Thursday, September 13, 2012

Likability is a Factor, but You Won't be Dating the President

One of the conceptions pushed in recent election campaigns, most notably in the Bush-Gore race, was that people should vote for the candidate they would most like to drink a beer with. Never mind that you were projecting a fantasy onto a candidate who was unlikely to ever be in a position to actually drink a beer with you. Never mind that Bush didn't even drink alcohol. I recently read somebody ask whether, in the current race, the media perspective on which candidate would be the winner of that contest, the one you most want to drink with, would be another non-drinker.

The simpler spin on this issue came from a friend who, after we discussed the closeness of the race, responded to my invitation for a prediction with, "Which candidate is the most likable." I responded that most people seem to identify President Obama as most likable. "Then he's going to win." The reasoning: people who really haven't made up their minds about which candidate they prefer are going to end up voting for the candidate they like. There's an element of projection here as well - that the candidate you like would like you back. Despite the stories of Mitt Romney as a gracious host, it's difficult to imagine relating to him as a friend.

The Republicans, in no small part due to the conceit of the 2008 election that people only supported Obama because they liked him, or were voting for social reasons, recently ran a campaign ad in which a Republican staffer pretended to be a disillusioned Obama voter, "breaking up" with Obama. It's belittling to voters, but I guess the ad worked with focus groups. Another version of the argument was presented in this editorial, in which a career political commentator describes his wife as an irrational voter, looking to vote not based upon the issues but instead likely to vote for whichever candidate she likes the most.

I saw a "man crush" version of this argument on a Fox News website, in which the author purported that he was disillusioned with Obama, because Obama is more into policy than politics, more into family than schmoozing.
President Obama is said to abhor the daily machinations of Washington politics. He refuses to miss more than two dinners a week with his daughters. He prefers not to meet with senators, congressmen or significant donors, yet he still expects to reap the benefits normally provided by those circumstances.
Wait a minute.... the guy likes Obama less because he has strong family values and eschews glad handing at cocktail parties?
Obama snubbed the advice of George Soros (perhaps his wealthiest and most influential donor) and has alienated many other important supporters.
That appears to translate into "Obama hasn't sold out to the billionaire that the right has attempted to depict as something akin to Satan incarnate". What message would the author have us draw? That Romney knows how to sell out to billionaires? That if Soros writes checks to Romney's campaign, Romney will be calling him up for advice? One second the author is ranting about how Obama doesn't get into politics the way he wants, the next he's raving that Obama's ads are too mean. Ah, yes... Fox News. One would not expect coherence.

I think Gail Collins was trying to be humorous, but her latest column on Mitt Romney draws on the "boyfriend" theme.
Mitt Romney broke our deal.

Perhaps he didn’t know he’d made it, although, really, I thought it was pretty clear.

He could do anything he wanted during this campaign as long as he sent out signals that once he got in the White House he was not likely to be truly crazy.
The then describes Romney's factually incorrect, over-the-top demagoguery on the Lebanon embassy tragedy as the deal-breaker. But Collins has to know that this was not exceptional behavior on Romney's part - it's been his approach from day one.

If we're going to stick with the romantic relationship theme, it's akin to having an affair with a married person and, when he finally divorces his spouse and marries you, being shocked that he has another affair. You may think you're "that special", but you're not - if you marry a cheater, you'll find yourself married to a cheater. The Romney you are now able to recognize is the Romney you've been looking at the whole time - you're just seeing him more clearly.
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Update: Kathleen Parker wrote a column to the effect of, "It's not important that we like the person we elect as President", a statement that is true but... in the context of a Parker column strikes me as an admission of the problem mentioned above - people find Obama more likable, and that's a problem for backers of the Republican candidate. Let's recall the type of argument Parker makes when she perceives a likability advantage on the part of the Republican candidate.

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