Personality parade: Image issues dominate campaign 2000
By biconews On 8 Feb, 2000 At 05:00 AM | Categorized As Archives | With 0 Comments

By Evan Pressman
Guest Columnist

Here is a little political pop quiz, a la that reporter and George W. Bush: 1) What are two elements of Al Gore’s health care proposal? 2) How much money will Americans save with Steve Forbes’ tax reform plan? 3) How does John McCain plan to clean up the campaign finance system? 4) What is Bill Bradley’s position on gays in the military?

Pretty tough, right? How about these: 1) What NBA team did Bradley play for? 2) What was George W.’s narcotic of choice? 3) Are you more likely to find Wayne Newton or Parliament Funkadelic in Gore’s CD player? 4) If you disagree with McCain, do you have a better chance of receiving a thoughtful consideration of your opinion or a punch in the throat?

A little easier, mainly because the media focus more on issues of image than issues of policy, especially in the upcoming presidential election. Who cares how Gore feels about gun control - does he look better in olive or beige earthtones? Can McCain save Social Security? Definitely - he was a POW for five years! Bush’s position on abortion? Um, it’s one of the two, but how about that night in New Haven when he snorted a whole eightball?

It’s not the voters’ or even the media’s fault that our next president will be elected based on People rather than Newsweek criteria: it’s Bill Clinton’s. The White House has been occupied for the past eight years by the most charismatic, slickest and smartest president in the second half of the 20th century. Clinton can walk into a room and make men and women weak in the knees with a smile and a wave (Bradley can’t). Clinton can be an expert in all areas of foreign and domestic policy, make brilliant attorneys reconsider the meaning of the word “is,” and name the leader of Pakistan (Bush can’t). Clinton can bring rival heads-of-state closer to peace agreements with his awesome power of influence and reputation (Gore can’t). Clinton can have an affair in the Oval Office, get caught, lie about it, get caught again, get impeached, and still remain the most popular president in decades (not even Trump can do that).

It has become clear that image - not policy - issues will elect the next president; so the task becomes discerning the accuracy and importance of these image stigmas that the candidates in both parties work so tirelessly to shed.

Let’s start with the Democrats. Is Al Gore really as wooden and dull as people say? Yes. That’s why Clinton hates him so much - going to bars to pick up women is a nightmare with Al flying wingman. You can imagine Bill rolling his eyes when Gore breaks out his “I invented the Internet” pick-up line. But does it matter that Gore is about as fun as an enema? I don’t think so. So what if he is not over-flowing with charisma and allure? The truth is that Gore knows policy backwards and forwards and can debate it for hours (which is where the dullness comes in), and if you are like the multitudes of Americans who continue to admire Clinton, then who better to occupy the White House than his second-in-command for the past eight years? Gore was trained by the master, and that means a lot.

If you’re not voting for Gore because he isn’t lively enough, then Bradley is not the obvious alternative. Bradley is merely a shade spunkier than his opponent, and maybe a hit more noticeable just because of the fact that he is the tallest guy inside the Beltway. Fortunately for Bradley, Gore’s lifelessness really overshadows the fact that the former New York Knicks star is a big yawn himself. But just as with the vice president, being insipid does not necessarily mean that a candidate cannot make a strong chief executive. Maybe a toned-down president would he good for the country: as effective a leader as Clinton was, we have all seen the results of too much testosterone in the Oval Office.

Whatever the Dems lack in uniqueness and excitement, the circus freak show of GOP candidates makes up for it. It you can stomach the mockery they are making of our electoral system, watching these characters debate each other is a full hour of entertainment as they clamor to challenge front-runner Bush. The Republicans have had no more success than Gore and Bradley in overcoming their image problems, due in large part to their six stooges routine with Tim Russert as the ringmaster. (Do these men realize that these debates are nationally televised)?

Since he is the favorite and has raised so much more money than any of his opponents, let’s look at Bush first. It’s not so important that George W. didn’t know the leader of Chechnya, but the pop quiz fiasco brought to the forefront the fact that he really is as dumb as a box of nails. Maybe a bubbly personality is not crucial to being president, but intelligence is - or at least the feigning of it (Bush has not looked especially sharp in those debates). After the quiz, magazines began to publish his mediocre transcripts from Yale, proving to many that George Jr. was an entitled, unmotivated slacker frat boy and really did slide through life on his father’s name and bank account.

Many believe that John McCain will make a good president because he is a war hero. George Washington and Dwight Eisenhower were war heroes because they led our nation to victory in the name of liberty and equality. McCain spent the majority of a war that we ultimately lost and which was fought for questionable motives in a prison in the jungle. Will that make him a great president? McCain certainly has the strongest military credentials of the bunch, but needs to realize that it is his candor and straightforwardness that set him above Bush - no need to focus on his sojourn in Hanoi.

If any other GOP candidate were as rich as Steve Forbes, his bank account would unquestionably be the focus of his image. But luckily for Forbes, he is so funny-looking that his wealth is overshadowed by his ridiculous face. Most people believe that he is too creepy to he president (the man never blinks), but it would be foolish to say that a goofy visage should keep a candidate out of the White House. Have you seen pictures of Abraham Lincoln? And our country turned out fine.

The last three Republican candidates make up the heart of the lunatic factor in the GOP field. Alan Keyes is as far out there as everyone says. Someone needs to remind him that he is running for president, not pope. Forget strategy - using your time for closing remarks at a debate to recite a prayer is a terrific way to alienate the majority of voters. But the former ambassador deserves a huge amount of credit for being an absolutely incredible orator. He never stumbles on a single word and his speeches are so powerful that when he finishes, I find myself standing up and cheering for pro-life judges and posting the Ten Commandments in public schools.

Gary Bauer’s policies are strikingly similar to Keyes’, but he is overshadowed by the passion and lire of his Religious Right counterpart. People harp on the fact that Bauer is quite short and troll-like: he would be our shortest president, and probably shorter than all the first ladies, but look at Napoleon and Bauer is much crazier than he was.

Mainly because I’m bitter about how he tried to crucify Clinton. I’m still going to get to Orrin Hatch even though he dropped out of the race after Iowa. Many would vote against hatch because he is as trollish as Bauer, and yes, they were the only two trolls in the field, but shouldn’t his years of experience in the Senate make him a viable candidate? In theory, yes, but somehow Hatch managed to defy conventional wisdom and embarrass himself and his state with a hilariously pathetic showing.

It will soon become clear just how important these image issues are, especially after the New Hampshire primary (which will occur one day before this column is published). Will others fall for Naomi Wolf’s ploy to spice up the vice president? Will McCain’s somewhat dubious famliarity with Nine Inch Nails and Busta Rhymes take some wind out of Bush’s sails? Or maybe voters will shock everyone and just ignore these image trivialities. And you know what that means: “I, Donald Trump, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States … .”

EDITOR’S NOTE: The above perspectives piece is a reprint from the previous week’s issue. The Bi-Co News regrets the incomplete printing of the original.

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