Love is in the air. There are plush teddy bears in the Capitol Hill gift shop and romantic songs playing on Air Force One. Listening tours are planned and every begging email asking for another five, ten or forty bucks to stop the Republican onslaught is addressed personally to you. To you.
Love makes the world go round, or so singers have crooned for the last hundred years. And what other emotion could it be but that which makes the iron wheels of the state turn.
With everything at stake, voters keep picking the candidates they think love them the most. The exit polls keep showing that voters choose unqualified radicals like Barack Obama or Bill de Blasio because they're "likable", "share their values" and "care about them."
Experience came in dead last in the New York election, both literally in Lhota's case, and in the exit polls, which showed voters ranking experience somewhere between a dead zebra and a mugger on the C train. 34 percent wanted someone who shared their values. 30 percent wanted change. And an unspecified number of right-wing lunatics wanted experience.
Voting is starting to look a lot like dating. A big chunk of the electorate doesn't just want someone to manage a government. They want someone who will make them feel special, share their values and love them back.
Government is becoming more personal, even as it's becoming more impersonal. Newly hatched ducks develop an attachment to their wire mothers. Children neglected by their parents fixate on their nannies. And what of a generation of broken families?
What else is there for all the Julias to do but turn to the man whom Indian chiefs used to call the Great White Father in Washington. And what is there for all the Chads to do but look for love from the bureaucratic wire mother of the Nanny State?
The great ambition of the social reformers was to replace the unscientific and selfish family with the progressive programs of the state. And their dream has been realized.
Within a few generations of government growth, a nation once noted for its strong nuclear family has replaced it with a cradle-to-grave state that abstractly pats all the Julias and Chads on the head, telling them they can be anything they want and then sending them the bill for its services.
Is it any wonder that Chad and Julia just want a government that loves them and are a bit fuzzy about the differences between a politician, their father and their significant other?
Past generations wanted to be inspired by leaders, but the definitions of inspiration and leadership have changed. In the past it meant urging others to rise to new challenges. Today it means making Chad and Julia feel good about themselves by telling them that they have great potential so that they feel like someone out there understands and cares about them without having to actually do anything.
The reelection of Bush Sr. was sunk in part because the World War II veteran was unable to field a question about how the National Debt had affected him personally. The question was senseless, but Bill Clinton understood that the questioner, who seemed to have stepped in from the Sally Jesse Raphael Show, wanted to be reassured that he cared. And so the Clinton Presidency was born.
Conservatives struggling to convince the rest of the country that Obama is the worst thing since sliced bread that had been left out for three years in the sun face the same problem as anyone trying to convince a friend that the charming sociopath that they're dating is bad for them. They can assemble an artillery of facts, hurling them one by one, waiting for the BOOM, but only hearing faint thumps, and then resort to frustrated outrages of common sense only to get nowhere.
After all that, all it takes is a single "I care about you, share your values and promise never to take away your health plan again... period" teleprompter call to convince them that it truly is true love.
And even if the voters who only want to care about a politician who cares about them first eventually realize that they've been had, that while Obama was pretending to care about their anger at Wall Street, he was also pretending to care at least as much about the concerns of Wall Street executives, and so on for every one of their values, they'll just wait for the next charmer to come along.
Those who have been deprived of love will go on looking for it in all the wrong government places. And the Julias and Chads who associate government with love will press every politicians to tell them how the National Debt makes them feel and show them that they really truly care about them. That process will helpfully winnow most decent and competent leaders leaving behind sociopaths, car salesmen, community organizers, con men and anyone who can fake a relationship on a dime.
Emotion is more malleable than reason. And a relationship calls forth the most self-rationalizing emotional states that can exist in the human mind.
A politician who promises something tangible to voters and fails to deliver can be held accountable, but one who offers the intangible assurance that he cares and understands will persist until the love spell is broken and the emotional relationship is exposed as a sham beyond the ability of his victims to rationalize.
And that's not politics. It's deprogramming.
There is no question that most of us are in a relationship with government. It's a non-consensual relationship and an abusive one, but those are the kind most likely to lead to a bout of Stockholm Syndrome. Hostages fall in love with their hostage-takers, captives fall in love with their captors and Democratic voters fall in love with their elected officials.
With the traditional family in bad shape, romanticizing the even more dysfunctional relationship with the state transforms an abusive relationship into a caring one. Voters search for politicians who can humanize the detached impersonal power of the bureaucracy and make them feel like they aren't living in a George Orwell or Frank Kafka novel.
Likability counts more than ethics, experience, competence and actual knowledge because
government, like everything else, has become subjective.
There are no more clear truths. What is the definition of "sex"? What is the definition of "If you like your health plan, you can keep your health plan period?"
Every crime has an explanation and every lie is turned on its head. And when you're living in spin city, the only thing you can believe in is love because personal relationships feel more real than millions of words of federal regulations or piles and piles of government forms.
Karl Rove understood that Republicans suffer from a "Caring Gap". It may be stupid, but in each race, George W. Bush managed to be a caring candidate going up against a stiff and out of touch Democrat. And then Obama was lucky enough to get John McCain and Mitt Romney, two men whose credentials and manners perfectly suited the old America, but who wouldn't be able to explain how the National Debt made them feel nearly as well as Obama or Bill Clinton could.
A sizable portion of the country doesn't just want someone good or someone who has the right ideas, they want someone to love them, to care about them and to make their relationship with government feel meaningful so that they can believe that it is love, rather than dirty money, favor-trading, vote-swapping, fanatical devotion to 19th century ideologies and humanitarianism that makes the fax machines, the hard drive platters , cars and cabinet meetings of government go round and round.