| || |
Could George Washington get elected these days?
February 17, 2012 - Stephen Browne
An awful lot of the discussion on the run up to the Republican nomination is all about which candidate is more "electable."
Of course that's a legitimate question. The lobbying/advocacy organization Common Cause estimates that all other things being equal, incumbency gives a two-to-one advantage in any given election. But in this day and age, "electable" seems to mean who speaks and debates better, who's better looking on television, etc.
This reminds me of a conversation I had with some Serbian academics in Belgrade, Yugoslavia back in 1999. One Serb actually had American citizenship and was devastated by our country's attack on Serbia.
Nonetheless he said through his tears, "But I still believe in America, I still believe in America!"
Since I was in a foul mood, I posed this question: could George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, or Abraham Lincoln get elected today?
Neither Jefferson nor Madison was a really good public speaker. Jefferson wrote brilliantly, but had his addresses to congress sent over and read by someone else. Madison was physically tiny and reportedly had a high squeaky voice.
George Washington overcame a painful shyness to become a dignified and competent speaker. But he was a slow and deliberate thinker who liked to mull things over before speaking. Any of the big name media personalities would have torn him apart in an interview.
Lincoln was a great speaker, and masterful debater - for the age he lived in. They liked hours-long public debates back then, such as the famous but seldom read Lincoln-Douglas debates. The arguments therein are painstakingly constructed from the ground up and do not lend themselves to sound bites.
And Lincoln was spectacularly ugly. We think of Lincoln as the majestic, brooding figure of his statue in the Lincoln Memorial, with his huge, knobby, workingman's hands, his head bent and his face set in a look of unbearable sorrow. But how would he look on television do you think?
And both Washington and Lincoln were undoubtedly what we'd call depressive personalities these days. Do you think if they'd grown up in modern times there might be records of medication or treatment waiting to be uncovered?
After the Nixon-Kennedy debates during the 1960 presidential campaign, researchers found that voters who heard the debates on the radio tended to give the win to Nixon. People who saw the debates on television scored it for Kennedy.
Of course Nixon did eventually win the presidency, but then he was running against chubby teddy-bear Hubert Humphrey who was doubly handicapped by his association with the discredited Johnson administration.
Do these things really matter? Does the fate of our nation really revolve around a pretty face and a glib tongue?
I don't know. I think I'm afraid to find out.
No comments posted for this article.
Post a Comment
News, Blogs & Events Web