Emotional Politics


The District of Columbia’s working class and poor are facing severely tumultuous times: HIV/AIDS and unemployment rates are rising to name just two common ills that seem to be ever evolving. Meanwhile several city officials can’t seem to focus long enough on citizen concerns to offer some meaningful solutions. Some will argue also that the entire city, being under a cloud of corruption and chaos, is suffering a black eye of sorts. With so much going on, some many people hurting on so many levels, the question has to become, How to we right-turn the ship?”

Surely it’s not the most effective or reasonable approach to attempt to solve a problem on the same level at which it was created. Oddly though, it seems that many DC residents, particularly through their political participation—namely their voting practices, look to the same leaders who helped to create a given situation, or those who have over a period of time, in some cases years, for whatever reason, simply not been able or willing to resolve certain issues or move the whole of the city in a way that benefited more than the few who are immediately involved in their circles of family and friends.

As we search out an explanation for such behavior, one might turn to a particular political conversation that typically takes place around kitchen tables, which could revolve around a conversation about the socio-political “astute” muse over how the Black vote is an emotional one. The conversation frames around how forgiving Black voters are, concluding that some elected officials, specifically African Americans, are able to tap into the emotions of Black voters. This connect allows these elected officials to “get a pass” when they are up for election, no matter what they have or have not done.

For many African American voters the first, and sadly sometimes the only, criteria the candidate must meet is that he s/he be “Black enough.” While there is no written definition regarding what it means to be “Black enough,” there seems to be an ad hoc agreement among those who apply the rule. What’s troubling is that given that state of Black America when juxtaposed with its White American counterpart, the African American community lags behind in several areas of progress and growth and leads the way in most negative social statistics (i.e., numbers of unemployed, unwed mothers etc).

Exercising the emotion-based vote time and time again and not experiencing any change in one’s quality of life might be likened to experiencing some sort of neurosis—a disorder, according to one definition, characterized by “self-punishing, mal-adaptive behavior.” Another way to look at this political behavior might be to sincerely and very thoughtfully examine the idea that something is very wrong when you continually apply the same method, and expect a different result (sometimes defined as insanity).

Emotional political participation and the emotion based vote is not only disturbing when looked at from the voter perspective; its continued reign among so many pockets of African American communities speaks volumes to the willingness of countless politicians to engage in it in what in some instances rises to the level of absolute demagoguery. We find this when politicians sweep into neighborhoods they’ve not visited since the last election and stir up latent fears of potential supporters, paint themselves as one them and make claims and promises that they have to know they either won’t or will not be able to fulfill.

They play on relationships and abuse ties that should bind them to the men and women who will trust them to serve as their leaders and to represent their will. This behavior is as distressing as that of the voter who is guided by it. The roles of both the emotion driven voter and the emotionally manipulating politician create a situation in which there is an entrenched power shored up all too often by greed, self-centeredness and disregard for fairness by the politician and his/her inner circle.

This discourse is not to suggest that all emotion be removed from the political decision making processes of voters; or that all politicians are evil demagogues. It is however, meant to propose that voters balance their processes, using equal parts of deliberation, instinct and emotion. And it is also meant as a call to those politicians who are guilty of taking advantage of the good will of supporters who need them, to reconsider their behavior, as the impact of their actions will likely run deeper and cause more loss and pain than they will be able to explain in the final analysis.

So obviously detrimental to the progress of such a significant number of people continue to play itself out?

Most of DC’s poorer residents are African Americans. And though there is are a number of very successful, very prosperous African Americans residing in the city, there are no guarantees that even large numbers of them carry any real political sway on the local level. In fact, it seems that many of the best and the brightest have left the politics of the city to a handful of political players and local “leaders;” and it may be for this very reason that the status quo typically rules the day in local DC.

It’s important to make the distinction between local DC and the more internationally acclaimed Nation’s Capital because two very different governments and business arenas exist and function in this, the Nation’s Federal Enclave. And there are many occasions where the two never meet or even share a common belief or practice.

Some will argue that race played an obvious and decisive role in the District of Columbia 2010 Mayoral Election and in the recent 2011 Special Election to fill the at-large City Council seat vacated by Kwame Brown. Others will counter with the, “We live in a “post racial” world argument; strongly suggesting that it’s all about the economy now. Still others will make the jump to the Middle ground, saying that it’s really about both, race and economy, noting that the lines of economic disparity break online more firmly established race lines.



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