In the recent past electing a president in the United States has been difficult. Popular vote totals have clashed with electoral vote totals. The Supreme Court was fractured debating Florida’s recount in 2000. Accusations of voter fraud and tampering are seen as commonplace. And running for president, especially with no incumbent in the mix, has turned into a exhausting, neverending marathon.
But seemingly the greatest challenge facing most voters is trying to decide which candidate is just average enough to earn their vote. In a country that marvels at its own excellence, it is flummoxing how so many voters want their president to represent the everyman, the “Average Joe”.
In 2000 the state of New Hampshire pushed its electoral votes into the column of Governor George W. Bush. What was the great political masterstroke that Bush used to capture the Granite State? What dizzying array of tax cuts and social programs did the Texas governor use to gain the favor of New Hampshire voters in spite of the fact that he lost the Republican primary there only ten months earlier?
Bush’s masterstroke was being completely average. Good golly! He wears a belt buckle? I wear a belt buckle! He likes baseball? I like baseball! He was arrested for driving while intoxicated? That makes him just like me!
The average American is so concerned about being the best that in 2000 people could not stomach having a president that was anything more than average. It would be admitting self-defeat to elect a high-falutin’ Vice President Al Gore with his talk of lockboxes and climate change.
There are a multitude of reasons why Gore did not win the election in 2000, but it’s hard to ignore his inability to play the role of everyman. My government teacher that fall (just one state over in Maine), told me that he was voting for Bush because he seemed like “somebody you could sit down and have a beer with”.
This is how we select our nation’s leader? Voters care more about cracking open a cold one with their commander in chief than frivolous attributes like experience and policy? More recent evidence suggests that this voting method may indeed be a trend, and the candidates are well aware of it.
It is now a political sin to appear to be anything more than a folksy next-door neighbor. When Todd Palin, Governor Sarah Palin’s husband, was recently campaigning in northern Maine he was called the “First Dude” of Alaska. Dude? Really? I’m sure he had most of the people of Maine won over by the fact that he rides a snowmobile; the “dude” nomenclature is just the bow on top of a perfectly ordinary package.
That’s just the way many voters like it. But what if America, after eight years of President Bush, is tired of an average man in the White House? Maybe the best buddy angle is overrated.
Enter Sarah Palin. No matter how many times John McCain calls me his friend, I don’t quite believe him; I don’t think he wants to have a beer with me. But that Sarah Palin! Palin solves McCain’s problem of not representing the everyman. She’s the everywoman which is even better.
It is estimated that seventy percent of Palin’s crowd in Bangor, Maine was male. Now Americans seeking a non-elitist to vote for can trade in an imaginary best friend as president for an imaginary girlfriend as vice-president. There will be no more lonely nights in America.
The Democrats play this game as well. Who can forget Bill Clinton’s “impromptu” game of catch with a football in 1992? Bill Clinton plays football? I bet that crusty old George H.W. Bush doesn’t play football. Sports continue to be a popular way to ground a candidate. Even the most passive of viewers knows of Barack Obama’s fondness of basketball. It’s all an attempt to make him into a regular guy. Heaven forbid that someone extraordinary be elected president of the United States.
It is no surprise it’s been nearly eighty years since The New York Times, in it’s endorsement of Franklin D. Roosevelt, said about the candidate, “He has not degraded his standards as a high-bred and educated man.”
Apparently the United States is a country so desperate for friendships that voters will only elect someone they could envisage as their friend to the highest position in the land. Barack Obama may win because he has piles of money and the country seeks the change he promises, but have you seen the man’s sweet jump shot? I’d love to play hoops with that guy.
Gabe Mosca is a teacher based in New Hampshire