The Impressionists were a major school of painters who radically changed how we see the world. Working at the end of the 19th century, Monet, Renoir and Cézanne moved away from pure realism, paving the way for non-realistic, modern art.
In much the same way as the Impressionists, modern politicians have moved away from presenting reality and realistic programs to give us their “impressions” of that reality. As much as the Impressionist painters have stayed in vogue, impressionistic politicians are now the current fashion.
We the voters, with the help of media commentators, observe that: “The candidate gives the impression of knowing the subject.” Or “The candidate seems to be a forceful person.” Or “The candidate has an aura of leadership and appears to possess the authority needed for the job.”
Phrases such as “…gives the impression” “…seems to be” “…has an aura” “…appears to possess” are all subjective impressions. Why can’t we say that the candidate “is a forceful person” who “is a leader” who “possesses the authority needed for the job”? Why equivocate? Why use the subjective impression instead of a forceful objective stance? Is there no way we can make definitive statements about a politician that can be agreed upon on from all perspectives?
There are ways around this problem. Months after the end of Donald Trump’s presidency, I have yet to see an objective analysis of his positive and negative achievements. Yes, we can objectively say that the stock market rose during his four years in office. We can say that his Middle East transactions had positive benefits for some. We could also point to objective figures about unemployment, numbers of homeless, rising inequality, costs and accessibility of health insurance, home ownership and so on. In other words, there are ways of measuring achievements instead of using impressions or arguing about who was responsible for the January 6 insurrection.
In much the same way, the upcoming Geneva election should be based on measurable achievements. What have Fabienne Fischer, Yves Nidegger, Delphine Bachmann and Pierre Maudet actually done? Whereas each has functioned in a different environment, they should be held accountable for measurable achievements in their individual spheres of activities. For it is on the basis of a past record that we can judge how successful the person will be in the future, regardless of the particular environment they were functioning in.
Am I being unreasonable? Possibly so. There are always extenuating circumstances to explain failures or achievements. It is much easier to judge an individual’s performance in sports than it is in politics. The tennis player either wins or loses.
So why do we judge politicians on impressions? Why can’t we hold them accountable for their results in whatever domain they have functioned? For example: I have no idea how many pieces of legislation Yves Nidegger proposed and helped pass in Bern. I also have no idea how he voted on major issues. I know what political party he belongs to. But, I want to know more about his record just as I want to know the records of the other candidates. (It is absurd to propose that we put the counter at zero when we judge candidates.)
The Impressionist painters were part of a golden age of art. Their paintings are still enormously popular. But, on the negative side, their impressions broke with realism that led to cubism – Braque and Picasso – and finally non-representational art.
While one might appreciate the movement from realism to cubism to surrealism, impressionism has no place in politics. Politics is not art, and political candidates should not be treated as if they were striving for museum recognition. There is too much at stake for politicians to be treated as impressionists. We should be wary of perception management based on impressions. Let the candidates’ objective records speak for themselves.