Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Smart-Stupid Voter Divide

Today the Gallup Poll joins a chorus of gloom-and-doom over Barack Obama’s chances for the Democratic nomination based on his excessive appeal to the college-educated, which historically has resulted in failure.

This is a statistician’s oversimplification of cause and effect.

In rehearsing the history that supports this contention, Gallup cites Michael Dukakis in 1988 as an exception. A closer look at the former Massachusetts Governor who lost to Bush 41 raises other issues.

Dukakis was an earnest man but a terrible politician who answered a question hypothesizing his wife’s rape and murder with an academic analysis of capital punishment and tried to bolster his commander-in-chief credentials by popping out of a tank and ended up looking goofy in an oversized helmet. Moreover, he allowed Karl Rove’s mentor, Lee Atwater, to smear him without responding forcefully.

While he clearly outshone him in what Bush 41 called “the vision thing,” Dukakis lost the election.

What he and those who attract the better-educated but fail at the ballot box represent is the gap between intellectual and emotional appeal. All cheap posturing aside, it goes far beyond smart-stupid into the realm of trust, an issue for all voters. In a campaign, candidates are summoned not for a job interview but a performance that reflects their personal style as well as the substance of their beliefs.

Obama’s failure so far is ironic in that he broke into public consciousness with “rock star” qualities that generate mass appeal but is now allowing himself to be maneuvered into spats designed to make him look naïve.

A New Hampshire admirer had a point the other day chiding him for getting involved with rivals “chewing you up.” Obama got a laugh when he answered, "That's what you do when you run for president."

But it’s no laughing matter for him. What Obama has to do is stop treating the campaign as a classroom test and integrate his confidence, competence and hope into a public persona that projects those qualities for voters on all levels of education.

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