Americans have been “voting for the man [sic] and not the party” for at least my entire conscious lifetime. In fact, we do it somewhat less often now than we used to in the ‘50s and ‘60s, when we were mostly convinced, with George Wallace, that there wasn’t “a dime’s worth of difference” between Democrats and Republicans as such. I have voted for, I think, three Republicans myself, over a longish lifetime. They were all good guys, they all won, and I don’t regret any of those votes. But that was back in the good old days, when there often really wasn’t a dime’s worth of difference.
More recently, two things have happened roughly in parallel. The political parties have become more different, and the political candidates’ personas have become more manufactured. Unfortunately, neither of those developments has much to do with the real political issues confronting us right now. The parties differ mainly over what we like to call “cultural” or “values” issues, most of them outside the scope of federal government control. And the politicians, or rather, their handlers, plug into the handiest Jungian or Freudian or Frazerian archetype. McCain is the old warrior king; Obama is the young challenger. Hillary’s main problem was that the closest thing to an archetype she could find was a schoolmarm. Female archetypes are scarce, and mostly ambivalent: maiden (sexpot, airhead, virgin, whore)/mother (smothering, rejecting, controlling, Madonna)/crone (witch, grandmother, bag lady). Anyway, neither reversing Roe v. Wade and stopping gay marriage nor overthrowing the grizzled old warrior will help us revive the American economy, save the middle class, end the war in Iraq, reinstate the Fourth Amendment, or stop climate change.
I think we got into this mess because we Americans don’t trust our own judgment about abstractions. It’s easier to decide we like or don’t like a particular person, even if that requires us to ignore everything we know about the marketing of political candidates and the fabrication of persona. “I don’t know much about….but I know what I like,” is a lazy thinker’s approach to just about everything. We have been encouraged to fall into it by an advertising-saturated culture that does its marketing by making us like the product, rather than giving us any useful information about it. That may be okay when selecting a toothpaste. Unfortunately, the system that has given us at least 150 different varieties of toothpaste can provide us with only two major political parties, and at most only one-and-a-half political ideologies.