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Sharing a beer and a burger with the next President of the United States

Margaret Carlson, giving Al Gore his due at last, and doing it the only way a paid-up member of the Media Elite can give a Democrat his due, with a backhanded compliment, observes that possibly, just possibly, likeability isn’t the only qualification for a President of the United States.

Sure, she admits, George Bush might have been the more likeable guy back in 2000, but:

Maybe Americans prefer to have a beer and burger with the charming frat boy to the student who always does his homework. But is that a wise basis for choosing a president?

As Shakespeare’s Sister’s father would say, No foolin’, Red Ryder?

Carlson goes on to note that George Bush, as charming a frat boy as he is, hasn’t done a bang-up job:

With all the needless death from a ill-conceived war, the wasteful corruption of sweetheart contracts in Iraq and New Orleans, debt and deficits as far as the eye can see, gas prices through the roof with no energy policy in sight, and with a president who delegates to incompetents and cronies, I’m ready to give the class nerd his due and raise a glass to a serious man.

You’ll note that giving Al Gore his due doesn’t require her to admit he’d have been a better President or that he should run again in 2008 or for her to give up referring to him and Bush as if running for President of the United States was the same as running for high school class President.

Al’s still the class nerd.  And as Bob Somerby keeps pointing out, this caricature of Gore is not going to go away.  And if Gore does run and faces off against John McCain, the Media Elite will follow a very similar script in 2008 as they did in 2000, portraying the election as a contest between the robotic class nerd and the authentic, straight-talking, independent (but intellectually average and on the issues wronger than wrong, as wrong as George Bush) man of the people.

The Green Knight dug up something Carlson had to say about Gore and Bush back in 2000:

You can actually disprove some of what Bush is saying if you really get in the weeds and get out your calculator or you look at his record in Texas. But it’s really easy, and it’s fun, to disprove Gore.

If you can find the difference in tone between what she said then and what she’s saying now you have a better ear than I have.  The problem, back then, apparently, was that telling the truth about Bush would have required work, while picking on Al Gore just came naturally.  Of course, in order to have done that, they needed to make things up about Gore, but that was ok because he was the class nerd, and nerds have no excuse to live if they aren’t there to be picked on.

But I want to deal with the likeability thing a little bit, the idea that Americans want of vote for the candidate they’d enjoying sharing a beer and a burger with.

I don’t know when this notion took root.  Maybe back in 1800 pundits were pointing out that regular Americans would prefer to quaff an ale with the charming, straight-talking war hero Aaron Burr to the cold, intellectual elitist Thomas Jefferson.

But the first I became aware of it was back when it was Morning in America, and analysts and journalists were trying to explain how it could be that while it was obvious to them that Reagan lied, flip-flopped ever which way on issues, blew off his conservative base when it suited him, ignored the will of Congress when that suited him, broke the law (Iran?  Contras?  Death Squads? Ah, memories!), praised dead Nazis (Bitburg.  Good times, good times.), just plain made stuff up, and basically was wrong about almost everything, he remained wildly popular.

Throwing up their hands collectively, they decided, Heck, it’s just that he’s so gosh darned likeable.

You can imagine yourself sitting down to have a beer with the guy.  There’s even a famous picture of Reagan in a pub raising a beer---that he didn’t drink.

I don’t recall anyone suggesting at the time that Reagan’s likeability and apparent sociability excused everything else.

By 2000, their tune had changed.  George Bush was likeable, the charming frat boy you’d share a beer and a burger with.  Al Gore was the class nerd, the kind of annoying twerp who always did his homework and made sure you knew it (Sigh).  And not only did this explain why Bush was the people’s choice, even though he was only half the people’s choice, it made Bush the pundits’ darling and the Right Man at the Right Time.

Somerby would argue that it wasn’t so much the case that the Media Elite thought, or even, cared that Bush was likeable.  They were just using the likeability script to demonize Gore.

As Kurt Vonnegut likes to say, Whatever.

