Kevin DeYoung of the Gospel Coalition offered an intriguing list of unlikely lines he'd like to hear from the candidates in tonight's VP debate. I have included the list below. You can read the original blog post here.
“I’m glad you brought that up, because I shouldn’t have said what I did. It was a mistake and here’s why.” “There’s a simple explanation for the inconsistency: I changed my mind. I think a good leader changes his mind sometimes. Let me tell you why I’ve changed mine.” “I’m not going to promise that because, frankly, there are a lot of things I can’t control. But I’ll do my best.” “I know this is an unpopular position, but let me explain why I hold it.” “There are many problems government can’t fix and many problems politicians shouldn’t try to fix. That doesn’t mean we don’t care. It means we’re not gods and you shouldn’t expect us to be.” “You raise a really tough issue. There’s no clear cut answer. I can see why my opponent thinks the way he does, but let me try to explain the tradeoffs and why my position makes more sense.” “It’s possible for me to disagree with their decisions, their ideas, and even their religion without despising them. Just because I don’t think everyone is doing what is best doesn’t mean I don’t want what is best for everyone.” “I’m not smart enough or virtuous enough to figure out everyone’s fair share.” “I don’t pretend to understand the needs of every American or feel every hurt.” “I may not be able to find a job for everyone, but I will do my best to defend this country, defend the constitution, defend your liberty, and defend the rights granted to us by God.” “There is no reason a President needs to give his opinion on that or even have an opinion on that.” “I don’t know.”
I think we can all agree with Kevin. Why don't candidates offer an alternative to the same tired rhetoric? Why not be honest? Unfortunately, there are reasons they don't, a few of which I have listed here:
1- As outlined in his Pulitzer Prize winning book, "The Denial of Death," Ernest Becker explains that people intuitively demonize opposing views. A candidate who acknowledges similarities and makes connections to the opposing side will risk ostracizing his/her own voting base. Unfortunately, as a whole we are just not capable of seeing the shades of grey that exist in the real world.
2- The overpromise and under-deliver rhetoric of campaigns has been proven over and over again to be not only effective, but the only way to win. Voters want to hear that the candidate will solve their problems. Four years later, the consequences of unfulfilled promises can be easily sidestepped by pushing responsibility to the opposing party and external unforeseen circumstances. Not making lofty promises might earn you honesty points, but it won't earn you votes.
3- People want to believe in the super-hero myth of the president. Humanizing the president must be done in only the most delicate of ways. Good examples include Obama playing basketball and making picks for March Madness, Clinton playing the saxophone. On the other side, some political communication experts argue that George H. W. Bush's bid for re-election was lost when cameras caught him vomit on the Prime Minister of Japan. We want our President to be healthier, smarter, more confident, stronger, and ultimately super human. Thus, rhetoric that includes "I'm not sure...I don't know...I'm human and make mistakes" is a quick route to losing votes.
4- In any public argument (including writing), you should NEVER explain the other side's view in detail. That gives the alternative view double the time in the debate. We remember what we hear repeated. Instead, explain what's wrong with the view briefly and focus on your superior solution.
All this to say, if you are looking for the candidate who makes limited promises, lowers expectations, acknowledges doubt and personal limitations, and talks about how much he likes the other candidate, you will be looking for a long long time.