Last week, on Hardball an academic pundit Cynthia Tucker touched upon the reference that flashed back to George Bush vs. Al Gore and John Kerry and even Obama McCain referencing camaraderie at the local brewery noting, “Mitt Romney is a geeky, awkward candidate on the campaign trail,” Tucker continued. “He doesn’t project a lot of personal warmth. He doesn’t’ seem the kind of guy you’d want to sit down and have a beer with.”
A friend of mine vented for a good few minutes about it noting, “Why do I want to elect someone I want to have a drink with? I think our primary leader should be a person who is outstanding, not someone who is average in everything! Isn’t this person supposed to be extraordinary? Our president is representing our country around the world and needs to be competent and practical and on the ball, not merely personable!”
I thought about his exasperation for a minute and was flashing back to numerous times this metaphor has been used in the last 3 going on 4 elections. Would I rather have a beer with Gore or Bush? What about Bush or Kerry? How about Obama or McCain? Well, what about a beer with Obama or a club soda with Romney?
While it should not affect whether or not a candidate can do the job, comfort or likeability are important aspects of a candidate. It’s that simple. Romney is a bit more awkward in social terms, but if his campaign manager and a public speaking coach may help him relate better with constituents. Charismatic self-confidence is natural for some people. However, when it isn’t, it is not a skill developed overnight. It often takes a lot of work. Romney needs to develop wider knowledge about the common man to be more comfortable before it bites him in the head. Before he begins to look like a parody in song by English alternative rock band Pulp called, "Common People"; Romney’s team needs to understand that jet skiing around looks remarkably out of touch. It was an eerily similar photo/video to John Kerry appearing to be an autocratic windsurfer. To be more effective as a candidate, Romney needs to get his hands more calloused by interacting more effectively on the campaign trail. Like it or not, a candidate owning multiple homes, a vast fortune invested in dozens of funds linked to Bain Capital LLC and who worries about putting an automatic car lift into one of his homes, needs to accept these things about them or they all become weaknesses. If Romney wants to overcome the risk of increased apprehension in Americans currently assessing whether either candidate can relate to them after being elected, he is going to need to be more agile in addressing these aspects of his life. This is no different than McCain or Kerry going through the exact same process. Even if you are in the theoretical oligarchic elite portion of the US, you should simply acknowledge and accept that and not be provoked or reactive to resulting inevitable criticism.
While it is an imperative for a candidate to be comfortable with themselves and what they believe, it is also mandatory to know their audiences. When at his own fundraiser in June, President Obama was booed by his own supporters (who were also Red Sox fans) when he jokingly thanked them for trading World Series champion third baseman Kevin Youkulis to the Chicago White Sox. However, he turned on a dime and went on to smile at them and address the issue saying, "I didn't think I'd get any boos out of here, I should not have brought up baseball. My mistake. You've got to know your crowd." It ultimately received as much positive press as negative respecting Obama’s refusal to fake allegiance to a sports team for political gain.
Had Romney addressed the NAACP saying, “I have independent plans for improving our future healthcare system;” rather than provoking boos he received with: "I am going to eliminate every nonessential, expensive program that I can find -- and that includes Obamacare" is simply unnecessary. While many pundits on the right are indicating he did it on purpose, I would like to hope that his campaign staff is not that incompetent. There were several sound bites that would have helped his campaign rather than squandering the whole opportunity to have all coverage repeat the negative booing footage over and over as a result.
All of these points are really academic and relate more to technical aspects in public affairs and communications that often trigger my own professional concerns. This presidential race, like the prior two races, resemble a game where professional fielders are make multiple rookie errors during a ball game. No matter what team I might be rooting for, it is still aggravating to watch blatant incompetence from either side. While the country is very polarized now, I hope that Americans as a whole are not looking for a landslide due to either candidate being incompetent.
Regardless of either Romney or Obama’s political leanings, shouldn’t Americans at least be able to believe that they are both competent? If not, then that is a more troubling issue by far. To be a candidate for President, they should at a minimum, be remarkable people who are professionally equipped to represent the United States. This is mandatory in all scenarios, whether with our allies or our opponents; in the economic, diplomatic, or political arenas; or in times of natural disasters, wars or economic collapses. While it is absolutely essential that every American internalizes that they too can become President of the United States, it should also be expected that any candidate from any party become exceptionally educated, experienced, worldly, diplomatic and competent—and not merely become someone I can have a beer with to do so.