Here’s my point.  The beer and the burger thing?  It’s not necessarily such a dumb way of looking at candidates and why voters vote or don’t vote for them.

I have never heard anyone say that they voted for the candidate they thought would make the best drinking buddy, fishing buddy, hunting companion, lunch date, first date, second date, husband, wife, father, mother, best pal, parish priest, or starship captain---at least not until right after some talking head on TV had just suggested that such and such a candidate was the kind of person voters could imagine as a drinking buddy, fishing buddy yadda yadda starship captain.

But I have heard people I know voted for Reagan and then Clinton and then Bush and the next time out will vote for Al Gore or Hillary or John McCain or Russ Feingold or Mike Huckabee and who did not and will not see any inconsistency in their choices.

These are not stupid people.  And they aren’t necessarily ill-informed.  What they aren’t is all that sure that any politician, whatever his or her ideology or positions on specific issues, can accomplish anything they set out to accomplish.  They see government as a mainly improvisational business.  It’s catch as catch can.  You deal with this problem, then you deal with that problem, as they come up.

What they want in a President, or a governor or a mayor or town selectman or a school board member, is someone who knows what the problems are---what their problems are.

They want leaders who understand the people, sympathize with them, like them, and trust them to know what they want and need and to have at least some idea themselves as to how to go about getting what they want and need done.

Those leaders don’t have to be the kind of people you’d feel comfortable sitting down to have a beer with.  But they have to be the kind of person you’d feel comfortable taking your problem to.

Jeffrey Goldberg has an article in the latest New Yorker (May 29) in which he looks at what the Democrats need to do to win in the 2006 and 2008 elections.

Unfortunately, the article isn’t up on the New Yorker’s website yet, but there is an interview with Goldberg here.

Boiled down, these are what I think are Goldberg’s main points.

1. The Democrats need to win in the South and Midwest.

2.  Look out! Bloggers! Run for your lives!

3.  Whatever else they do, the Democrats must not, repeat, must not, nominate Hillary.

Nevermind points 2 and 3 for now.  Point 1 in Goldberg’s article isn’t as simplistic as I’ve stated it.  Boiling that one down, it comes out to this:

Whoever the Democrats nominate should be a moderate who doesn’t condescend to voters in the Heartland.

Goldberg seems to have done most of his legwork in Missouri, where a self-described "not a Liberal" Democrat named Claire McCaskill is running for the Senate.

McCaskill ran for governor in 2004 and lost a close election.  McCaskill doesn’t come flat out and say it, but she makes it plain that she thinks John Kerry cost her the election.  Kerry got stomped by Bush in Missouri, and having him at the top of the ticket almost surely cost McCaskill the relatively few votes she needed to close the gap on her opponent and win.

Actually, the way Goldberg tells the story, it appears that Teresa Heinz Kerry cost McCaskill the governorship.

Kerry was making a campaign stop at a soybean and cattle-farm in Smithville, MO:

Kerry reminisced about clearing fields on a Massachusetts famr and promised to side with small farmers in their struggles against agribusiness.  Teresa Heinz Kerry handed her husband a note, and then stood up to speak, recalling a visit to an organic hog famr in Iowa.  "It’s really inspiring to see the work they did," she said, and encouraged her audience to consider organic famring.  "It can be done.  It’s economical, and there is a huge market in America."

At that point, winston Simpson, a hog farmer from Clarence, Missouri, stood up and interrupted.  "I said, ‘Mrs. Kerry, you’ve got to undertand that hog farmers just freak out when they hear people telling them to go organic,’" Simpson recalled recently.  "She looked kind of surprised.  I was just there helping out, making a crowd [Simpson’s a Democrat, even something of a Liberal], but I’ve got an adrenaline problem, and when someone pisses me off I jump up and tell them."

