Tuesday, September 21, 2004


I wanna marry that man

“Politics makes strange bedfellows,”but does that mean we have to choose a president as if we were looking for someone sleep with?


There’s too much “cult of personality” in our presidential elections. Commentators have for years stressed the importance of personal attributes of presidential candidates such as “charisma” or “likeability.”
“Yes, yes, we know he has policies, but has he shown himself to be the sort of man you’d want to invite into your living room?”
And they’re not just describing voter behavior – our First-Amendment-blessed watchdogs of the press want to be charmed themselves. Recall how during the 2000 campaign, Bush’s press entourage salivated and wagged its collective tail because he gave each of them a pet nickname?

What difference can it possibly make that our president be likeable? I love my friends, but I don’t know if there’s one whom I think should be president. Is there really a connection between between being charming and governing well? And charming in what setting – the campaign trail? A televised debate? I don’t need or want to make friends with the candidate I vote for, since to me, the very desire to be president is a sign of serious neurosis. (At the end of the day Al Gore was too well adjusted to want it badly enough to fight for it enough.)

Al Gore supposedly blew a presidential race that was his to lose because he was “a bore.” John Kerry is taking many hits, even from Democratic voters, for his supposed failure to convey personal charm. We pay obsessive attention to how candidates dress, how they kiss their wives, how they look. Ever notice how, since Johnson versus Goldwater, no serious contender for the Presidency has been bald or worn glasses in public?

The irrationality plainly spills over into substance. A friend of mine who is a swing voter says she is going to vote for Bush because she’s afraid of terrorism and Bush “makes her feel safe.” My friend is not an idiot; she is just being honest. And she is not alone in this as her reason for voting for Bush.

Feeling safe is nice. We all want to feel safe. But there is a difference, of course, between “feeling safe” and safety, between emotional and physical security. “Feeling safe” with someone is an emotional precondition to intimacy, and the line between perception and reality is quite blurred because emotional safety is conveyed only intuitively. It makes sense to choose as a spouse someone who makes you feel safe; for physical protection, you can rely on good locks, the local police and perhaps a rottweiler.

But what is this “Bush makes me feel safe” when it comes to terrorism? My friend can’t point to a single policy undertaken by the Bush administration that has made us safer from terrorism. The underfunded and ignored Homeland Security agency? The war in Iraq? The new cadres of TSA workers who make us take off our shoes, not every time but every other time we walk through the metal detector, and smirk at X-rays of our luggage? Security theatre, it has been aptly called. I’m not saying you are automatically irrational if you vote for Bush. It is extremely rational to vote for Bush, for example, if you plan to inherit thirty million dollars when your parents die. But I am saying don’t make this man the president of my country just because you think you might want to set him up with your aunt on a date.

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