Friday, 9 November 2012

The politics of nice

I’m no expert on American politics. I look on it from afar and I lack the personal touch one acquires from watching the interaction of political personalities. However, I do think that Obama’s election for a second term was predictable for two reasons:-

The polls seemed to lean slightly his way.
The political world is not pro-Romney – even in the US.

Yes there are important Democrat-leaning complexities such as the Latino vote, but it seems to me that for decades global politics has been shifting leftwards, but in a social as well as a political sense. It’s not so much a case of saying the right thing, but of not saying the wrong thing. So much is now either off-limits or difficult to express, so the easy route is to say nothing - nothing substantive at any rate.

So it's not so much a case of being the right type of person as not being the wrong type. We vote against people rather than for them.

Kingsley Amis wrote a comic novel called Stanley and the Women. Stanley's ex-wife Nowell reacts to people in only one of two ways. 

If they give in to Nowell's every whim, they are being nice. 
If they don't give in to Nowell's every whim, they are being nasty. 

Modern voters have a lot in common with Nowell. There is nothing even faintly sophisticated about voting and I'm not convinced there ever could be. 

Keep it crude - nice or nasty - that's the real political dichotomy. 

Sharp businessmen such as Romney are simply the wrong type. Of course many Americans don't see it that way, because it was a close election and Obama only just made it. Maybe the thing was also influenced by externals such as Sandy – maybe that very public whiff of executive concern was just enough to shift the balance. Who knows.

In the UK, the Conservative party has for years tried to divest itself of the nasty party image, the party where hard choices are presented and confronted. Increasingly people don’t want hard choices to be mentioned, let alone confronted. They want to hear about soft options, prefer muddling through, like to be organised and to organise others. 

Ours is becoming a strange domestic world, cut adrift from the past.

It’s been going on for decades, this rise in domesticity as a way of enfolding social, political and economic issues in a peculiar domestic embrace. 

The clues are everywhere, from the obsessive tidiness we euphemistically call recycling to the nice clean electric cars which might just as well have an Electrolux badge, because that’s what their proponents really want. Plus maybe a vacuum cleaner attachment to keep the roads clean.

Smoking is being stamped out because it’s seen as a nasty, dirty habit indulged in by dodgy people, those who don't conform. It's nothing to do with health - people don't give a rat's arse for your health, but they do want you to be clean and presentable in public. Nobody must be left out either, no cranks in the corner, no people who pop up to say nasty things they should have kept to themselves.

Alcohol is going the same way because nice people only ever drink in moderation and only ever in the evening. Even then it will be a nice wine rather than a stiff drink. You know what I mean too - unless you happen to be a thoroughly nice person.

Gifts are particularly nice. 

The political left goes very big indeed on gifts - particularly the delightful notions of choosing and receiving more than you give. The politics of gifting is a major feature of left-wing politics - helping yourself to the cake you didn't bake, lovely gifts slipped through as gold-plated pensions, sinecures, subsidies and grants. Year-round Christmas is what it's all about. As to the vexed question of how Santa fills his sack - well we are too nice to discuss that.    

We don’t like our powerful people to seem powerful and successful, but nicely spoken and considerate – inoffensive to a fault - one of us almost. If there are nasty decisions to be made then we don’t want to hear about it. Those things should be sorted out behind closed doors – nicely. Tea and biscuits helps.

Niceness is what it comes down to and the left does niceness very well. Desperately superficial it may be, but niceness is so often superficial because that’s a key part of being nice. 

Thinkers are not quite nice. They may be pleasant enough in their own way, but never nice, always tainted with that shadow of doubtful opinions, always prone to say something awkward, difficult or clever. Thinkers are conversation stoppers – we don’t want them round the dinner table.

Obama didn’t even have to portray himself as nice – which he isn’t of course. He merely had to present himself as nicer than Romney.

It’s how the left hoovers up votes and will continue to do so. Even in the US.


Anonymous said...

I don't like Romney and the GOP, they seem a mean-minded bunch. But that is how a country gets rich. Treat 'em rough, make them keen.

Perhaps we have an inexorable cycle - tough independence followed by deserved benefits followed by flaccid decadence then a reluctant divestment of pleasures and eventually a return to tough independence (still waiting for the resurgance of Rome). Clogs to clogs on a national scale? more likely a slow regression to the mean.

So would a right-wing paternalistic government succeed? The jackboot is always popular in hard times. But I rather doubt the economics would stack up. The old remedies - war and colonisation are no longer viable. Perhaps I should buy a wheelbarrow and an armband.

A K Haart said...

Roger - I don't much like either side. Both seem to represent vested interests, but Obama's are presumably a little more numerous. Both are somewhat covert.

Since TV entered our lives, I think we judge political types as we would judge anyone else, which I'm pretty sure is a mistake. For most, Obama is more like a neighbour and Romney isn't, I don't think it's any more sophisticated than that.

James Higham said...

Thinkers are not quite nice. They may be pleasant enough in their own way, but never nice,

I'll need to give this some thought, AKH.

A K Haart said...

James - I mean nice in a worthy but dull sense.