Tue, 14 Apr 2009 21:00:30 +0000 – By Jon KrausharCommunications Consultant
Tomorrow's "tea parties" around the country in protest of massive government spending, taxation and control will be like a look in a national mirror to see which emotional and visual appeals are catching--and matching--the predominant mood of most Americans.
Politics is an ongoing contest over which leaders and which issues can win the sympathy, empathy and identification of the most people. It will be interesting to see if tomorrow's tea parties make much of a dent in a psychological state of the nation that is frustrating many people (often they call themselves "conservatives") and elating others (often they call themselves "liberals")--although simple labels don't always apply to people's politics and their current feelings.
The psychological torment in the country involves three emotions: fear, anger and a desperate search for confidence.
The tea parties clearly reflect that. The battle for sympathy, empathy and identification revolves around one dominant figure: President Obama. Tea party protesters are howling over the enormous sums of money being spent at his behest and the breathtaking amount of government control he is engineering. Yet because of the fear, anger and a desperate search for confidence that many Americans are feeling--and because no leader has yet emerged to rival Obama's charisma--polls tell us that Obama and his agenda continue to have the sympathy, empathy and identification of most Americans.
That can change in politics, as we saw in 1994 when Bill Clinton -- another charismatic president bent on redirecting spending, taxation and government control -- was hit by Newt Gingrich and his "Contract with America." Suddenly, the same Democratic dominance of Congress that we have today was turned on its head by the previously defeated Republicans. They harnessed the fear, anger and desperate search for confidence felt by Americans at that time into sympathy, empathy and identification and organized all of it around a clear counter-agenda.
History teaches us that the capturing of America's mood constantly shifts between political parties and their leaders. Just when one leader and one party think they have an unstoppable dynasty underway, the public recoils and power shifts to the challengers.
The change is often attributable to an emotional reaction. The public becomes fed up with what it views as the arrogance--the hubris--of a leader and a party, which we saw in 2008.It also is frequently connected to a series of visuals that capture the public's imagination. They get sick and tired--mad as hell--when just looking at a particular leader or when seeing a stream of images that appall them, whether those images are of war, crime, welfare, hostages, corrupt officials, fat cat bankers, brokers and industrialists--whatever.
It is not yet clear where we are in this tug of war for America's affections. Tomorrow's tea parties may augur a major change stemming from growing dissatisfaction among the American electorate or they may turn out to be just a speed bump in the road for the Obama Express.
Will a leader emerge (or re-emerge) from somewhere in the political landscape who can challenge Obama and his agenda? Will public disaffection with Obama and his change initiatives build to a critical mass that results in a political realignment in the 2010 elections? Or will Obama--like his hero Franklin Delano Roosevelt--maintain his hold on the sympathy, empathy and identification of enough Americans long enough to transform the economy, our politics and even our values as a country?
Our past has turned on developments like that--and our future hinges on it, too.
Communications consultant Jon Kraushar is at www.jonkraushar.net.