If you’re anything like me, you grew up reading the Sunday comics which invariably started with the “Peanuts” strip by Charles Shultz. You likely remember the number of times Lucy called Charlie Brown a “blockhead” in one amusing situation or another.
If the title wasn’t obvious enough this post isn’t really about analyzing the Sunday Comics. However, when I started to write this, with the title already in mind, I had no idea how appropriate some of the iconic imagery and concepts featuring America’s favorite “blockhead” would be.
Want to Play, Charlie Brown?
The Collins Harper Dictionary defines a “bloc” as
a group of people or countries combined by a common interest or aim
In the American political scene, a “voter bloc” is a group of voters who tend focus on a single defining topic, at times to the exclusion of other consideration. This focus can take the form of group identity (e.g. African-American, Christian, or Gay) or issue (e.g. Pro-Life, Environment, or Anybody but “X”).
The voter bloc definitions serve politicians by making it easier for them to identify popular topics and crafting their message to appease these voters, for better or for worse. Let’s consider these crafted messages a political ‘football.’
Go Ahead, Kick the Football
More often than not, these political ‘footballs’ are used to shore up support among a candidates base, and rarely become the focus of a candidate’s agenda. A perfect example is whether a candidate is “Pro-Choice” or “Pro-Life.” Over the last several decades, each time the White House has changed hands from one side of the political aisle to the other, a provision banning funding of international relief organizations that support abortions is reversed (Democrat) or reinstated (Republican) as each president has entered office. Beyond this, has either side seen any real gains or losses in the debate since Roe v. Wade?
In spite of this, how may of you have made your decision about a candidate with a similar topic being your leading reasoning? “I can’t support R-Candidate, even though I like his stance on taxes and smaller government, because he said he’s Pro-Choice.” or “I can’t support D-Candidate because in spite of his stance on Environmental issues and equal rights, he’s for across-the-board tax cuts.” While this rarely means a vote for the opposition, it usually means someone stays home.
How many times, when you’ve voted on one of these political footballs, have you seen a candidate use the political football during their campaign to simply to garner votes, then drop the topic altogether when they are elected. Or worse, support contrary legislation.
Love him or hate him, former President George W. Bush provides an excellent example of this. During his first presidential election campaign in 2000, Bush portrayed himself as a fiscal conservative in favor of small government. But after the events of 9/11, when the country was trying to decide how to handle airport security, he signed into law a bill that federalized airport security. This is one of the largest expansions of the federal payroll in American history.
A public fed-up with no-bid contracts, and back-room deals during the Bush era, eagerly ate up Obama’s message of open government and an informed public. But even those who aren’t exactly fans of the GOP criticize Obama for conducting business as usual.
I’ll Hold it This Time, I Promise!
The real danger comes when you blindly follow the bloc. If the Republican can count on your vote simply because he gives lip-service to being Pro-Life, he doesn’t really need to spend any political capital to gain your vote.
During the 2008 Presidential Election, I remember reading an article that opined how New York State was so solidly “blue” that Democratic candidates did not need to make, much less follow-through on promises, especially fiscal ones that benefited New York State. The complaint, as best my memory can recall, was that New York contributed a hefty portion to the federal budget, but didn’t see the same promises being made to swing states such as Pennsylvania or Ohio.
When you have a group, such as the African-American community voting for Democrats almost 9 to 1, why does the candidate need to risk expending political capital on your concerns over that of the swing-votes? Has the “plight” of the African-American community improved since they started voting overwhelmingly for a single party starting in the 1960’s?
Are you aware that the Republican party was founded as an anti-slavery party, passed the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments, passed the Civil Rights Acts of 1866 and 1875 and the 1950’s and 1960’s, implemented the first Affirmative Action programs, and was the party of Frederick Doublass, Harriet Tubman, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to name a few? Something tells me that isn’t taught during Black History Month. I know I certainly wasn’t taught that and I went to a high school where both the Black and Hispanic students individually outnumbered the white students.
The shift only started to occur in the 1960’s when John and Robert Kennedy intervened to secure the early release of Martin Luther King, Jr. Since that time, there has been a strong push, primarily in the media and academia to white wash the history of the Republican party and cast the party as one of racism.
Similarly the Gay community overwhelmingly supports the Democrat party in spite of the lack of real progress on recognition of equal rights on the Federal legislative level (and a few set-backs between Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell signed by Clinton and the Defense of Marriage Act signed by Bush).
Perhaps I’m being naive, but I believe that the day candidates realize we aren’t going to go for the political footballs they keep holding, and then pulling away from us, is the day that they’ll realize they are accountable for their words and deeds. If a candidate realizes they can no longer expect certain groups to support them simply because they have an R or a D next to their name, you might actually see candidate who will pay more than lip-service to your goals and agendas over their own.
Agree or disagree with their political views, the Tea Party movement is doing just that within the Republican party. This can be witnessed with surprising primaries such as the Delaware senatorial race and the New York gubernatorial race.
I personally would like to see this type of shake-up across the board. Maybe then politicians will remember that they are accountable to us.