I make a point of being on the e-mail lists for both the McCain and Obama campaigns. I make a point of listening to conservative and progressive radio. I don’t do this to hurt myself (though sometimes it does feel that way, I must confess!). I do this because as an Integrity Analyst in this Age of Spin I feel an obligation to be aware of the spin being generated by both ends of the dysfunctionally polarized political spectrum.
On June 6, 2008, I received an e-mail from the McCain campaign inviting me to look at a new feature on the McCain for President website called the Decision Center (www.johnmccain.com/decisioncenter). Its stated purpose is to "compare and contrast John McCain to Barack Obama on critical issues facing our nation."
I went to the page extremely curious to see how much integrity it was going to have. I was extremely disappointed to see that this page was a Spin Center rather than a Decision Center, just like most of these kinds of alleged voter information sources have done in the past across the political spectrum. (Now, before I go further, please know without a doubt that I am waiting for the Obama campaign to create their own version of a Decision Center, and that I am bracing for that webpage to be an equal but opposite spin machine.)
In order to function properly, democracies rely on decisions being arrived at through all of the facts being provided in objective, spin-free ways. Not just the convenient facts but the inconvenient ones as well. Democracy relies on facts not being co-mingled with innuendo, vague generalities, attacking the character of well-intended people whose views differ from our own, and comments that magnify polarization. Decision Centers are supposed to be educational tools not propaganda factories.
The more that a candidate’s Decision Center is a propaganda factory rather than an educational tool, the more that candidate is providing us with screaming warning lights that they have significant integrity deficits. This is but one symptom of a dangreously broken American political system, however.
This brokenness has been put extremely well by the famous conservative pundit and talented writer George Will. Building upon the quote by Henry Adams that "politics is the systematic organization of our hatreds, Will went on to say that "political parties help us organize our animosities." I most sincerely thank you, George Will, for so succinctly pointing out the disease that is destroying democracy as we know it.
I listen carefully to speeches for examples of spin because spin reflects lack of integrity and this threatens democracy. One of many things I listen for is irrelevant comments that invite listeners to form a negative or positive attitude about someone. I am dismayed by how rarely people catch these kinds of comments, compared to how often they are made by politicians and pundits from across the political spectrum.
Someone criticized me the other day for pointing out examples of spin in a presidential nominee’s speech. It doesn’t even matter which nominee it is because what I was pointing out could easily apply to just about any politician. There is a never-ending parade of examples of spin and propaganda that candidates from both political parties, as well as pundits across the political spectrum, express as though there is nothing wrong with doing this.
Spin includes bashing, polarization, propaganda and brainwashing. It includes contaminating facts with innuendo. It includes omitting facts that might cause the listener to forming a conclusion that is different from what the speaker is trying to spin them into believing. Spin is a form of socially accepted lying.
The opposite of spin is synergy, which means knowing that you have a piece of a larger puzzle, knowing that the other person has a piece of a larger puzzle, and therefore discovering the picture and the creative solutions that are co-created when we combine our respective pieces instead of trying to convince those who differ from us that we’re right and they’re wrong. Synergy isn’t compromise. Compromise is a vastly inferior strategy in which all parties meet in some vanilla middle place in which everyone walks away feeling equally ripped off. Rather, synergy is understanding the only way to create truly responsive and viable solutions is to co-discover the picture that emerges when we combine the piece of the larger picture that you see more clearly than me with the piece of the larger picture that I see more clearly than you. Synergy is the only strategy that is capable of generating true solutions to our problems.
Spin and synergy are complete opposites. Spin damages democracy. Synergy builds democracy. Spin sabotages synergy. This is why there is everything wrong with using spin as a communication style when trying to create solutions to complex societal problems. This is why there is everything wrong with citizens and the media tolerating and even encouraging spin.
I am constantly listening for when a leader, candidate or pundit makes a spin-oriented statement because this is an extremely reliable sign of integrity deficits. The more spin someone uses the greater their integrity deficits turn out to be. The more someone panders to what they believe people want to hear the greater their integrity deficits turn out to be. The more someone feeds polarization, the more they omit inconvenient facts and the more they overtly or covertly attack the motives and character of well-intended people who don’t have the same ideology as they do, the greater their integrity deficits turn out to be.
Most people say what this person who criticized me said: "I don’t for a second believe that Senator McCain, Senator Obama, or any other politician has complete integrity."
With deep sadness, I agree. And I also strongly believe that voters have a civic duty to become much better at evaluating levels of politician integrity so they can factor this into who they vote for. I further believe that voting for the candidate with the most integrity is a far more important selection criterion today than the extent to which a candidate appears to have the same position on issues as we think they ought to have. Issues are far too complex for the vast majority of citizens to have enough information or expertise about them to truly know how to handle these issues in ways that most serve collective highest good. They therefore have a responsibility to elect whichever politicians they believe have the highest integrity of those available because this is the best way to upgrade the quality of problem-solving in government. One of the reasons I wrote my two-award-winning book, The New IQ, was to help people upgrade their understanding of the various facets of what integrity includes so that they can become better at evaluating leadership and political integrity.
I listen carefully to both presidential nominees to discern when spin is being indulged or synergy is being advocated. My issue is not with McCain individually, or with Obama individually. Neither is it not solely with politicians and politics in general. It is not solely with the media and the pundits either. It is also with everyday citizens who tolerate a culture of spin because they erroneously believe that there is nothing they can do to change this. The problem is system-wide. Plain and simple, my mission is to speak up on behalf of cultural change away from spin and toward synergy.
My critic went on to say, "I believe the spin of the media can have quite an impact on the popular vote, but the popular vote is not what declares one the Democratic Nominee."
This is quite correct. The Democratic party’s nomination structure, which I have significant questions about, is nonetheless a reflection of the form of democracy that the founding fathers created. It is technically called “representative democracy.” The representative democracy model caused the Electoral College to be created in the first place. I sometimes wonder whether the Democratic Party thinks that Americans are too stupid to understand this so they don’t bother to educate the public about this. If so, I don’t agree. I sometimes wonder if the Republican Party hopes that Americans are too stupid to understand this so that they can effectively attack the Democratic Party for using a representative democracy approach to select a nominee. But mostly I am dismayed about how few citizens know what representative democracy is and its central role in the founding fathers’ vision of American democracy that they built into our Constitution.
One of questions I have is whether we have reached a point as a society where the public is sophisticated enough so that it would be prudent for the representative democracy structure created by the founding fathers to be allowed to evolve toward a more pure form of democracy.
In truth, we have a whole slew of legitimate and important issues on our hands that need dialogue and synergy in order to sort out and solve at a root-cause level rather than coming up with surface bandaids that simply cover up and prolong the underlying problems. Spin keeps driving us further and further away from addressing the underlying problems in comprehensive ways that both preserve individual freedom and steward collective highest good. The entire experiment in democratically-based governance that the founding fathers created for the United States is all about doing our level best to create solutions that live at this intersection of individual freedom and collective highest good.
Spin sabotages this foundation of American democracy. The time has come for us to demand an end to spin and that spin be be replaced by not by compromise but by synergy. It is time for citizens to start demanding this from themselves, the media and politicians.
Now would be a very good time for George Will’s version of politics to come to an end. Now is the time for an integrity revolution to begin! If not now, when? If not you, who?