Sunday, October 30, 2011

Why Our Candidates Disappoint Us

Drew Westen's latest in the New York Times today on the flaws of the American presidential candidates at the moment:
Those weaknesses seem to be on display today, as voters face the possibility that their choice next November may be between the quintessential “corporation man” in Mitt Romney, a character straight off the set of “Mad Men” but seemingly without the character development, and the intellectualized undecider in Barack Obama, who couldn’t seem to feel, until recently, the “fierce urgency of now” for people desperate for a job or crushed by a mortgage.
THE ability to “read” the emotions of the electorate and to speak to those emotions in a compelling way do more for both electoral success and legislative success than I.Q. Similarly important is the ability to articulate a vision and a set of values, which is a far better predictor of voting behavior than positions on “the issues.”

This is something Republicans understand far better than Democrats, and something Ronald Reagan mastered. George W. Bush’s success in moving both his domestic and foreign policy agendas reflected his ability to spell out his values. Americans prefer candidates who share their values, but they are least inclined to vote for someone who hides them.

Mitt Romney’s difficulty in breaking 25 percent in the polls among Republican primary voters, despite his likelihood of being the Republican nominee, reflects more than anything the fact that voters have no idea what he really believes — a problem that dogged John McCain in 2008.

Republicans are right about another quality that distinguishes effective leaders from ineffective ones: experience. Republicans are fond of pointing out the advantages of having run a business or a state before becoming C.E.O. of the world’s largest economy (although, of course, that argument helps candidates friendly to their free-market philosophy). Obama was the first sitting senator to win the presidency since John F. Kennedy, in 1960, and perhaps the least experienced person ever to occupy the Oval Office. (Bill Clinton, by contrast, who was a year younger than Obama at the time he was elected, was the nation’s longest-serving governor.)

Perhaps the American people are on to something.
With some universal applicability, of course. The whole thing is worth a read and will provide more of an answer to the blog post title, the reason for the disappointment. Essentially, it's that both parties in the U.S. are lacking in some way in their approaches to authority (for Republicans they defer to it too much and as a group are imploding while Democrats are less cohesive and prone to be off message) and intellect (for Republicans a disqualifier if too much, for Democrats it's overvalued). Then see above in terms of how that's playing out with Obama and Romney.

If you want to apply any of this in Canada and to Harper, for example, you certainly can. He's smart but he offsets it by playing up his role as Mr. Hockey and Mr. Tim Hortons. Whether he has to do that in Canada is a debatable question but it's hard to say it hasn't worked for him to date. He doesn't have the emotional connection to voters, similar to Obama's deficiency, but he pushes hard in other ways (advertising, photo ops, government levers) to make sure the electorate knows what his (and his party's) values are, i.e., tough on crime, patriotic, prudent fiscal manager, etc. Then there is the Harper approach to authority which would mirror the Republican approach. There's too much deference to it and value placed upon it within the Conservative party, possibly their weakest link in this form of analysis.