Monday, December 15, 2003

Nice Guys Finish First
Talking with my wife about Howard Dean, it occurred to me what he is greatly lacking is a sense of humor. Dean is trying to position himself as this election cycle's John McCain. Namely a straight-talking, no-nonsense tough guy. The thing with McCain though was that he was funny as well - either with off-the-cuff statements or with dry subtle offerings that he sprinkled throughout his statements. (Heck, his profiling of the recently tabled energy bill as one that benefitted "Hooters and Polluters" is priceless). With Dean, he's as stiff-necked as it gets. Can you imagine him hosting a Saturday Night Live, as Sharpton, McCain, and Guiliani have done?

Which makes me think that Dean is toast as far as the 2004 election is concerned. Dean may have his positions well honed, and his responses crisp and sharp, but I wonder if his lack of personability may end of deep-sixing his chances. Sure people may vote for him simply because they hate Bush, but by and large the majority of voters like voting for the nicer guy. Its why a personable Reagan beat a dour Carter and the dry mid-westerner Mondale. Why Bush Sr. beat the robotic Dukakis. Why the hip, personable Clinton beat the nice, but un-hip Bush Sr. and the nice, but un-hip Dole. (One of the chief mistakes of Dole's political handlers was keeping Dole's humorous side bottled up during the 1996 campaign. Dole's image has brightened since Viagara and post-retirement late night comedy appearances). Not to mention the personable Bush Jr. beating the nice, but robotic Gore. (As with Dole, Gore improved his image after the election defeat by growing the beard and appearing more relaxed. One wonders if Gore would have made a close election less close if he had revealed this side of himself to voters during the 2000 election).

In the era of television politics, we gravitate to politicians who are telegenic. We also like our politicians a bit nice, a bit funny, a bit hip, and a bit off the cuff. Dean may be all of those things, but he's not really showing us that, and my prediction is that in an election between him and Bush, the juxtaposition of his pissed, wooden demeanor compared to Bush's folksy lack of polish will work against him.


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