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Tuesday, August 25, 2015


Americans are not stupid.  Many of them are ignorant, some are bigoted, most are inattentive to public affairs, but they are not stupid.  They are quite as good as Germans, Chinese, Bulgarians, Brazilians, or Vietnamese at sizing people up and reading their self-presentations and body language.  If we abstract from such arcana as policies and just concentrate on how people respond to those seeking a party's presidential nomination, we can, I suggest, gain some understanding of the polls with which we are inundated.

Why is Trump trouncing all of his opponents by double digits in polls of Republican voters these days?  Well, lean back, veg out, turn off the higher functions of your intellect, and just watch him on the tube.  He is clearly having fun!  He loves being on the podium, draws energy from the crowds, jokes, laughs, sneers in turn.  He is playful, he cannot get enough of it.  Once on stage, he does not want to leave.  He is having  fun.  And everyone who watches him can feel it.

What about his rivals?  Jeb Bush is diffident, uncomfortable, ruminative.  His body and his voice both say that he would really rather be elsewhere.  He acts frustrated with reporters' questions.  Trump says he is a low energy guy, and Trump is right.  We can all feel it.  Jeb does not act as though he is having fun.

Scott Walker acts as though he has never had fun his entire life.  Just glance at his face as you are on the way to the refrigerator for a power drink.  He is morose, discomfited, a real Eeyore.  Cruz is stuck-up, the annoying kid in the class who thinks he is smarter than everyone else.  Christie is a fat bully.  Fiorina is a scold.  Paul is petulant.  Santorum is the repressed prig who pretends never to have masturbated.   And Jindal is just weird.

These are not political judgments or ideological evaluations.  They are gut reactions  -- the sort we all have every day when we meet people.  This is how the public sizes up candidates, and I have to say, their reactions are pretty shrewd.  [The fact that they are also politically disastrous is a subject for another post.]

What about the Democrats?  Clinton is irritated.  She is irritated by reporters' gotcha questions that ignore her carefully crafted policy papers.  She is irritated by the hoofaraw surrounding her e-mails when she knows that her motives are as pure as the driven snow.  She is irritated that she must work for a nomination that was hers for the asking six months ago.  In front of a crowd, her body and face say that she is doing her duty.  She smiles a lot and gives full-throated laughs from time to time, but she is clearly not having fun.  She never seems to want to stay on the podium just a little while longer, and then a little while longer still.  She is utterly unlike her husband, who never saw a group of people he did not want to rub up against and charm.

Bernie is angry.  It is a righteous anger, a policy-driven anger, but it is anger nonetheless.  He is the only candidate in either party who actually cares more about his policies than he does about getting elected.  He is the most earnest candidate to have come along since Adlai Stevenson.  Bernie probably could have fun if the world were ever what it ought to be, but right now there is no time for having fun.  Be serious!  his body language says.

Joe Biden is always having fun.  Put him in front of a crowd and his face lights up.  If he could patent that and sell it to Clinton, it would be worth every penny she has raised from her rich friends.  She would win in a landslide.

Which of these folks would be a good president?  Ah well, that is quite another matter.  When it comes to answering that question, I do not have quite so much faith in the Great American Public.





TheDudeDiogenes said...

I think Bernie's righteous anger is likely more inspiring than Biden having fun; that could explain why Bernie is beating Hillary in NH polling (and both trounce Biden). I imagine Bernie's righteous anger is also much more fulfilling than however Clinton might choose to act. There probably isn't as much Left rage as Right, but it is surely there waiting to be tapped. Hopefully it's enough to float a movement and win Bernie the nomination. Hope is not something I possess, at least in any measurable quantity. But in my lifetime (NB: I'm 33), I've never seen as appealing a Presidential candidate as Bernie, when it comes to policy and genuineness of belief in his own rhetoric.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Well, I am forty-eight years older than you are, and I have to go back quite a way to find a candidate as appealing as Bernie. Can he win thenomin ation? I doubt it, unless he can take a large chunk of the Black vote from Clinton. But it is early days, and this is shaping up as a cycle that challenges the received wisdom, so we shall see.

Seth said...

Bernie is just pulling in the old Dean crowd of genuinely liberal people who can't stand the reality that America is so populated by stupid boors. His campaign arc is likely to be the same as Dean's was in 2004. I like the guy, and his grass roots team will likely outclass the others on the dem side. But money will not allow him to be nominated.

I caught Trump on TV the other day -- watched him for about 20-25 seconds -- first time I had seen him on the stump where some "reporter" wasn't talking over him. The main impression I got was sheer vanity. He just rambled on about how he had decided not to renew some program or other and everybody was surprised. Never got to a point, or an applause line. People were listening quietly, but probably had no idea where he was going with his monologue. This doesn't strike me as a campaign that can last. Once his followers notice that he has no consistent program that he hammers home over and over, surely they will lose interest? He's already trying to figure out how to appeal to Hispanics (via back channels) and if his red-meat crowd notice that he stops calling Hispanics rude names, again "what's the point anymore"?

Well my mystification with Trump only goes to explain why I like Bernie -- or even Hillary -- a lot better. I'm no barometer of the zeitgeist ;)

Unknown said...

I just fell outta my chair on the Santorum statement. LOLOLOL