Passion trumps reason in American midterm elections

While municipal elections in Canada stirred up a great deal of political drama locally, the ridiculous antics of some candidates running for office south of the border in the United States midterm elections are unparalleled.

Displays of unusual political campaigning have been made by candidates from all sides of the political spectrum. Viewing these events from the lens of Canadian political culture, they often make us cringe and wonder how such candidates can be taken seriously by anyone. It makes Canadians shake their heads in frustration in many cases, while leaving people in tears from laughing in others.

Listed on the New York State gubernatorial ballot is Jimmy McMillan of the “Rent Is Too Damn High Party,” a registered political party concerned with lowering rent prices and alleviating poverty in New York City. At the televised debate, McMillan made comical statements like, “As a karate expert, I will not talk about anyone up here,” in response to a question. While many residents of New York City would agree that rent prices are indeed too high, the party’s pitch is a purely emotional protest to the status quo and has no tangible suggestions for reform.

Republican nominee in Delaware’s Senate special election Christine O’Donnell had her background brought into question when comments she made on a television show several years ago came back to haunt her.
O’Donnell had spoken of how she had “dabbled into witchcraft” and that one of her first dates took place at a satanic altar. Regardless of this being an obvious smear attack on O’Donnell’s credibility, it raises legitimate concerns about her character and suitability for holding public office.

There is no doubt that every citizen of a democracy should have the opportunity to run for public office. At the same time, we have as a society established a relative consensus as to what characteristics make for a good politician.

These usually include education, the ability to set realistic goals, relevant experience, a rational disposition and the capacity to be fiscally responsible with public funds.

The fact of the matter is that many candidates labeled as unusual are not labeled as such because people are not open to alternative views, but rather because their character or views conflict significantly with the criteria by which society selects the politicians that represent it. These candidates often have little educational or political experience. They credit themselves as being an ideal candidate on the basis of the assumption that their lack of experience enables them to truly represent “the regular people”.

It seems as if the reason behind many of these interesting candidates can be traced to the heated political climate in the United States brought on by the handling of the recent recession.

The frustration held by some Americans for the previous Republican administration and current one held by the Democrats has allowed for populist socio-political movements to emerge.

As ridiculous as some of these candidates appear to be, some will end up being voted into office on the basis of great anger and emotion towards the status quo rather than on principles. We only need to refer to the past to see the dangers synonymous with populist movements where passion trumps reason.

While the antics of unusual candidates make for a good laugh here in Canada, the catalysts behind the increase in fringe political candidates in the United States should be of great concern.

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