Who ever yells the loudest or has the best sound bite smear wins in the politics of personality.

I will try and make this my last post about personality in politics.

It has been my experience that when talking about politics, people tend to raise their voices.  Why?  Here are some of my thoughts on why this happens:

  • It makes you sound more confident about your position.
  • It makes you sound like you are more of an authority on the matter.
  • It makes you sound passionate.
  • It’s a relatively polite way of saying (without really saying) your debating opponent is wrong and that you are right.
  • It is an effort to intimidate your debating opponent.

Well, take your pick.  Either way, it is more about style than substance.  Living in a predominantly liberal state I have the distinct pleasure of seeing Obama signs and bumper stickers everywhere.  When I happen to bring up anything remotely political, I get one of two responses.  The first is a sheepish answer that indicates I don’t really want to talk about it.  The second is generally a very self-assured liberal answer that seems to indicate, I’m voting for Obama, aren’t you?

I don’t mind disagreeing with people (although it has taken me a long time to get to that point), but I do mind not being able to disagree in a manner that allows a reasonable conversation.  Because I am what I consider to be a conservative Republican, I can only write about this from my perspective, but I am sure that much of what I have to say is observed from the liberal Democrats point of view as well.

I have found that whenever I enter a discussion about politics with an Obama supporter (who is likely a left-leaning individual), it invariably starts and ends with discussing the personalities of the two candidates.  I find myself trying to acknowledge what they are saying in order to prove that I am listening to what they are saying while I try to steer the discussion to something of more substance.  Unfortunately, that is not where we spend most time in discussion.  A typical conversation might go like this:

MW: What do you think about Obama’s foreign policy positions?

Conversational Partner: I think he wants to improve America’s standing in the world.

MW: Ok. What about the possibility of him meeting with the president of Iran, North Korea, and Venezuela without precondition?

CP: He didn’t really mean it.  And besides, if we talk to them, then we can reach agreements on how to get along better.

MW: But he said it, and hasn’t really changed his official position.  Won’t that validate the types of regimes that are dangerous to our national security?

CP: John McCain is too old to be president, we’ll end up having Sarah Palin as president and she doesn’t have any experience.

MW: (Quizzical look on my face as I try to understand where the conversation went and how to pick it up again.)  Huh?

Some of the problem is that conversations don’t seem to have the luxury of time.  Time to flesh out the details of positions and ideas.  Instead, we try to communicate in sound bites regurgitating the latest from our favorite news provider or commentator.  That’s too bad because people are worth talking to, not shouting at.  It’s one of the features of our country that make us a great nation that hasn’t devolved into bloody confrontations every time there is a national election.

Well, enough of my time and thoughts have been printed here.

MW

The Democrats have a distinct advantage when an election is boiled down to which personality is more electable (especially on a national stage).  Not because Democrats are inherently more like able (not really knowing the candidates on a personal level, I don’t dare even speculate).  No, because for the Democrats its all about personality.  Without going into an in depth study (because postulating on politics is a hobby, not a profession for me), a case in point would be this year’s Democratic primary battle between Clinton and Obama.

Hillary Clinton was a personality darling because she was a trailblazer for women in politics and other high-profile careers.  It helped (mostly) that her husband was the President of the United States.  Enter Barack Obama.  Now, here is some one who is a minority race in America.  He is affable, articulate, and new to the national political stage (a change in politics-as-usual in Washington is something that Democrats often say they want without ever being able to deliver because in their version of politics necessarily involves seniority – eerily similar to teachers’ contracts in the country’s public schools).  This Obama guy could deliver us from our own malaise, not to mention he has many (if not all) of the characteristics of a victim that we fight so hard to elevate in our cause.  Sorry, Hillary, you’re just not what the cult of personality ordered for the Democratic Party.

Fast forward to the last few weeks before the election.  Obama (with the aide of his many popular personality allies) continues to chip away at McCain’s personality as unsuitable for the presidency.  His tactic is not unsuccessful, but nor is it particularly honest.  By using the measure of personality as a qualification for being president, there are number of outstanding citizens that we know in our own neighborhoods that would beat both of the men running for president.  By focusing on Obama’s personality the Democrats have invited the current attacks on his associations with Bill Ayers, Jeremiah Wright, Tony Rezko, and others.  The good news for Obama is that the Democrats are very well-equipped to distract the public from those personality flaws. 

McCain, and any Republican, faces an uphill battle any time they enter into a contest for a national position.  A Republican candidate actually has to be perfect, while a Democratic candidate only has to be like able.

MW

So, both campaigns are playing the ‘guilt-by-association’ card with their opponent.  McCain’s tack is a little more obvious: Obama hangs out with unrepentant terrorists and America haters.  Obama’s is a little more subtle: McCain hangs out with the well-to-do and those unsympathetic to the poor and downtrodden.  Thanks to the campaigns of both candidates we find ourselves, once again, considering who do I like rather than whose candidacy has the best ideas for governance.

