin couldn’t cope with. Yet even though perfectly legal, the kinds of abuses you describe are hardly moral in any context.

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