Hillary Clinton is a strong candidate: Smart, talented and ready to fight. But she’s not a likable candidate. And, as America looks to get its groove back after two torturous terms of George W. Bush, that lack of likeability appears to be a fatal flaw.
Our nation is hungry for healing. It’s tired of partisan warfare. After more than a decade of red states and blue states, people are ready to try on some purple. Clinton is seen as part of the old way. Democrats respect her – and her husband. But, unfairly or not, the previous Clinton administration is seen as the beginning of this divisive period.
The next president is going to have to build bridges. I don’t think Clinton can do that; she’s red meat for Republicans. And she’s not helping herself in the way she’s gone about “Setting the Tone” this past week.
For former Governor Howard Dean, the end began with a passionate scream. Apparently, some thought expressing excitement is not Presidential. For Senator Joseph Biden, the close of a Presidential campaign may have started with a stumble. Say it ain’t so Joe. This foot-in-mouth blunder may have profoundly altered a campaign that began only hours earlier. The elder statesman offered this assessment of his fellow Senator and Democratic candidate Barrack Obama, “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean that’s a storybook, man.”
Years ago, Joseph Biden tripped on his own tongue. He made a disparaging remark about Indians. For decades, many of the electorate thought Biden the storybook man. Senator Joseph Biden was often thought of as an electable candidate. He seemed to have it all, good looks, a strong and consistently liberal voting record, a grasp of the issues, a white face, and a male body. Yet, Senator Biden consistently creates what he cannot control, an endless downward spiral. Perchance, Americans join him. Our fellow citizens make arbitrary assessments again and again.
Numerous persons say Senator Biden is just too chatty. When he apologizes for one misstep, he stumbles into a deeper hole.
A symbol of Biden’s predicament was that the Delaware senator could not decide which verbal sin warranted the biggest apology. He abjectly apologized to Jesse Jackson and Sharpton — both prior presidential candidates — for implying that they were not as “articulate and bright and clean” as Obama. Biden also gave contradictory explanations of what he meant by “clean,” saying in a press conference that it was a shorthand for “clean as a whistle,” and then insisting to Stewart and Sharpton that he was praising Obama’s “fresh” ideas.
As I reflect on the Biden blunder and contrast it with the Dean Scream, I find myself horrified. I do object to the seemingly racist comment Senator Joseph Biden made this week, and the one he uttered years ago when he was out on the campaign trail. However, I never struggled with the enthusiastic utterance made by Governor Dean. My problems with Dean were deeper. I actually enjoyed his energy and thought he was more “electable” than John Kerry. Nevertheless, the choice is not mine alone to make.
What horrifies me is, how we as a nation judge so quickly. Our assessments are superficial and frequently shortsighted. As I contemplate whom we vote for and why, I feel deeply distressed.
Although Americans are raised to believe beauty is only skin deep, they often act as though the opposite is true. Citizens in the United States consider what is on the surface and then decide. Good looks and great sound bites often sell a candidate. Name recognition solidifies a lead. During our last Presidential election, presumed electabilty ruled the race. Substance was, and today is, rarely considered. Actually, an intelligent man or woman is not highly thought of in Party circles.
Public relations experts say a scholarly sort cannot relate to the common people. The pundits prefer a likable popular fellow or female. You might recall the numbers that stated they wanted to go have a beer with George W. Bush.
This was on my mind as I listened to Senator Biden speak of his African American opponent, Barrack Obama. Biden spoke favorably of the Black American Senator from Illinois, or so he thought. He mentioned characteristics that he believed to be complimentary and I thought of Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm. However, unlike Obama who may have a chance, Congresswoman Chisholm never did The Congresswoman knew this and spoke of it.
“I am a candidate for the Presidency of the United States. I make that statement proudly, in the full knowledge that, as a black person and as a female person, I do not have a chance of actually gaining that office in this election year. I make that statement seriously, knowing that my candidacy itself can change the face and future of American politics – that it will be important to the needs and hopes of every one of you – even though, in the conventional sense, I will not win.” ~ Shirley Chisholm June 4, 1972
Perhaps, we as a nation might ponder; what constitutes a “win.” Missus Chisholm may not have become President of the United Sates; nevertheless, she won great respect. Shirley Chisholm was a forthright, determined educator-turned-politician. The Congresswoman shattered racial and gender barriers. she became a national symbol of liberal politics in the 1960’s and 1970’s. this woman, this African American person, this fine female won the hearts and minds of many Americans. Shirley Chisholm made possible what was considered impossible for centuries. She may not have been President of the United Sates of America; nonetheless, she left quite a legacy.
Many that never took the highest office have made quite an impression. Consider former Senator and Vice President Albert Gore. People continually push him to seek the seat that was meant to be his. They want the Nobel Prize nominee to take the podium and rightfully claim the office he was elected to. Many forget the compromises Al Gore felt forced to make as a Presidential candidate. Likely, he recalls.
