Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Figureheads for the win!

Neil has opened the question of how important it is to nominate a Southerner for Democrats, come hell or highwater, with an electoral chart of Carter’s 76 victory highlighting all his Southern victories. One of the commenters points out that in that chart the north can be looked on as just as sectionalist and objecting to Southern politicians, but the general concept is still important and I’d like to discuss it. It’s also notable that if you measure {South = was part of the confederacy}, every elected President since Kennedy was from a Southern state (although this includes California as well. If you disagree with that categorization, you could amend: oh, and a Republican who coomes from California can win, which few would disagree with).

I feel this ties into a more central question of figureheadness vs actual politician. A party can nominate someone who is actually running the party, or someone who’s a good picture and will let others run the country. Reagan and W are perhaps the most extreme examples we’ve seen of figureheads, who were essentially cultivated for their role by smart operators who got them elected governor but always with an eye on the Whitehouse. Bush I and Gore are definitely from the more operator end of the spectrum.

I believe very strongly we need to start cultivating more figureheads and stop nominating the wonks who actually run the party. I am disgusted by the idea that people elect the person who sets their taxes, spending priorities, and supreme court nominess by how tall he is or how much you’d like to have a drink with him in a bar (always a him, of course). But the solution does not seem to be stick your head in the sand and just hope that the people elect your guy anyway, but rather recruit purer and purer figureheads. It’s a large country, we can find a 6’ suburban male charismatic veteran who teaches poor kids basketball – who happens to believe in any particular set of policy positions! We need to stop focusing only on the pool of Senators, Governors, and ambitious generals.

Part of this calculus is certainly southerness. But again, if you’re going to ignore all the New England Senators, in favor of an inexperienced Southern Senator (who was a trial lawyer and has an untelegenic wife), why stop there?

Also, while you may feel morally neutral about only nominating Southern Senators and not NE ones, how far does this stretch? I think it’s clear that to the same degree men want a male candidate while women focus on other issues, so should we make sure only to get men? That they’re Christian, married-straight, don’t have a visible health issue, and have had a positive relationship with the military goes without saying. These factors are already followed to a T in our nominating process, but don’t ignore that they have moral implications.

Bleh, now I have a nasty taste in my mouth.

Anyway, you know what I think the number one thing we need to start choosing nominees based on is? Charisma. Not that they have actual ability to relate to people; that’s a very subjective thing to judge. That the media says they have charisma. It seems the media is willing to forgive any blunder, and enhance any success when their storyline is that the politician in question goes and gives one of his trademark charismatic appearances. See Reagan, Clinton, and W (W might fall finally due to Katrina, but I believe he’ll make one of his speeches the media dubs charismatic, and they’ll say it was key to his recovery). In contrast, get the label of “bore” and it will start becoming a metaphor for how out of touch, unskilled, and maladaptive you are as a candidate. See Bush I, Gore, and Kerry.

And in that regard, I’m totally for Edwards 08 over Clinton. Until the media dubs someone else charismatic, of course.


At 1:11 PM, Blogger Neil Sinhababu said...

Being in a defend-Edwards-against-the-slightest-criticisms mood, I'm just going to take on the following, which I regard as incorrect:

"an inexperienced Southern Senator (who was a trial lawyer and has an untelegenic wife)"

1. Inexperience wins presidential elections. Experience loses.

2. It's really hard to make the "trial lawyer" attack work against Edwards, since his clients were really cuddly. (There's the little girl who got her intestines sucked out by a swimming pool drain! Talk about something that hits you on the gut level!) Once you love his client, you'll love the lawyer.

3. When Elizabeth Edwards, post-breast-cancer-surgery, goes on Oprah, it's going to be one of the all time great female empathyfests.

At 1:24 PM, Blogger Rousseau said...

1. I couldn't agree more. Which is why I rather a non-Senator than a Senator. (Although there are experiences that help, military etc, that he doesn't have). The statement you are referencing only had to do with why are you saying Edwards southerness is his most important thing, when the fact that you are limiting it to Senators/Governors means so much more.

2. Well, they did. I honestly don't know how much effect it had (and yes, I know that Edwards had the highest positives of all 4 candidates), but it was a useful talking point for them to through off whenever they brought up the ACLU, malpractice reform, or senate liberalness records. I suppose if Edwards worked harder at publicizing all the sob stories, they'd be stuck in the public mind, but all that did seem to stick was "Edwards was a lawyer, then partisan blah blah about what kind of lawyer he was."

3. Well she didn't. Untelegenic-ness can be a matter of will as much of ability. And I respect her for her many losses, but really, she's not an ideal symbol for winning elections.

At 8:15 PM, Blogger Neil Sinhababu said...

2. Certainly, they said things. If he hadn't been a lawyer, they would've said other things. There's no evidence that the things they actually said actually worked.

3. Her breast cancer was only revealed to the public shortly after Election Day. That's why the scenario I describe didn't happen beforehand.


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