Simpson is a grower-finisher; four thousand or so hogs come to him at forty pounds and leave their pens for slaughter two hundred and fifty pounds later.  "I’d go broke if we switched to organic farming," he said.  His public advice was informed by tactical, rather than ideological concerns.  "I don’t have a problem with people raising food organically.  If people want to eat that way, fine, but she shouldn’t have been pushing that as a solution to the farm problem  A lot of farmers think those organics as some kind of elitist lunatic-fringe thing."  For some, Mrs Kerry’s performance recaleld other moments of Democratic campaign obliviousness, like Michael Dukakis’s endorsement of Belgian endive as alternative crop for Iowa farmers...snip

Referring to the Kerry-Edwards campaign stop, [Claire McCaskill] said, "I’m sure Teresa’s motives were fine.  But I think it’s a tone thing.  It’s the ‘We know better’ thing.  Some of it is completely unfair, but there’s a critical number of Missourians who believe that people from the East Coast or West Coast don’t think that people in the heartland are smart."

Leaving aside the whole Teresa thing and the unfairness of judging a candidate by his or her choice of a spouse, and ignoring another example of John Kerry’s fitful and embarrassing attempts to pass himself off as a man of the people---like I said, I don’t think the people necessarily want a President who is one of them; they want somebody who understands them and sympathizes with them and respects them---it’s important to note two things.

One, the farmer Teresa pissed off was a Democrat.  Is it really so hard for us to find candidates who don’t annoy their own base?  And I’m not talking about us netroots types.  We aren’t the base.  We’re a pack of weirdos and normally we’re pretty proud of that fact.

Two, judging by what McCaskill says about how folks in the Show Me State feel about East and Left Coasters, the only way for the Democrats to win in the Heartland is to nominate someone who comes from there.

I don’t buy that.  It’s true that the only three Democrats who’ve been elected President in the last 40 years were from the South.  (Four if you count Gore, but I’ve made the case that nobody sees Gore as a true son of the South.)  But their two biggest losers were from the Heartland and both of them lost to Californians.

I do buy that neither John Kerry nor Al Gore came across as men you felt you could bring your troubles too---and I felt that before the Media Elites set out to caricature them as pompous, elitist stiffs.

This beer and burger thing, it’s another way of describing the common touch.

This being a democracy, having the common touch is in fact a qualification for public office.

Not the qualification, but certainly a qualification.

Some aristocrats have it, and some sons and daughters of the working classes don’t.

And whatever it is, it is not a matter of being a charming frat boy, or of not being the kind of A student who always has his homework done.

And whatever it is, should the Democrats find and nominate someone who has it, you can bet the Media Elite will do their best to tell us that that person doesn’t really have it or that the Republican candidate has it more authentically.

Or if they find someone who has it and the Media Elite can’t deny it, they’ll change the rules.  Having the common touch will be a sign of the Democrat’s bad character.  He, or she, will be dismissed as being someone who tries to be "all things to all people."

This has already been done.

You may remember that the Democrats had someone who was at home among the people, who liked crowds, who loved to talk with voters, who wasn’t just someone voters felt they could share a beer and a burger with but who wanted to share beers and burgers with them, who was someone people felt they could tell their problems to because he felt their pain.

You probably also remember how the Media Elites felt, and still feel, about that guy.

Cross-posted at my place.

Posted by on 05/25 at 09:47 AM
  1. This “have a beer” thing is a distorted reflection that proves the funhouse. Radiating from editorials it tells us that cluelessness is not such a bad thing, political reporters can be clueless, presidents too. Vote happy!

    Captcha: toward. Slouch. Bethlehem. Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

    Posted by black dog barking  on  05/25  at  11:44 AM
  2. But I want to deal with the likeability thing a little bit, the idea that Americans want of vote for the candidate they’d enjoying sharing a beer and a burger with.

    We tend to overlook that the first real election experiences most citizens have in their lives is voting for various school offices and prom king/queen.  These are indeed choices that are made, for the most part, on popularity as linked with winning.  Likeability may be an aspect of popularity, but the resounding “who’s number one” call and response of amerika’s high schools drives the winning tickets.  As the Gallatin (Tennessee) High School principal proved the other day, when he filed criminal charges against the class valedictorian for having the inhumanly amazing balls to try to actually speak at his graduation, this country is for the most part all about winners who are mostly culled from the herds of popular jocks and social queens.  Bush came across as that figure, McCain may as well; and certainly Hillary would never be seen as the prom queen of choice by the masses of any part of the US. 