America is Wal-Mart country; we look for a bargain, not brains. We want a quick fix, not quality. Americans wait for a crisis before they act. You might recall Senator Albert Gore published his book Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit in 1992. He was passionately concerned about the environment more than fifteen years ago. Then many thought him silly. Now as climate change creates infinite hardships worldwide, we turn to Albert Gore. We honor him. We listen to his wisdom. A Presidential candidate, Al Gore may be forced to stifle his passion again. You doubt it? Remember Dean, the scream, and then let us talk about Dukakis. What was his sin?
Howard Dean was considered a man of strength, a campaigner that stood by his convictions, and that hurt him. Mark Singer, a Journalist writing for Time Magazine penned his perspective of the Dean downfall and discussed how it damaged the Democratic Party.
Dean would have one more, less tangible advantage: he doesn’t sound like a politician. One reason the flip-flop charge has stuck is that Kerry, with his meandering, caveat-filled speaking style, often seems like a guy trying to avoid a straight answer. Sensing that vulnerability, Republicans have run the same playbook they ran against Al Gore: portraying Kerry’s personality deficiencies as deficiencies of character. As a result, while Kerry leads Bush on most domestic issues, voters turn sour when asked about Kerry the man. In last week’s TIME poll, Kerry’s biggest deficit versus Bush was in “sticking to his positions.” Only 37% of registered voters in the survey said Kerry does that, compared with 84% for Bush.
Dean wouldn’t have that problem. Polls in Iowa showed him doing best among voters who value a candidate who “takes strong stands.” It’s true that Dean’s passion exploded the night he lost Iowa – into a scream heard around the world. But it was the flip side of the spontaneity that made him seem authentic, a straight shooter. With his blunt, no-nonsense style, Dean actually evoked – more than any of his Democratic rivals – President Bush.
Were Dean the nominee, the Bush campaign would probably be going after him not as a flip-flopper but as a lefty. Lefty isn’t exactly a term of endearment. But at least it evokes issues rather than character. Character debates sank Al Gore and threaten to sink John Kerry now. A debate about issues, on the other hand – especially the biggest issue of all, Iraq – is something Democrats could win.
The nature of a person is difficult to discern when the media and the opposing Party promotes an image. A candidate’s attempts to control the message can also cause difficulty. It seems that more American’s remember the image of Michael Dukakis in a tank than they recall what he stood for. Issues are rarely discussed on the campaign trail and when they are, watch out. Consider what a contender says and how he says it. The public certainly will. The honorable Governor Dukakis was devastated throughout his run, rarely were issues the focus. Character was. When Michael Dukakis answered a question too calmly he was considered cold and thus, not electable. Yet, let us look at the man again. Perhaps, time will afford a more accurate assessment
By 1988, the stage was set for Dukakis to ascend to the White House. He won a tough primary, sharpening his political teeth against several well-heeled challengers, including Al Gore, a senator from Tennessee, and Gary Hart, a former senator from Colorado.
“The best America is a nation where the son of Greek immigrants, with your help, can seek and win the presidency of the United States,” Dukakis told a crowd of supporters during his contentious presidential campaign.
As Dukakis squared off against Republican nominee and then Vice President George H.W. Bush, his campaign hit a few rough patches.
He struggled with image problems as the Bush campaign attacked him for being too liberal. For his part, Dukakis called himself a “proud liberal” and attempted to link the Bush campaign to one of the Reagan administration’s biggest scandals — the Iran-Contra affair.
One of the most pivotal moments of the presidential campaign came during the second debate between the hopefuls.
CNN’s Bernard Shaw asked Dukakis, a well-known opponent of the death penalty, if he would support a death sentence for the killer if his wife were the one raped and murdered.
Dukakis’s rote answer to such an emotional question — that he opposed the death penalty because he did not consider it a deterrent to crime — sounded unfeeling to some.
Others criticized the question itself as unfair.
In November 1988, Dukakis lost the presidential election to Bush, and he returned to Massachusetts to finish his term as governor.
Still, Dukakis counts losing the presidential election as one of his biggest disappointments.
“I think about it every morning when I open the newspaper and read about the current President Bush,” he told CNN.
Howard Dean was reamed for being too passionate; Dukakis for being too composed. Chisholm was too Black, too feminine, too respectable, and Senator Biden might be too contrite or not repentant enough. Perhaps he is a racist, though his voting record does not reflect this. Were I Michael Dukakis, I would not feel disappointment. I would rejoice in not being elected by a populace that is so frivolous. Howard Dean might assess American’s and understand that they can be shallow. Albert Gore may look at the public and think, how glib. Shirley Chisholm might reflect on America and conclude, this nation is racist and sexist. She would be correct, or so I believe.
I experience my countrymen and women as critical, judgmental, disapproving, and disparaging. We are discriminating, though not in the best of ways. We categorize and compartmentalize our candidates. Gore is too stiff and Obama is inexperienced. Kerry was decidedly electable; yet, he was not.
In America we determine who we think will win and forget to consider whom might best serve the needs of a nation at risk. Congressman Dennis Kucinich is a name rarely mentioned. Senator Tom Harkin was a hush. Governor Tom Vilsack of Iowa is but a blur for now. Some names are barely memorable. There is no spin. Authenticity, altruism, and ardor are not desirable qualities in a presidential candidate. Americans wants a looker, a likeable guy, or a person that listens to them. Oh no, not the latter.