Being depicted as an "intellectual" can be a deadly label in American politics, particularly for a presidential candidate. America isn't essentially a nation of salon thinkers but of workers.
Americans do not relate to intellectualism, they relate to people like themselves. Intellectuals are viewed as ivory-tower thinkers who can't come down to earth long enough to get with the people and make "I feel your pain" a credible statement.
Intellectualism does not equate to intelligence. Intellectualism is a product of devotion to study, generally quite apart from the world going on about its business. Switzerland had the 17th century intellectuals, today it has shrewd bankers.
"Likeability" is probably the number one factor in getting elected to the presidency. If America had looked beyond the media portrayals of Gerald Ford as a fella who couldn't even keep his footing, they would never have elected the genial, soft-spoken Georgia peanut farmer who opened the doors to Cuban exiles and given away the Panama Canal. About this time in 1976 a friend of mine called me from California and in the course of discussion, asked who I thought would win the election. I replied "Carter." She asked why. My reply was "teeth." She was totally puzzled. I explained, "he's likeable, he has a big smile, he relates." This is American thinking, pure and simple.
Whatever the intelligence level of Richard Nixon, he was never a person who came across as likeable. His win in 1968 was perhaps a backlash at too much Lyndon Johnson, and it ended in disaster that was to haunt Nixon the rest of his life. Yet Nixon came across as the intellectual in the 1960 debates with John F. Kennedy. Kennedy, again, was likeable, Kennedy won. He reached out to Americans on an emotional level.
Al Gore doesn't strike me as an intellectual even though that is how the media wants to portray him. His entire background from childhood up (regardless of his reinventions) is that of Washington politics. Try as he might to present himself as "a guy who went to Viet Nam, the former reporter, just a Tennessee farm boy" he
is the ultimate politician's son, raised in Washington, the product of private schools and a consummate liar. That, to me, is not the mark of an intellectual but of an inept politician trying to create some image of being related to the people when he is not.
George W. Bush isn't an articulate speaker. He is probably not terribly well informed on a lot of issues. But what is the mark of a leader? To be the one who knows everything? Or the one who can surround himself with those who do know?
Neither candidate is outstanding in and of himself. Gore's persistent lying should be fair warning to America that his man doesn't mind what he says or does to get to where he wants to go. Red flag and siren time.
Gee Dubya appears to be a man who can muster himself to meet the challenges by obtaining help from the experts, and apparently his ego doesn't demand that he spin an image of Mr. Know Everything.
The most important thing that can come across in these final weeks of the campaign is that Gore represents more taxes, larger government, more control of our lives and the march toward the Western Kremlin.
George Bush isn't the "Republican's Republican" but perhaps the nation is too far into bureaucratic control to accept that yet, without some feel that it is the right way to go. Too many people see classic Republicanism as kicking the poor out in the streets while the rich dine on pheasant and wild rice.
There's no other way to say it than what I have been saying for months. This election represents a choice of direction for our nation more than the election of an individual to be the president.
But when it comes to being "just the American who drives a truck on his ranch" then George W. Bush comes across just fine. He doesn't have to have a Ph.D. in philosophy or politics, just a nice American guy who smiles and says a few sensible words about the direction of this country's future.
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© Dorothy Anne Seese, 2000
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