Voters Hiding From the World

The insularity of that minority (i.e., "the base'') of the electorate that tends to dominate presidential campaigns' first innings explains much of the current nasty race, especially on the Republican side.

These people seek to protect themselves from the anxiety of hearing a viewpoint they might not like by holing up in echo chambers in which the same fact-thin opinions are repeatedly shouted day after day. The epicenter is the oratorical masturbation known as political talk radio.

You'd think that listeners would get bored and occasionally want to hear something different, but that would make them uncomfortable. Talk radio does not encourage curiosity or research. The point is to soothe listeners by reinforcing their well-entrenched prejudices and satisfy their desire for simple solutions to their problems - and clear villains.

The majority of talk-radio fans are middle- and lower-middle class white people aggrieved by their downward socio-economic mobility and upset about changing social mores as seen, for example, in gay marriage, and the changing ethnic and religious mix of America. That's understandable.

But their refusal to listen to all sides in order to become better-informed citizens also suggests a disinclination to make the changes, be it training for new work skills or bringing disorderly personal lives under control, necessary to address these tougher times for many Americans. Too many of them are both angry and passive.

That makes them prey to such demagogues as Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. Mr. Trump may be an especially fitting candidate for our times: People who avoid reading and obtain most of their "news'' from TV and talk radio like him the most.

No wonder (relatively) scandal-free people of great executive and policymaking accomplishment who would have been very plausible presidential candidates in the past - say former New York Republican Gov. George Pataki and former Democratic Sen. Jim Webb -- don't have a prayer. And such competent chief executives as Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley haven't gotten much traction either.

And it's hard to see Hillary Clinton, despite her CV, intelligence and persistence, as a person of great executive and policymaking success. Bernie Sanders, for his part, is an eccentric fringe high-tax candidate in a nation whose citizens hate taxes. His only executive experience has been as mayor of Burlington, Vt.: pop: 42,000.

(A possible spanner in the works of a Hillary Clinton march to the Democratic nomination: indictment stemming from her "top-secret'' home-server e-mails.)

You'd think that voters would want the nation's chief executive to be or have been a successful elected executive of a government body. And no, running a business is not the same as running a government body.

Globalization and technology, both of which will continue to eat away at the American middle class, require a panorama of responses, including reducing our plutocracy's ever-increasing power, more job training and rebuilding the nation's decayed physical infrastructure to create jobs and make the nation more internationally competitive.

Cheapening labor and technology-based automation, which so far have mostly destroyed the jobs of blue-color workers, are now eating away even at what had been well-paying upper-middle-class jobs. And senior business execs show little desire to share more of their gargantuan compensation with underlings.

The candidates generally avoid presenting and emphasizing programmatic details because details don't do well on TV and talk radio. And so many journalists have been laid off that the surviving ones almost entirely focus on the easiest and more marketable stuff in the campaigns - - the daily insults, faux pas and hour-by-hour opinion polls -- the horse race.

Apparently that's fine with the people who hide in the silos of talk radio.

Once the candidates of the two major parties are chosen, perhaps more substance will appear as the candidates reach for support from moderate and independent voters. We can hope they'll then explain with considerable detail and precision what they'd do and, as important, how they'd do it.

Meanwhile, most of the electorate, the large majority of whom only bother to vote in November, can look into the mirror to see who is most to blame for our predicament.

Robert Whitcomb (rwhitcomb51@gmail.com is a partner in Cambridge Management Group (cmg625.com), a healthcare-sector consultancy, oversees newenglanddiary.com and is a former
Providence Journal editorial-page editor and former International Herald Tribune finance editor.
He's also a fellow at the Pell Center.