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Political knowledge should be desired trait in leaders

Posted: March 13, 2012 11:29 a.m.
Updated: March 14, 2012 5:00 a.m.

“Oops.” That single word in a November 2011 presidential debate endeared then-candidate Rick Perry to some voters and allowed him to be written off by others. 

The gaffe was viewed by some as completely humanizing … as if it was something any one of us would have done up on that stage. Others felt it showed Perry’s lack of preparation and competence, raising eyebrows and question marks over the Texas governor’s legitimacy as a presidential contender.

Perhaps if it had been just one moment in an otherwise well-run campaign, we would be seeing Perry going down to the wire in the Republican primaries and preparing to face Obama.

But it wasn’t and Perry easily faded away after the first national primary.

While he wasn’t successful in winning the nomination, he did win support for his “everyman-ness.”

It’s an attribute that’s also been connected with former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, even though hers would more accurately be called an “everywoman-ness.” People believe they’re just like us and that’s what we need in political office.

Palin’s “humanizing” flaws are pinpointed in the new HBO film “Game Change,” based on book of the same name.

As Washington Post writer Richard Cohen pointed out in his March 12 column, the movie portrays Palin as an “ignoramus.” She didn’t know that Queen Elizabeth II is not in charge of the British government. She didn’t know that North and South Korea were different countries. She also thought that America went to war in Iraq because Saddam Hussein, and not Al-Qaeda, had attacked the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001.

All of these gaffes were reportedly well researched by the book’s writers and documented from McCain-Palin advisers and staffers during the 2008 election.

These characteristics of the so-called everyman were also brought up more recently in the resignation of S.C. Lt. Gov. Ken Ard. Despite spending thousands of dollars in campaign contributions on personal items like TVs and iPods, some tried to categorize Ard’s indiscretions as a case of “it could happen to anybody.”

S.C. Republican Party Chairman Chad Connelly, for instance, said scandals like Ard’s make voters look at officials and “say ‘they’re just like me. They are fallen and they make mistakes, too.’”

But it’s a trait that doesn’t jump out from the two men one of whom is most likely to win the White House in 2012.

As columnist Kathleen Parker wrote about Mitt Romney in the Washington Post -- he lacks an essential limp.

“We keep hearing that he’s ‘too perfect’ and that so-called ‘ordinary Americans’ can’t identify with him. Indeed there is something vaguely unfamiliar about Romney,” she wrote. “Handsome, rich and successful, he is happily married to a beautiful wife, father to five strapping sons and grandfather to many. At the end of a long day campaigning, his hair hasn’t even moved.”

Barack Obama also seems to be lacking this perceived political ideal.

Both men have been attached with the label of elitist, which leads some voters to think “those guys just aren’t like us.”

One of the most notable examples of this phenomenon with voters was George H.W. Bush’s perceived “wimpiness.”

Many voters looked at him as an upper-crust “wimp” who only knew a life of luxury.

Newsweek magazine even published a profile in 1987 of the then-presidential candidate under the headline “Fighting the Wimp Factor.”

Bush received this “wimpy” backlash despite receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross as an Air Force pilot during World War II. The label was thrown his way and he couldn’t get rid of it.

Bush won the election in 1988, but lost four years later to a younger, more energetic, Arkansas governor named Bill Clinton.

This idea is nothing new. It is part of the long-lasting phenomenon of voting more for the person you’d rather have a beer with than the person you think would be the best fit for office.

Clinton himself may have best summed up this trend during a speech a few years ago.

“Don’t bother us with the facts,” Clinton said referring to the mindset of some misinformed voters. “We’ve already made up our minds.”   

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