No arena is more rife with moral grandstanding than the way of the politicians and it is a fact that many social activists are in on the game of moral talk leading to grandstanding. One might even ask if it is possible to be either and not grandstand. This is the subject of the final chp (before their conclusion) in the book Grandstanding, by Justin Tosi and Brandon Warmke.

Again, we have to open the conversation with the meaning:

Grandstanders want to impress others with their moral qualities. We call this the Recognition Desire.

Grandstanders try to satisfy that desire by saying something in public moral discourse. We call this public display the Grandstanding Expression.

You can therefore think of grandstanding in terms of a simple formula:

Grandstanding = Recognition Desire + Grandstanding Expression

Grandstanders try to get others to think of them as morally respectable. Sometimes they want to be thought of as one of the gang. Other times, they want to be thought of as morally exceptional. Either way, they usually want to be seen as morally better than others.

They open their chp with this: “politicians are notorious for grandstanding” and they quote both Democrats and Republicans accusing the other side for grandstanding, and even the media are involved in asking the politicians to knock it off. Not.Gonna.Happen.

First, to be a politician is to be wooed by narcissism and narcissists indwell grandstanding.

Second, voters want moral grandstanding because voters want to believe they are voting for character (someone trustworthy) and can’t spend their time knowing all that needs to be known. So, politicians grandstand as a way of promoting and expressing their character or the side they are on, which is the side with moral character.

This turns politics into a morality pageant. Peacocks welcome.

Image: Cover Photo

But this leads to problems:

The No Compromise Problem: taking a strong moral stand, from which one will not move, which creates a voter base but which is unrealistic because politics is (or used to be) about compromises. They do this No Compromise thing by both in-group appeals and out-group attacks.

It leads to moralizing, which leads to more and more topics and issues being brought into the circle of moralizing. The more of these the less capable the politician is to compromise with others in the halls of power. Which leads to voter-base doubt. If one says he or she will work with the other party, the voter base is disappointed and wants the No Compromise candidate.

This leads to false dichotomies and false descriptions of the other side: We care for the poor (Dems), the others (GOPers) don’t.

It leads too to fringe grandstanding: caricaturizing the other side by its extreme proponents. Which leads to distrust of the other and making the other enemies. Leftists are all socialists and communists; Rightists are fascists.

This is not how politics is to be done if it is the politics of the whole people.

Social activists are part of this game.

Churches are part of this game.

It makes others the enemy.

The Expressive Policy Problem: this is about moral grandstanding about a policy and platform but it is an empty stand because the party doesn’t make it happen. Abortion is a good example: What has the GOP actually achieved with all its claims for the last forty years? Uplift and equality for the poor: What have the Dems achieved in its sixty years of taking on this problem?

Is it an expression policy problem? Slogans? Promises?

Yes, and the more vivid the expression the more effective it is for voters.

And since they are rarely realized, it devalues the policy and degrades trust in the politicians.

Are politicians, they ask, willing to use the Display Test? That is, articulating the downsides of the policy along with the upsides. No, they aren’t. Why? Voters want vivid No Compromise expressions.

Many social activists, they contend, are in the game to preen but not to make actual changes. They want to be known for being social activists. If the actor gets what one wants, the game is over. But they want to continue to be activists.

To bring about that change, grandstanding needs to be avoided.

They believe political moral grandstanding does more harm than good, though they state that some grandstanding actually helps the politician and society.