    This phenomena is not heartland centered either; it extends from coast to coast, including Alaska and Hawaii.  It is further fueled by celebrity culture sold through, by, and for the media profits, and is constantly expressed via things like: American Idol, the CMA’s, Stanley Cup playoffs, NBA division playoffs, and Jessica Simpson having the best celebrity cleavage (all just in the last few days).  If we can’t invite the minds of the citizens to be engaged in the civil processes and responsibilities, it won’t matter much who runs for office, because the winner will be one of the likeable, popular, winners already. It is theirs for the “taking” (captcha)

    Posted by  on  05/25  at  02:55 PM
  3. Spyder mentions American Idol. The top story in my local paper this am? Iraq, immigration, budget deficit, Darfur, a local issue? Hell no, it was coverage of who won American Idol!!! We are so going to hell in the proverbial hand cart.

    Captcha is find, as I find this all too depressing.

    Posted by  on  05/25  at  05:05 PM
  4. A couple of points.  First, I think it is entirely incorrect to deny that people are stupid.  People are extremely stupid.  I think your description of the way they go about selecting the candidate they will vote for is correct, and I think that this establishes the stupidity of people. Choosing “the kind of person you’d feel comfortable taking your problem to” over the kind of person who might have a notion about how to do something about your problem is breathtakingly stupid.  It’s like complaining because your car is broken to your bartender instead of to a mechanic because the bartender will listen sympathetically, while the guy at the garage is kinda gruff, and always makes you feel a little like a moron because you don’t know how to fix it yourself.

    That said, there is no rule that prevents a candidate from being both capable and personable.  Clinton managed-- although I’m afraid Hillary does not.  I know that I often make the mistake of thinking that affable and competent are exclusive, but that’s my mistake: just because they were in Reagan and in W doesn’t mean that they have to be.

    I have my doubts about whether Kerry was either affable or capable.  Certainly he would have been a better president than Bush-- I very much believe that democracy’s greatest flaw is that it is not a particularly good method for locating individuals who are good at the nuts and bolts parts of governance-- but we live with the system we have.

    Harvey Pekar wrote a cartoon once that had two guys walking down a street.  One guy says, “Is she smart?  I dunno, she’s average, I guess.” The other guy says, “Average?  Average is stupid, man.” He was right, but Average is who votes, and than means that if we seek competence we must find a candidate who is capable of expressing to a population that can barely get through an issue of Time Magazine a week that there is a Better Way.

    I make my living talking to juries, and I know that jurors pretty much all want to do the right thing.  I also know that they would prefer it if the right thing was the easy thing-- that’s the hard part about talking to a jury, sometimes.  Sometimes you have to show them why the hard thing to do is the thing that they should feel good about doing.  It isn’t easy (oh, wow, is it not easy) but it can be done.  The surest way to lose a jury, though, is to make a pitch that doesn’t sound like you mean it-- and that’s where Kerry blew it.

    Gore is a different case-- Gore had a reservoir of good will based on the peace and prosperity he had established that he had contributed to.  Gore “lost” because the fix was in.  If he’d had the guts to stand up and say “Bill Clinton and I have done a good job.  You should let me continue to do that for you,” his sincerity would have earned him the points he needed.  He screwed up, but it was an easy mistake to make, and I can’t hate him for it.  It will be easier for him this time, if he decides to do it.  (I think he will, or has.) “Bill Clinton and I did a good job, and nothing good has happened since.  Let me get to work putting things right again.” Too bad he’ll have to say it while he’s debating Hillary.  Facts is facts, though, and it’s a fact that it was Bill and Al that held the offices.  Hillary was surely influencial, but so far she’s been a B/B- senator from New York, a pretty easy state to represent by doing the right thing.  If Gore can’t say that he deserves the credit he deserves than the people who vote are going to see that he’s not sincere (because he obviously believes it) and he’ll be bounced again.

