“I strode into that politician’s office ready to take his vision and weld it to words that would swell the breast and demand action to make that vision a reality.
“What do you want to say” I asked him.
“Oh well, we were rather hoping you would suggest something good,” the politician replied.
“My friends, I was I confess, stunned. I, the speechwriter, was being asked not just to contribute the form but the content. And in asking that I understood that what mattered to the politician was not that I suggest a way to persuade people of a policy the politician believed in, but simply that I say something that was pleasing.
“And that moment, in a nutshell, seemed to capture all that was wrong with modern politics.
“The rhetoric of modern politics is no longer about persuading others of the rightness of one’s position. It is about mobilising sufficient numbers of those who already share our prejudices. It is about getting out the vote.
“Now if the shock of my realisation reflects only my own naivety, it reflects calculated understanding on the part of our politicians. That approach takes advantage of our own psychology and modern technology exacerbates those cognitive biases.
“Research tells us that we experience pleasure when hearing arguments that confirm our existing prejudices.
“Meanwhile, the Internet and Satellite TV offer a multitude of refuges where we may hear only the view that pleasingly accords with our own. And on the rare occasion the disagreeable voices intrude, we can simply block them or un-friend them.
“Against these trends, there is no counter pressure.
“The information resource that is the Internet is frequently more burden than boon. The sheer torrent of information making it impossible to sort the accurate signals from the biased and irrational noise.
“In this world, no politician is incentivised to educate or to persuade people of harsh truths. They all want to be re-elected. If nothing else their salary and pensions depend on it. It’s a cruel jobs market and nobody wants to be flung on it with one night’s warning and a CV that reads simply ‘spent the last 5 years shouting and answering angry letters.’
“So when a politician speaks now, it is not to bridge a divide but to confirm prejudice. It is to rouse his loyal troops to action. Now if you believe, as I do, that however rational it may be as a response to the nature of our current system, a political rhetoric that does not seek to engage but to divide, is not the right way to make decisions, then you agree with me that there is a problem.
“Now it’s no good identifying a problem without at least pretending to offer a solution. So I do. Not so much in the expectation that it will be enacted, but because in thinking about my solution, we might more clearly understand the nature of the problem.”