It’s easy to confuse volume with mass in politics. Our inboxes, social media feeds, news shows… everything is set to maximum screech. All of which makes it hard for citizens to the discern the substance of issues.
My grandfather once passed on something he’d heard from a mounted cavalry sergeant in the old ride-horses days of the U.S. Army into which my grandfather enlisted. He said that if out in the distance you saw a wall of dust climbing into the sky, it could be one of three things: an invading army, an approaching storm, or an idiot running around in circles for hours. To know what to do, you had to know which it was.
That came to mind when a friend recently wrote asking about a particular candidate in a particular race. She explained she was receiving multiple emails every day from the candidate about the strength of the campaign, yet was shocked by how little money the candidate had raised or traction the candidate gained in the community. Polling and fundraising didn’t match the flood of emails, tweets, and posts she saw every day.
She asked a simple question: why the disparity?
A teeny-tiny bluetooth speaker can make a lot of earsplitting noise, while a ton of gold is huge but makes no sound. Volume and mass.
In the physics of politics, volume often creates mass… Run around in circles making a lot of noise and hope others join in. That is campaigning 101 in the modern age, and that’s kind of what the campaign my friend wrote about was trying to do.
Depending on your perspective, a campaign is either trying to convert political volume into a mass of support through messaging, or it is using the volume of messaging to conceal their lack of mass.
Either way, citizens should be weary of those politicians who are simply running around in circles, creating a big cloud of dust while yelling and screaming their own praises. That self-serving exercise gives a sense of how they will govern if given the chance.
Campaigns try to give the appearance of mass with the volume of communication, in the hopes of drawing more people in. It works more often than anyone would care to admit. One gets the uncomfortable feeling too many candidates would wear clown make-up and shoot themselves from a loud cannon if it would get them elected. One gets the even more uncomfortable feeling it would probably work. (As an aside, those candidates perform for the voters, wash off the makeup, and then brag to lobbyists about how they – again – pulled one over on the rubes.)
In our self-governing republic, citizens should demand something more and better. Sure, a bit of showmanship and a touch of volume is necessary to cut through the clutter. But citizens deserve to see real results, not choke on the distracting clouds of campaign dust.
For our republic to advance we need substantive candidates offering real plans and substantive ideas for how they will disrupt the status quo should they be hired. Yes, we need a mass of moral men and women seeking office who are committed to putting our citizens first.
More importantly, though, as discerning citizens we must ignore the self-serving circus and redouble our focus on the “mass” of good ideas – shaping them, moving them, and advancing them.