    Posted by Bill Altreuter  on  05/25  at  06:29 PM
  5. I didn’t want to have a burger with Bush.  I wanted to have a cheese steak.  Cause, you know, he has the common touch, and always asks for his cheese steaks Whiz with.

    Posted by Michael  on  05/25  at  06:58 PM
  6. This “likeability” meme as applied to Reagan and Bush the Second drives me nuts, especially since I’d rashly assumed that no other politician could possibly top Reagan’s loathability in my estimation.  Boy, has Georgie disproved that naive notion.

    I’d rather grab a microbrew and an organic soy burger with Gore anyday, and even Dukakis would be a relief at this point.

    Posted by  on  05/25  at  07:19 PM
  7. Hmmm: shouldn’t that have been “loatheability?”

    Posted by  on  05/25  at  07:25 PM
  8. Bill says:… I think it is entirely incorrect to deny that people are stupid.  People are extremely stupid.
    My brother in law finally admitted that he is stupid and does not know what he’s doing a lot of the time and that’s why he voted for Bush. He identifies with him. He too likes his beers, he loves anything with a motor, clearing brush is one of his favorite things: he even has twin daughters! But he’s smart enough to know what a disaster Bush has been, much as he himself would have been a disaster should he have become president.
    Bill: You must be a lawyer. My husband is a scientist, and he said to me the other day, “I used to think we scientists were the smartest people; now I know it’s lawyers!” Bush was not smart enough to be a lawyer, so he had to go to business school instead.
    We do have to face it: lots of people are not very smart. You can’t let them run things; they can’t do it. I guess the people behind Bush are smart, but they are crazy, so that makes them unfit to rule.
    I like what Theresa Kerry said about organic pork. She was perfectly correct. But she violated that rule women in public life must follow to be liked: smile and shut up. Ms. Bush is so good at that.
    Mr. Bush said recently,"Americans will soon be enjoying Indian mangoes.” Why doesn’t HE get called on for saying something so stupid, whereas Ms. Kerry got jumped on for making a sensible remark?
    Well, gotta go put some food on my family.

    Posted by Hattie  on  05/26  at  03:26 AM
  9. Teresa Heinz Kerry, like Dukakis with his Belgian endives, was a visionary in a crowd of skeptics, and that is no way to win friends and influence voters.  Organic is the most rapidly growing segment of food production; it’s going up about 10% a year, while overall grocery consumption is flat.  It’s still a “tiny” segment of production, but a few years ago it was “negligible.” As it becomes more lucrative, there will be more research into cost-effective organic farming techniques, the cost of production will go down, and organics will become even more affordable to consumers.  Some day, “organic” production may be the norm for commercial farming.

    Am I some damn hippie who doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about?  Well, maybe.  But I’ve also been a farm reporter--a conventional farm reporter, delivering market information and news to a mainstream audience--for 26 years.  So there.

    Organic takes a lot more work.  You can’t do it large scale unless you have access to a workforce, and in some areas--especially rural ones, the places where farm products are actually grown--workers are in short supply.  Conventional farming is much more labor efficient, and the advent of genetically modified crops has allowed further consolidation; guys can spray glyphosate on their entire corn, soybean and cotton crops at the start of the season and forget about weeds.  They can plant Bt corn and cotton and lepidopteran insects go bye-bye.

    But organic makes excellent margins, and most guys who try it stick with it.  And now that large retailers like Wally World are offering organic produce for just a few pennies more, and big food processors like Campbell’s are sticking it in cans, demand for the products will no longer be constrained by price concerns.

    But farmers, like the rest of us, are resistant to change.  When Mike Dukakis said we should be growing Belgian endive--an alternative crop which requires greenhouse production--he was ridiculed at the subsequent Republican convention.  In New Orleans.  Where they were drinking French Quarter coffee.  Which contains chicory.  Which is also known as--you got it.

