A Candidate You’d Want to Have a Beer With
For decades, pundits analyzing political candidates comment on whether the candidate is someone Joe Q. Public would want to have a beer with. This is felt to be an important quality for a politician, as it shows that he or she is down to earth and able to connect with ordinary people.
Looking at the current presidential and vice presidential candidates, which one would an average guy enjoy having a beer with the most? And is this really an important attribute for someone seeking a high governmental office?
It seems to me that neither President Obama nor Governor Romney would be a desirable companion with whom to share a brew at a local bar. Romney would be particularly uncomfortable in that setting since his Mormon religion prohibits him from drinking alcohol. In fact, he couldn’t even have a Coke with some buddies since he’s also supposed to abstain from caffeine. Besides, he seems stiff and ill at ease when he has to make small talk with strangers. Doesn’t really sound like a regular guy who most people could relate to. On the other hand, Obama appears to be overly cerebral when he gets into discussions and seems somewhat detached. But Obama might be better able to connect with your average Joe since he does seem to know a lot about sports, which is a frequent topic of conversation among men of all ages. Of course, Romney has a friend who owns a NASCAR team, so Romney might be able to keep a dialogue going about auto racing if he were willing to step into a bar.
Both Joe Biden and Paul Ryan seem as if they would be relaxed having drinks and a few words with the patrons of a local bar. From a personality standpoint, Biden appears more outgoing, an old fashioned, back slapping politician and would probably be more fun. Ryan is a more serious policy wonk and one wonders if he ever lets his hair down.
However, whether or not any of the candidates would be a good guy to have a beer with has no bearing on his ability to govern and get things done while in office. Though having things in common with many voters may help a person get elected, it is not a good predictor of how successful an official someone will be.
And do we want our highest offices to be held by “regular guys” or do we want people who are smart and knowledgeable to formulate and carry out our nation’s policies and laws. In America, there’s a particular bias against elitists that seems misplaced, with political parties hammering away at opponents who go to the best universities or are well educated. In fact, some of our candidates for important offices have emphasized their poor grades in school, as if this better qualifies them for influential positions.
Contrary to U.S. voters’ preferences for officeholders who are ordinary men and women, the electorate of other countries venerates politicians who are intellectually gifted and well informed for leadership roles. In America however, campaign gurus attack opponents who appear intelligent, making it seem as if they are not capable of advocating for the interests of the middle-class.
Being someone Joe Q. Public would like to have a beer with, should not be a characteristic that makes a politician more electable. However, until American citizens understand that “regular guys” do not necessarily make good leaders, campaign managers will use that attribute either to buttress their candidates or tear down their opponents in an attempt to connect with average voters.
A VietNam vet and a Columbia history major who became a medical doctor, Bob Levine has watched the evolution of American politics over the past 40 years with increasing alarm. He knows he’s not alone. Partisan grid-lock, massive cash contributions and even more massive expenditures on lobbyists have undermined real democracy, and there is more than just a whiff of corruption emanating from Washington. If the nation is to overcome lockstep partisanship, restore growth to the economy and bring its debt under control, Levine argues that it will require a strong centrist third party to bring about the necessary reforms. Levine’s previous book, Shock Therapy For the American Health Care System took a realist approach to health care from a physician’s informed point of view; Resurrecting Democracy takes a similar pragmatic approach, putting aside ideology and taking a hard look at facts on the ground. In his latest book, Levine shines a light that cuts through the miasma of party propaganda and reactionary thinking, and reveals a new path for American politics. This post is cross posted from his blog.