The proverbial “making of a president” is also “the selling of a presidential candidate”. Elections, the pride of any democracy, are in fact popularity contests, beauty pageants, oratorical competitions, and a job interview. It’s about convincing 200 million eligible voters that they should vote for the one guy that meets all their personal needs (after all, each one of us is our own lobbyist and our own interest group). It’s rah-rah time, promises and lies galore (facts generally take a holiday). When the voting starts the people go into the voting booths and most likely vote for the guy with the most convincing story (to them), pleasant looks, charisma, as long as he can keep the status quo and not upset our lives too much (unless other lives are upset to make my life better). But in the end some person gets elected and for the most part they end up doing ok jobs… although it’s not usually noticed until the history books are written years later. Is all this a cynical view of the process? No.. not meant to be. More a practical reflection, not to argue any change but to suggest a perception.
Sometimes a candidate comes along that people take notice more than the others, and every once in a while one of these types gets elected to be President, albeit maybe not right away. These “take notice” types can come in different forms. One is their message. If you can recall way back to the 1964 election, Barry Goldwater was very popular because his message included tough talk about America’s place in the world and standing up to the Soviet Union, drawing lines against communist aggression in Indo-China (Vietnam)… which at the time the Cold War was a bit luke warm. Then came that TV commercial from the Democrats… the family frolicing about followed by the mushroom cloud of a nuclear detonation. People entered the voting booth and voted more conservatively (not conservative)… and Johnson, who carried a comparitively lackluster message, won… likely because people didn’t want a nuclear war, rather than his promise of a Great Society.
Another “take notice” type is image. President Kennedy fell into that category. He had youth and conveyed a national hope for the future… and you either hated Kennedy for his wealth or you admired Kennedy for his “benevolent monarchy” image; the fantasy of Camelot. This appealed on the world stage as well.
The other “take notice” element could be personal appearence and oratorical charisma which can be a combination of the other two. I recall yawning as the Democratic National Convention opened up on TV in 2004.. tired of having watched all the primary mumbo-jumbo for months on end. I was living in Chicago at the time so there was a little interest in knowing a couple of the faces. Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin introduced this black guy, Barack Obama, to give the keynote address. I was fiddling on the laptop in my recliner as he started speaking.
Watch his speech here.. 15 min. long.
It wasn’t long before I looked up during a particularly loud cheer from the delegate crowd. Hmmm.. I listened some more… then I couldn’t stop listening. This guy was holding my attention. Yes.. I know most of the rah-rah stuff at conventions is supposed to generate passionate patriotic emotion, but this guy was good at it. Obviously he didn’t write the speech he was giving but he was delivering it as if he did. He had his passion in the right places, his eloquence at emphasis was perfect, and the crowd responded. At the end it was tough to see if the crowd still wanted Kerry for president or this guy. I thought at the time, “Who the hell is this guy?” I remember commenting to my wife that this guy is running for president someday.
So, let’s set aside his political agendas, policies, and all the stuff that make people hate him or love him for a moment. More than any other president in my lifetime, Obama has been the most “presidential”. He’s an eloquent speaker; doesn’t stumble over his words. He’s tall, and when standing next to other people in a crowd, especially world leaders, he stands out and not just because of color (althought that also adds to his persona). He knows his subjects of which he speaks; he’s well-briefed. Remember that business in the beginning regarding him having a special hack-proof Blackberry? The man enjoys a level of control and needs people right away… and wants information immediately. Even his body language exudes confidence. Even today, when you see him giving a handshake to a world leader, or anyone else for that matter, up goes the left hand to the shoulder of that person… suggesting visually that Obama has a measure of dominance over that person. If we are looking for a presidential image that the world respects this is the guy.
Remember, these are my perceptions soley based on the President’s persona and speaking abilities. No president in my lifetime has demonstrated this capacity. Now this is a far cry from proclaiming him a greatest president for his actions while in office. History will decide that or not. But I will venture to suggest this… the republicans have no one running of this caliber. Personally I have been impressed with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s ability to deliver a good message and he’s well thought out in his presentation. A no-nonsense kinda guy. But if he ever runs in the future he likely will have a problem with his weight image.
But Obama will win re-election because he will blow away any of the winning major republican players in any debate and in the public arena simply because he also has the bully-pulpit on top of his attributes. Unless of course someone drags up a nasty skeleton (like trying to sell Rob Blagojevich’s governor’s seat) or he gets caught doing something questionable, or someone vulnerable, in the Oval Office.