Thursday, July 08, 2004

An Ever-Present Smile Goes Further Than You Think



It didn't take long, did it?

John Edwards was tabbed as John Kerry's running mate and, naturally, diverse criticism of his selection quickly surfaced, from both staunch Republicans as well as Democrats whose personal choices were bypassed.

We've heard it all.

Edwards is inexperienced. Edwards is little more than a wealthy, slimy trial lawyer. Edwards doesn't offer a balanced ticket.

Is their any validity to these arguments? Sure.

What Edwards does offer, however, cannot be broken down into nor explained by a personal biography or his record in the Senate.

Edwards offers hope. He offers the prospect of change. He offers the the much needed scent of modest roots, of working America. Edwards offers a simple, and undeniable, attraction that cannot be manufactured, nor underestimated.

He offers likeability. Pure and simple. Never underestimate this.

Edwards offers an alluring and highly persuasive charisma that, sadly or not, is a very high criteria among the average American voter, who is not as "into" the great national debates as one might expect or, at least, hope for.

Nobody wants to mention it. Nobody wants to suggest that the average American voter is grossly uninformed or largely uninterested. Nobody wants to accuse the American public of being simple.

But it is. (Go ahead and blast me, if you want.)

This is precisely why a sweating, visibly uncomfortable politician can see his (or her) hopes dashed unceremoniously once the hot, bright lights of television are ablaze, no matter his (or her) genuineness, knowledge, or track record.

People are shallow. People want their leaders to at least look like everything is cool, as if they're completely in charge at all times. People want their leaders to be pretty and pure, to be the popular kids at school. People want a dashing up-and-comer, not a boring, uninspiring, aging, prototypical politician.

While I question the "sex appeal" of a 51-year old father of three, Edwards is definitely the "hunk" of the two tickets. He's a former football player with all his hair, still full of color. He's perpetually smiling. His young children make him "one of us". All of this plays well in Peoria, whether you like it or not, no matter how shallow you find it to be.

As I said, nobody wants to say it, but the vast majority of American voters have a limited knowledge of the dominant issues, not to mentions those issues on the fringe. They barely know each candidate's stance on hot topics such as abortion, gay rights, or health care. They have scant interest in a candidate's background...at least until a sex scandal, or something equally ugly or shocking, surfaces. Then, they want all the details in overbearing abundance.

It's not that Americans don't care. Rather, they have "real life" going on 24-7. Thus, their knowledge of the political games is limited.

This is why something as simple as an ever-present smile, or kids hanging at his side, is just as powerful for Edwards as his voting record as a senator. If you think the average American voter is going to dissect his voting record, you're crazy.

They're not.

This is sad, but true. And this is exactly what so many political "experts" and "pundits" forget. These "experts" write and/or speak to people who already know the issues. (This is why they are being read/listened to in the first place.) These "experts" forget that they are preaching to the choir (those who follow politics at least somewhat seriously), while the parishioners (the average American voters) have bills, "Spiderman 2", or baseball on their minds. They don't care how Edwards voted in the senate. They want to know how their gut feels when they see him on TV. That is all.

Look, this presidential election, more than most any other, has created a great divide that, really, cannot be crossed. 'Kerry vs. Bush' has polarized the voting population with impressive rapidity and strength. The vast majority of potential voters already know who they're voting for, and they have for awhile. The "swing voter" is almost a myth. Not quite, of course, but closer than you think.

You either support Bush or you despise everything he has done and everything he stands for. Period. End of story. That, more than any conceivable issue, is what it all comes down to. So let's not look too deep. It's not necessary.

That's where Edwards comes in. That's why he was the most logical choice (although John McCain was attractive, as well.) Why? Because he has the most potential to influence the relatively small group of swing voters still lingering out there. He has that invaluable make-the-jurors-trust-you charm.

Forget Edward's short political track record. He had to start sometime, and his rise has been swift and impressive. He has, obviously, done something right in the political circus. This must not be overlooked. He's a successful politician. And let us not forget that Bush had no experience at the national level before 2000, nor that Bush was not a succesful politician (nor businessman) prior to his presidency. On this front, Republicans have very little ground to stand on.

Forget that Edwards was, as some say, Kerry's second choice, after McCain. Again, Dick Cheney and the Republicans don't have much to go on on this department.

Forget Edward's time as a lawyer. Hey, I won't deny having some negative feelings towards lawyers, as many people do, but so what if Edwards was a lawyer. What's the big deal? He came from a very modest, working class background and made millions in the court room. Good for him. And he battled for the "little people" who were getting "screwed" by big corporations. (He did. Look it up.) Again, good for him. Then he turned his back on it all, perhaps driven by the death of his son. Look, we all do something, and Edwards was a lawyer. Say it with me now...good for him.

Forget the fact that, despite being a Southerner, he won only South Carolina in the primaries. This is highly misleading, as Kerry beat him in every other Southern state for one reason, and one reason alone: Democrats, and other members of the large anti-Bush crowd, voted for whoever - WHOEVER! - represented the best chance of beating Bush. Many of these people would have voted for Al Sharpton's hairstylist if they thought that was the best chance to remove the present administration. Kerry stepped to the fore admirably in this way, and reaped the plentiful benefits.

Forget that Edward's doesn't offer a so-called balanced ticket. As I've said, if you think the average American voters are meticulously dissecting each and every issue the way the "experts" do, you have highly commendable faith in them, and I envy you. I don't think I'm being unfairly hard on the average American (at least I hope not), but I myself am an average voter, as are my family, friends, and, essentially, everybody I know. While we may not be completely blind to the wide array of issues, we, ultimately, vote simply, perhaps naively, according to one bottom line: Who do we like? Who do we really like? Who do we connect to on a simple level? Who makes us feel good about our vote?

Edwards, with his youthful optimism, with his in-the-spotlight children creating a "family guy" aura, with his court room-honed skills to sway, with his overall charisma, is a man Americans are liable to fall in love with by election day.

Wait, did I say "love"?

OK, OK, he is a man people can "like" by election day, and they probably will.

Strangley enough, possibly sadly, this is the most important thing. Really, it is.

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