In politics it seems to becoming the norm to disparage anything that once had value until it works against you.
After reading conservative columnist Kathleen Parker’s contribution recently, an observation that had been lingering as some fragmented form in my mind for months became crystalized. The gist of this observation is that we tend to turn on that which no longer serves our purposes. Underlying this wrecking ball tactic is the need to dismiss the value of certain people, institutions and ideas that could impact how voters behave at the polls.
Both Liberals and Conservatives spit out those candidates who were likable just a few weeks previously because they had the audacity to question certain ideological premises. This practice even has a name in the Republican party. RINO – Republican in name only. It reflects the rejection of those candidates who extremists in the Party feel are too close to the center. To them, you’re not a real Republican if you’re not draped in the flag, have a copy of the Constitution in your back pocket, some christian symbolic jewelry attached to your body or clothing and free market principles tattooed on your ass.
In Parker’s column it was a category that poll takers utilize in their surveys these days to determine “likability” of the candidates. A seemingly small item compared to excommunicating people from the Party, but it none-the-less seems to follow this separation mentality that wants to distance itself from something previously beneficial. In her analysis of this rating category she makes this cogent point:
One of the great fallacies of politics — and life — is that one must be liked to be effective.
It helps, just as it helps to be attractive or athletic or kind. But let’s be honest: It’s almost impossible to like candidates once you get to know them.
Yet we dedicate an awful lot of time to measuring candidates’ likability and forcing them to pretend to be someone that some political consultant thinks we’ll admire.
I almost totally agree with Ms. Parker. The reservation I have about this not being a useful assessment of the candidate however is something the Republicans are adept at convincing voters to consider in their candidates. Does he or she share my values? The ‘likability” rating reflects this notion I believe, even if the values that politicians declare are not always reflective in their lives.
Now I haven’t read Ms. Parker’s columns religiously over the years so I can’t honestly say if she has touted the “values” card when it suited her or has downplayed the “likability” label when it was attached to those she favors to win an election. Did she write on this when George W. Bush was being put forth by his campaign as “the guy you could have a beer with”? Ms. Parker is an astute writer that I admire but it is always clear which side of the political spectrum she sits on.
This column is no different. The fact that she raises the notion that such ratings have no real worth in a campaign is curious since it follows the extremely low “likability” ratings Mitt Romney received compared to Barack Obama.
A few days ago, a Reuters/Ipsos poll was released with this headline: “Obama gets high marks on likability, weak on economy.”
Well, that clears things up. The economy is tanking, but he’s a nice guy — more likable than Romney by 50 percent to 30 percent, according to the poll. Forty-one percent said they believe Obama “understands people like me.” Only 28 percent said the same about Romney.
The same poll also found that 75 percent believe the economy is on the wrong track, compared to 17 percent who think it’s doing all right.
Who are these people?
I suspect a lot of them are the same people who thought George W. Bush was the best man for the job because of his professed Christian values. This image was succinctly brought home to me during the 2004 primaries. I was an active volunteer for the Howard Dean campaign and was out knocking on doors to raise support for the man. Dean had already risen to notoriety so was not an unknown factor to most people. Then again in red-sate Texas it’s not unusual at all for people to simply vote the straight Party ticket without having a clue who represents the opposition. This may have been the case for the elderly lady who came to the door and, once she found out which candidate I was promoting, demurely put me off by saying, as she slowly closed the door in my face, “I think I’ll vote for the Christian”.
Now don’t misunderstand me. Ms. Parker’s argument has merit and it’s not that she is a conservative that in and of itself raises certain questions. It’s the timing of it all. The polls overall in most ratings show Obama and Romney neck and neck with both having some leads over the other in certain categories within the poll’s margin of error. But not this one. This one leans so heavily in Obama’s favor that it was only a matter of time before someone sympathetic to the Romney campaign would question it’s value and in fact dismiss it as unnecessary.
I regret it has been someone as “likable” as Kathleen Parker. She doesn’t emote the vile feelings liberals have towards those like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck or the fundamentalist TV evangelist, Pat Robertson. But likable or not, Ms. Parker does need to be called to the carpet for attempting to add to the demise of another component in our political discourse. I have noted in the past that people like Karl Rove and Newt Gingrich have demoralized the institution of Congress and even the Presidency in their efforts to recapture control of those institutions.
In their book, “It’s Even Worse Than it Looks: …”, Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein reveal how Newt Gingrich shortly after being elected to Congress in 1978, went after the Congress to undermine it for personal gain. This revelation also seems to explain why we have the partisanship and grid lock that exists in Congress today.
“What was Gingrich’s strategy? He was both passionate about his goals and coldly analytical in his means. The core strategy was to destroy the institution to save it, to so intensify public hatred of Congress that voters would buy into the notion of the need for sweeping change and throw the majority bums out. His method? To unite his Republicans in refusing to cooperate with Democrats in committee and on the floor, while publicly attacking them as a permanent majority presiding over and benefitting from a thoroughly corrupt institution. (p.33)
It had taken Gingrich sixteen years to realize his objective of a House Republican majority (1994), but his original strategy to gain power by attacking the Congress left a lasting mark on American politics.
The seventy-three freshman in the class of 1994, nearly a third of the Republican majority, were strong Gingrich loyalists who not only shared the disdain for Congress as an institution [generated by Gingrich] but believed it more deeply than he did, and who added their own conservative populist distrust of leaders and leadership.” (p.40)
The “likability” rating is not, as Ms. Parker suggests, the sole reason most people choose a candidate. It serves I think as a heading for the list of specifics that actually determine what is likable or unlikable about the candidate and which will ultimately decide how they cast their vote. To down play it now, especially since Romney is on the negative end of this poll measurement, seems more an attempt to disparage such a rating that hurts Romney rather than one, as Ms. Parker assures us, is part of a “ridiculous matrix for assessing a candidate’s qualifications for office.”
I don’t believe Kathleen Parker is as passionate and coldly analytical as Gingrich was, but clearly she is not unlike him in how when people, institutions or ideas get in the way of the Party’s agenda, denigrating them to a level of insignificance is necessary to gain the hearts and minds of voters. How much negative bashing can we endure before what little public interests remains in our political process disappears completely?
There are of course those people, ideas and even institutions that we should separate ourselves from because of their destructive influence on us and our ability to grow. These “demons” are pretty much self-evident. Being liked by others is more often not our problem as it is with the hangups others have. For those who want to be the leader of the free world though it is important that they are confident enough in who they are without feeling that negative comments aimed at them from some people will impair their judgment and ability to serve all people. Clearly this is a condition that Romney appears inadequate with as reflected in his recent comments about the 47% he feels can’t “take personal responsibility” for their lives and are thus not his “job to worry about”.