Now, that being said, it isn’t unimportant who the candidates ally themesleves with.  Depending on the depth of that relationship an association can play an important role in shaping the candidate’s thinking on many issues that would play out in the White House if elected.  It makes sense for McCain to tie Obama to Ayers and others because it may give voters some insight into how Obama thinks.  How a candidate thinks should be important to consider when voting for the President of the United States.  For Obama, his attack on McCain may not be quite as effective.  It makes sense for Obama to alienate voters from some one who can’t identify with their station in life, but it doesn’t necessarily give the voter any insight into how the candidate thinks.

Either way, personality politics is relatively useless in determining what kind of governing a candidate will execute once in office.  I am not the most informed voter out there, but neither am I ignorant of the race for president and some of the various subtexts accompanying the major stories.  I don’t pretend to know the details of how each candidate would govern, but here is my (simplified) summary:

Obama: centralized planning by the government

McCain: free-market approach by the government

It would be refreshing if we could discuss the differences between those two approaches to governance rather than who is cooler or braver.

MW

I found these two videos online today:

Obama Supporters, Video 1

Obama Supporters, Video 2

Both of them are disturbing and I am trying to get some feedback on them from my liberal friends.  I don’t need any more convincing that Barack Obama is the wrong candidate for this country, but I would like to hear a supporter’s (or potential supporter’s) perspective on these two videos so I can understand.

Understand what?  I’m not sure.  See, I’ve never been attracted to the Obama veneer.  I am (for better or worse) preconditioned to reject any candidate who supports a bigger government.  I am not closed for discussion or debate on the issues, but I don’t want to waste my time or money supporting a candidate that will only disappoint me by ushering in programs that cost me (and my countrymen) more money and I would probably not approve of in the first place.  I would like to think that I’ve outgrown the high school personality politics and matured (at least in some areas of my life) to focus on issues, the possible solutions to those issues, and the costs that those solutions entail.

I’m new to blogging, so I don’t know if I’ve properly researched these two videos to ensure that they are legitimate and that I am passing them on to you as unadulterated as possible so that you can make up your own mind about what you see and not be potentially turned off by some ones remarks.

MW

It is unfortunate that politics has become a cult of personality.  Basically this election is similar to the vote you cast for class president back in high school.  Who do you like more?  The handsome, smooth-talking, bright, clever, likable candidate.  Or the old guy who has an impressive history of service to his country.  In other words, if you’re young and hip, you’ll probably vote for the young guy and if you’re more sensitive to tradition, then you’ll likely vote for the old guy.  But perhaps you’ll transcend your demographic status and vote for the “other” guy just because…well, just because you like him more than the one you’re supposed to vote for.

But it gets complicated.  Now add the affable, and slightly goofy, tall, old widower guy and the attractive, enthusiastic, folksy young mother of five.  Because these two are paired, respectively, with the candidates at the top of the ticket, now you have to consider which combination of the two candidates you’ll vote for.  Again, not unlike today’s trend in high school class politics.  Choose a co-president, or co-vice president, so as to give your fellow students an opportunity to vote for you even if they don’t like you because the person you’re on the ticket with has complimentary credentials that will help you get elected to the office of class president, I mean co-president.

What if you like the young, handsome guy but not the old, goofy guy?  What if you like the old guy, but not the young, folksy gal?  How do you cast your ballot then?

If you are caught up in the politics of personality then I suspect you may be having a difficult time with your choice of who to pull the lever for on November 4th.  And unfortunately, all you see on TV is a type of super powered high school clique war being played out by the two major parties and their candidates.  “We’re better than the other team because…” or “Don’t vote for them because then you’re not cool.”  I imagine that many a swing voter finds themselves challenged by the jocks vs. nerds debate taking place on the national stage (I couldn’t begin to tell you which campaign more resembles the jocks or the nerds…I’m just using those two classic high school social groups as an illustration).

If random guy from Vermont can influence you’re thinking at all, I would ask you to please look beyond the surface of the candidates’ appearance and mannerisms.  Agree with our current president or not, there is clearly more to him than the “poorly spoken village idiot” that many people portrayed him to be.  I would encourage you, especially to examine their ideas and the ideals of governance that they would bring to the office of President of the United States.  In the end, that is what Obama or McCain’s presidency will resemble.  Sure, their personality  would have an impact on their executing the oath of office, but more important are the ideals that will shape the execution of their job.

Of course, character does matter and it would be impossible to separate character from personality.  So, there will always be some element of personality politics, but let’s move that to the bottom of the list in our considerations of who we choose for the next president.

MW