Brain Graphic by Terry Michael

Voters from Venus,
Press from Mars

Judging debates with lower brain amygdalae,
not the slower higher brain neocortex

Terry Michael | September 25, 2008

Voters are from Venus, political reporters are from Mars.

More precisely, the majority of those electing the next president will analyze the candidates mostly with the pattern recognition area partly centered in the amygdalae and other regions of the lower brain, gray matter that governs speedily-processed emotions quickly allowing us to flee the tiger, or stay and fight.

It's that high quality emotional intelligence to which Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain need to pay most attention as they prepare for debates, in which they'll be compared side-by-side for 90 minutes, instead of as 9-second sound-bites or 30-second "I approved this message(s)."

In contrast to voters, journalists who interpret politics seem to do most of their thinking with the neocortex, six layers of brain cells just below the top our skulls, where we slowly weigh complex options--like 61-point health care plans--to make "informed" decisions.

This is no politically incorrect argument that the "lower" brain is feminine and the "higher" male.  But what used to be called women's intuition and can now be termed Blink thinking (by Malcolm Gladwell) is a better guide to analyzing voters than the political press' apparent vision of citizens working their way through a checklist of The Issues published by the League of Women Voters.

That brings us to the puzzle facing about half of the electorate, political and media elites, who can't fathom why Obama, with domestic policies favored by solid majorities, isn't far ahead of Sen. John McCain, saddled with a nose-diving economy, a disastrous war, and one of the most unpopular GOP incumbents in history.

After McCain's selection of Gov. Sarah Palin, those who urged Obama to just get back to the issues were naive, even when it would seem that 2008 is once again the economy, stupid.

For years, liberal Democrats like John Kerry have deluded themselves into believing voters will flock to them if only the unwashed masses can be made to understand the party's wealth re-distributionist plans for the poor and middle class, instead of focusing on pesky values.  For a fuller understanding, see the left-liberal nonsense published as, "What's the Matter with Kansas."

In 2004, I asked my mother, then 84, if she had watched George Bush's acceptance speech.  "I can't stand to look at him."  Well, how about Kerry? "Oh, I can see right through him."  By which she meant a man trying to have everything every way.

My mother, who died this March, was a Hillary fan.  Some part of her emotional intelligence felt a kinship, though Mom had no knowledge of The Plans at I wish I could ask her what she thinks of Gov. Sarah Palin.  I don't have a clue, because Mom might have empathized with another mother of five--or she might have chastised a young mother for not staying home.  But I'm certain my mother wouldn't have cited either Palin's energy expertise or ignorance of policy wonkish blather that infatuates reporters.

The problem for Democrats is that Palin dramatically yielded an emotional connection for the GOP ticket with some conservative and populist leaning independents, albeit mostly with Republican base voters on the social-cultural right.

When that occurred, Obama's Achilles heel, a too cool persona, became more of a liability--though we really have no idea with how many among the ten percent of persuade-ables, in the 15 or 20 battleground states.

Of course, he now needs to talk about the economy, as does McCain.  But the cure for Obama is not to convince stupid voters to stop pushing back against their economic interests, though the Wall Street crisis will undoubtedly push a significant number of independents in his direction.  And McCain's challenge is not to develop a ten-point-plan for economic recovery.

Obama needs to make himself more of a regular guy, who shops at Safeway rather than Whole Foods--someone who seems to feel the pain of voters.  He needs to stop being so professorial, thinking out loud in carefully measured "um" and "uh" phrases; and get himself on as many basketball courts as possible, surrounded by NBA stars.

And McCain, through body and face language and effective sound-bites, must prove that he gets the economic crisis and isn't too old to handle the burden.

With the debates, both candidates actually get a second chance to make a first impression with voters, who'll think more like my mother did than do issue-obsessed editorial writers and policy pundits.


Sources Note: In addition to "Blink" by Gladwell, read Jeff Hawkins' "On Intelligence", another popular work dealing with the brain's pattern recognition.


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