New Boston Post | January 11, 2016
The theory is essentially that, in the media-driven era, the most personally “likable” candidate usually wins. More specifically, I have argued that a Visionary, who speaks in broad, positive themes or a Beer Candidate, who relates well to average Americans, will almost always prevail over a Technocrat who campaigns as a good manager/government reformer. Likewise, a Visionary or Beer Candidate will almost always prevail over a longtime government servant, a respected elder statesmen, or a party hack (the Careerists).
You can read more about the theory’s application to historic presidential elections here, and you can read about its application to Bay State politics here.
Now let’s apply the theory to Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president.
Hillary, the presumptive Democratic nominee, is a classic Careerist. She is smart (educated at Wellesley and Yale Law School), tough, and ambitious. A former First Lady of Arkansas and of the United States, and a former U.S. Senator and Secretary of State, she knows government and politics inside out. And if elections were only about educational pedigree or political resumes, then Hillary Clinton would probably win.
Thankfully, for Republicans, they’re not. Presidential elections are about ideas, character, judgment, and, perhaps most importantly, “likability.” And by these metrics, Hillary’s candidacy falls short.
Much ink has been spilled analyzing Hillary’s character and judgment. Less so about her actual ideas. But on the likability meter, Hillary registers way below either of the last two Democratic presidents – Barack Obama, a Visionary, and her husband, Bill Clinton, a Beer Candidate.
In his first campaign for president in 2008, Barack Obama spoke eloquently, and in lofty terms, about “hope and change.” And (although it is hard to believe today) he often praised our great country and our national ideals, speaking frequently of the strength of a people who had confronted war, depression, and terrorism — not as Democrats or Republicans, not as liberals or conservatives, but as Americans. He spoke movingly about his desire to move beyond the divisions of the recent past; he promised to unify Americans of all political stripes.
His campaign was also, of course, history in the making. And this, combined with the positive vision he projected, created a candidacy with an inspirational, almost messianic tone (“We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”)
By contrast, Bill Clinton never waxed poetic or spoke of grand themes. But he was, and remains, an incredible “people person” – a gregarious man who is eager, not just to talk, but to listen to people from all walks of life; a man with a gift for exhibiting empathy for the struggles of average Americans; a man who was born (some say, cursed?) with a deep psychological need to please and to win people over.
But Hillary is neither a Visionary, like Obama, nor a Beer Candidate, like her husband.
Where Obama was an eloquent orator, Hillary is a harsh and scolding shrew, whose voice is grating, her laugh almost wicked.
Where Bill Clinton was a gifted conversationalist and retail politician, Hillary, who hides behind dark glasses and hasn’t driven a car in 20 years, comes across as a person utterly uninterested in mingling with the general populace.
Where both Obama and Bill Clinton (the “Man from Hope”) were poster children for the “American Dream” – men who had been born into difficult circumstances, but who were bright and precocious and hard-working enough to “make it,” despite life’s obstacles — Hillary comes across as privileged and entitled.
And unlike her husband, who campaigned as someone grateful for the opportunity to serve, Hillary campaigns as someone who has been waiting for this for a very long time, as someone who thinks she deserves to be president.
To be sure, Hillary Clinton, like Obama in ’08, is running a campaign to “make history.” But unlike Obama, who was able to weave his own personal story into the larger narrative of American redemption, Clinton’s desire to be the first female president seems to be not the culmination of the women’s rights movement, but rather the next step on one feminist’s career ladder.
Like the other Careerists who campaigned for the White House before her – John Kerry and Bob Dole, to name one from each party – Hillary will have a hard time winning the presidency on her resume alone, particularly if the Republicans nominate either a Visionary or a Beer Candidate with whom the American people are better able to connect. The question, then, is “will they?”
Next time, Rock, Paper, Scissors and the 2016 Republican candidates.