Once again the time has come for our friends and neighbors to the south to select an occupant for one of their prestigious properties known as the White House.
Having lived in Canada since 1977 this will now be the ninth time I have had the opportunity to observe this contest and I have developed a theory that has yet to be proven false.
It seems to me that the winner of this race is never the person whose vision for a better future compels voters to propel them into office.
Nor does it seem that ethics, intellect, experience, capability, history, or any of the attributes one would suspect should form part of a reason for voting for someone, ever comes into play.
As I have watched these last eight elections unfold a single theme has come to mind. That theme is not unique to the United States as up here in Canada we seem to use similar criteria for making voting decisions but for now let’s focus on the US presidential election.
Each time they go to the polls it seems that me that the person who emerges as the winner is the one who has one unique characteristic in greater supply than his opponent. It seems that the spoils always go to the more charismatic of the two combatants.
Let’s take a brief trip stroll down memory lane and examine the facts of my premise.
Way back in 1980 the incumbent, Jimmy Carter, was challenged by a former actor by the name of Ronald Reagan.
Reagan had long held a reputation as being “the great communicator” and on election night he handily trounced President Carter.
During the debates that proceeded Election Day the abundance of charisma exuded by Reagan was magnified by the absence of same from President Carter.
This is not a statement or comment about the intellect of one versus the other, the fitness of one for office compared to the other, the ability of one to do the job over the ability of the other; it is merely a comparison, a side-by-side look at the perceived “likability” factor presented by each of the candidates.
Four years later Ronald Reagan now President Reagan ran for re-election against a man named Walter Mondale who had served as President Carter’s Vice President.
Mr. Mondale was certainly an intelligent man but in the charisma competition paled to insignificance against the charismatic genius of Ronald Reagan.
Four years later the man who was Ronald Reagan’s vice president, George H.W. Bush ran against the then serving governor of the state of Massachusetts.
Mr. Dukakis may well as been a man of great intellect however his ability to communicate his thoughts ideas and suggestions were void of any form of emotional appeal and he was thrust aside by the voters who enthusiastically voted Mr. Bush to be the tenant in the White House for the next four years.
The next time around a young, confident and superbly charismatic former governor of Arkansas by the name of Bill Clinton sent Mr. Bush home and into early retirement.
Mr. Clinton’s first term was not without controversy and when it came time to fight for re-election he faced a rather dull opponent by the name of Bob Dole.
Mr. Dole, a war hero and man of great accomplishment was unfortunately prevented from using his glorious past to his benefit by selling his story to the American voters because sadly he lacked the ability to stir emotion. Instead, he came across as the kind of person could who not lead a group in silent prayer. And thus extended Mr. Clinton’s tenancy for four more years.
In 2000, term limits required Mr. Clinton to vacate the Oval Office and an epic battle for residency took place between George W. Bush, the Texas Governor the and Al Gore, Mr. Clinton’s Vice President.
Two things made this election somewhat different from the others we have been discussing firstly. Firstly it is unclear who actually “won” the election as the final results were determined by the US Supreme Court. Secondly, I don’t believe that this election was won by the more charismatic of the two contestants but rather perhaps by candidate who displayed the least lack charisma.
Over the next four years, despite sending troops to war in two countries, Mr. Bush appeared to grow slightly in the charisma department and handily defeated Senator John Kerry.
And four years ago, Barack Obama mesmerized the world and easily defeated another war hero Senator John McCain.
It seems that if it is true that “to the winners go the spoils” then we might add that “to the charismatic goes the White House.”
Now we are two months away from the day in which Barack Obama will learn whether he is to become homeless or whether he can continue to live in public housing for four more years.
My own suspicion is that Mitt Romney will not occupy the White House next year not because financially he does not need the assistance of public housing and not because he is not worthy of being a great president of a great nation but simply because, in my humble opinion, when it comes to charisma and likeability he is no match for the incumbent president.
I’m not commenting as to whom I believe to be the better choice for the American people I simply think that history will repeat itself and Mr. Obama will be triumphant on election night.
Much has been written about Mr. Romney’s lack of “likability”. It is been stated repeatedly that his camp has been working extremely hard to try and make him more human and likable and to help people realize that he is in fact no different from the rest of us.
He’s been accused of being detached from the average person and, because his wealth has been much discussed, he is also accused of not understanding the troubles when woes of average middle-class Americans.
I have no way of knowing the truthfulness of any of this but as I watched him deliver his speech at the Republican convention on Thursday evening, I remember thinking that while the content of his speech certainly contained the message he hoped to convey, his wooden and factual style did little to electrify, and call to action, those undecided swing state voters upon whose decisions his future lies.
We’ve talked much over the months over the importance of likability in management and leadership.
Our decisions have a large component of emotion attached to them. In other words, we are driven by our feelings to make decisions as much as we may believe that all of our decisions are based purely on objective fact.
Neuroscience has proven this to be incorrect and Mr. Romney does not seem to be able to invoke in people the emotion necessary to cause their hands to pick up a pen place an X next to his name.
I believe we may never know whether he would be the best President of the United States simply because he is unable to sway our emotions despite the logic of much what he has to say.
We’ve also talked often about how we only ever do one thing; we do what is important in the moment. And I believe it will be important in the moment for the majority of American voters when they go to the polls in November to place their X’s alongside name of the person they feel is the best choice to occupy the White House for four more years.
Barack Obama, more than Mitt Romney, has demonstrated an ability to instill those feelings in people.
We would do the same thing here in Canada if any of our candidates ever displayed even a hint of charisma. This has never happened.
I think I’m extremely likable so perhaps, even though I was not born in the United States, and I am neither a citizen nor a resident of the United States I should be their next President.
Will you vote for me?
Till we read again.
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