Obama Gets His Message Exactly Right (in Evolutionary Psychology Terms)

President Obama speaking in Chicago on Sunday:

“Too many folks still don’t have a sense that tomorrow will be better than today. And so, the question in this election is which way do we go?”

“Do we go forward towards a new vision of an America in which prosperity is shared?” Obama asked. “Or do we go backward to the same policies that got us in the mess in the first place?”

“I believe we have to go forward,” Obama said. “I believe we have to keep working to create an America where no matter who you are, no matter what you look like, no matter where you come from, no matter what your last name is, no matter who you love, you can make it here if you try. That’s what’s at stake in November. That’s why I am running for a second term as president of the United States of America.”

The far right will (stupidly) read this as code for socialism, but actually its a very savvy nod to evolutionary psychology.

Human beings are not sharks in the ocean with the evolutionary strategy of going it alone. They are primates that live in cooperative arrangements–social animals with the evolutionary strategy of establishing close-knit and extended families–including national families. That means that they are highly attuned to being dissed, to feeling stung if they’re low in a hierarchy, and to alpha-male bullies. They want signals from others in their family that they will sacrifice themselves on behalf of the group. That’s why the tax returns issue resonates and why white middle and upper class Republicans are careful never to call on eliminating welfare without portraying the poor as undeserving or alien (read black). Human beings have a sense of fairness and tribal identity, and they will only boot someone out of their tribe if they are quite convinced that he or she has done something of a criminal nature or is actually an alien within it. Otherwise, they leave no child (or elderly person or citizen in general) behind.

President Obama is saying above, We are one American tribe of 300 million people, and we share and participate in one another’s fate.

It’s far from clear that Romney-Ryan bear the same message. They seem to be promoting two Americas: the Atlas Shrugged America that lives behind private fortifications and Loser America (consisting of the vast majority of the population).  That’s why what President Obama says above is a winning message insofar as people will have an opportunity to vote in 2012 (that’s far from clear in some Republican-controlled states with restrictive voting requirements).

Going it alone is for sharks, not evolved primates. People know that intuitively. Cutting people off and no longer having skin in the game with them is a recipe for isolation and loneliness in animals evolved to socialize and affiliate. It’s not something most people will vote for unless they are fuming with hatred and want to reduce the size of their affiliated group (that is, have two Americas). President Obama gets this. Do Romney and Paul Ryan?

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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One Response to Obama Gets His Message Exactly Right (in Evolutionary Psychology Terms)

  1. mhasegawa says:

    Very interesting analysis. I like it!

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