"Knowing" our politicians

Analysis of political issues across the world

"Knowing" our politicians

Postby Elliott » 10 Aug 2011, 21:08

Like all public figures, politicians are not our "friends". We see them, we hear what they say, but clearly we don't know them in any real sense.

But is it possible, despite the various barriers of modern media, to understand individual politicians?

I say this because it is all too tempting to make statements like "Harriet Harman has daddy issues" or "Tony Blair is a borderline psychopath" etc. Of course I don't know either of these statements to be true, but I can see evidence for them, just as I would in a person I, for example, worked with. You can detect things in their facial expressions, how they react to questions, which policies are dear to them, and so forth.

In short, is it viable to psychoanalyse (in an amateurish way) the people who run our country? To talk about them as people, rather than faceless policy creators?

I think it is necessary to do so, but is it viable?
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Re: "Knowing" our politicians

Postby Michael » 19 Aug 2011, 19:38


By trying to 'know' our politicians I interpret you to mean understanding the workings of the politician's mind and the nature of their character, so as to see what they truly want to do and what, circumstances permitting, they will do. This is an important project because the ordinary run of politics constrains most politicians to acting much like one another.

The greatest source of obfuscation about motives is produced by what should be the central maxim of interpreting political speeches: "the subject will do whatever is necessary in order to gain/stay in power". I believe that you are right about interpreting politicians true motives by noting discontinuities between words and deeds, including facial expressions and body posture during speeches. I am particularly interested in the study of microexpressions, the involuntary motions of the facial muscles that reveal underlying emotions. Unfortunately I am not an expert and so could only provide anecdotal interpretations of any particular politician's speech.

Another important method is to observe the behavior of a candidate early on in their political career, noting their first speeches. This is one important thing about the current lead up to the US presidential primaries. Half a dozen leading candidates are crisscrossing the US taking part in "straw polls", glorified popularity contests that let them try out both their message and their persona on voters. Many of them at this stage say things they would not dream of saying later as they become 'blanded' by the political process. I believe that these early days are excellent chances to get to know candidates true beliefs and motives, before they start telling a general public about whatever they believe they can adjust their core beliefs into for popularity.
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