    As the commentator said, it is much easier to pile on the egghead nerds than to acknowledge they’re right.  That’s human nature, to join the crowd in belittling the weirdo who doesn’t fit in.  And crowd mentality wins elections.  If Teresa Heinz Kerry would have known some of what I’ve been talking about and would have put her suggestions in context--"Organic is a very small part of US agriculture, it’s growing fast, it’s a niche which provides an opportunity for a few farmers to operate profitably"--it may have gone over better than just saying, all you pig farmers, who cares what Smithfield and Tyson and Premium Standard tell you to do--just raise organic pork instead.  By the way, about 85% of hog production is done under some form of contract with the meatpacker, so these guys can either stick with their known marketing arrangement or jump off the cliff, not knowing if their organic parachute is going to open.

    Posted by  on  05/26  at  09:47 AM
  10. The whole “dude you’d rather have a brewski ‘n’ burger with” bulljive is little more than a shitty (yet wildly effective--yes, peoples are stupid) Republican Talking Point. Seriously, what else did Bush have to run on?

    Posted by Something Polish  on  05/27  at  12:29 AM
  11. But still, the point that government is largely improvisation is IMO a good one.  Remember the Gore/Bush debates and all that talk about Social Security and the lockbox and so on?  And yet pretty much all of the 2000-2004 period was largely about terrorism.  Now, Bush has obviously handled it atrociously, but who knew that was what that term was going to be about?

    Posted by  on  05/28  at  12:14 PM
  12. I am really tired of the sons of the sod, heartland values, dirt-under-their-fingernails shroud folks in the midwest and south pull on when trying to explain why they voted for a candidate that doesn’t represent them except rhetorically.  Somehow living in an area which has a lot of agriculture endows a person with extra-special authenticness and superstrength moral values which allows them to lecture those of us fortunate enough to be born in non-backwater areas of the country about our immorality.  Hey fellas, Fuck you and the horse you rode in on okay?

    Posted by  on  05/28  at  07:31 PM
  13. What the pundits never say is that Bush and people like him do not want to have a beer and burger with you.

    That fake Texan bonhommie shit scrapes right off his Northeastern penny loafers the minute he’s got enough votes.

    Posted by ccobb  on  05/29  at  04:02 AM
  14. I’m a red stater and I don’t want to have a beer and burger with the likes of George Bush.  He always was a phony-- went to Andover and Yale and yet tries to talk like a guy out on the oil rigs, which just implies his very expensive education taught him nothing-- and I really wonder how many people fell for that.

    And something these pundits never seem to point out is that Gore—yeah, the one you wouldn’t have a burger with, though I would-- WON THE POPULAR VOTE!!!

    The only thing that made Bush popular with the majority of Americans wasn’t his burger-chomping har-har skills, but Osama Bin Laden. That’s it. He was the most unpopular president since, what, Rutherford B. Hayes?  For some reason, the press liked him, but the populace didn’t, not the majority anyway.  As Lance points out, when there was an authentic man-of-the-people-- the son of a single-mom who grew up in poverty and worked his way through school and loved burgers (too well!) and liked nothing better than to sit for hours jawing with people (and also didn’t waste his education and knew what he was talking about and knew how to listen)-- well, he was quite popular (still is), except with the press, who hated him for some reason I don’t quite understand, but I think has something to do with envy-- he actually being a fun person with a fun mind who did a good job, unlike ANY of the millionaire pundits. (Can we just admit that we’d far rather have a beer with, oh, an octopus than with Bill Kristol and David Brooks??)

    I suspect the pundits can “admire” Bush for all sorts of things that aren’t remotely true (that he’s a “man of the people") and secretly and proudly despise him for being stupid. Clinton REALLY scared them. He’s smarter than any of them, and people liked him a whole lot too.

    And what they’ll never figure out--Gore is smarter than them, but there’s also a sizeable proportion of Americans who would be honored to share a burger with him. And NO ONE wants to share a burger with Richard Cohen.

    Posted by  on  05/30  at  11:37 AM

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