Saturday, January 05, 2008

How to Become President

As a rule, I am cynical about the importance of presidential elections. I don't think that the everyday life of an average citizen (not that there is such a thing) changes much depending on who is in office. Most historians today shy away from the traditional "great man" philosophy: the idea that the decisions of key individuals affect the lives of multitudes. Perhaps starting with Tolstoy, there has been a move toward believing that those in positions of power are more acted upon than acting on. Therefore, I don't get all that invested emotionally in these things that come around every four years.

That said, I still love to follow electoral campaigns. If it were up to me, all media coverage of the presidential race would involve reporting on what candidates are saying. But since it is not, I sit back and enjoy the "horse race" coverage, and the analysis about how and why candidates are connecting with voters. I certainly lack expertise in political science, but one can't help these days but to make armchair judgements about the choices being made by the prominent candidates, and that only leads to further cogitations about universal appeals. What does it take to get elected president?

I've been particularly interested in what the media calls "energized" voters. Apparently, the reason that John Kerry lost in 2004 is because even the Democrats weren't "energized" enough to support him (and the same was said about Gore in 2000). This time around, we are being told that Democratic voters are "energized," while the Republican voters lack energized support for their candidates.

So what does it take to get voters "energized?" My hypothesis is that candidates who are "avatars" inspire energy. It doesn't seem to matter how effective a candidate's past achievements might be, how smart they are, or even how charismatic they are. If they don't embody some kind of ideal, they don't inspire enthusiasm. Taking a look at the Democratic field, it becomes obvious why that electorate is "energized." You have an avatar of youth and optimism, an avatar of 1990s peace and prosperity, and an avatar of the pugnacious "little guy." The fact that I don't have to identify which candidates I'm referring to speaks to the effectiveness with which these candidates embody these ideals.

On the Republican side, the national polls were dominated early on by the avatar of post-9/11 resiliency. Unfortunately for said candidate, 9/11 was a (relatively) long time ago. In Iowa, we saw the stunning rise of the avatar of "God's candidate." The explanation for Huckabee's ascendancy is the same explanation for Bush's rather counterintuitive victory over Kerry in '04. The "avatar" theory can also explain the enthusiasm generated for Ron Paul, who embodies the spirit of '76 better than any other candidate. The theory does not bode well for the likes of Mitt Romney or Fred Thompson (an avatar of indolence and ennui--too bad he didn't run for president in '96).

I didn't mention John McCain yet, who I believe has a chance to still generate momentum and enthusiasm, based on his ability to embody American ideals like justice, self-reliance, and defiance. If he gets the nomination, I see him as a palpable threat to win the White House.

Is my theory a gross oversimplification of a complicated process? Most likely. Then again, I can't help but think it doesn't really matter anyway.


Blogger Beth said...

Hey azor, I hope your christmas and new year were great. Anyway, I don't usually follow up on the whole presidental stuff. I usually never want to vote when it comes to this because I never know who to vote for because no matter what the person says usually when they come into office they never do it anyway. So James is always the one that tells me who's who. And when I ask him stupid questions he's always like, "jeez Beth don't you listen to anything" haha

12:46 AM  
Blogger MarkL said...

Hey Prof. Azor.,
Feel the same way about politics. To quote from "Waking Life"- "...Differn sides of the same coin, bidding for CEO of Slavery Inc..."

Although i feel it insignificant energy (polling and what not), i do feel it necessary to at least create a lean to the right side, if possible. With that. I believe you should check into Mike Gravel.

10:14 PM  

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