We’re deep into presidential primary season, and Americans are taking our imperfect knowledge of the candidates to the polls.
Given the sheer amount of ink–digital or real–devoted to American presidential candidates, you’d think voters would have ample, detailed information about those competing for our votes and contributions. But it doesn’t seem to work that way. Verifiable information is “supplemented” with rumor (scurrilous or fawning, depending upon the source and its motivation), and what we do read or hear is filtered through a partisan lens.
Unless we actually know a candidate–or know someone who does–we have only imperfect impressions on which to make judgments about character and intellect. That’s one reason why, in a more perfect world, voters would pay more attention to a candidate’s positions and less to the hype. Marco Rubio’s desire to outlaw all abortions–even in cases of rape and incest–tells you more about his character than softball interviews or even hardball debates.
I remember when George W. Bush was first running for President. He came across as more personable than Al Gore, and the meme was that here was a guy you’d enjoy having a beer with. At the time, I was working with an IUPUI professor whose (very Republican) doctor husband had practiced many years in Midland, Texas. When a dinner party conversation turned to the campaign, he mentioned that he’d gone jogging three or four times a week with George W. and a couple of others for several of those years.
“Really!” I said. “What’s he like?”
The doctor thought for a couple of minutes, then said “Dumb and mean.”
I don’t offer this as irrefutable evidence of George W’s intellect or temperament; I have no idea what their relationship might have been, or how accurate the doctor’s assessment. But it is evidence that widely shared impressions of public figures do not necessarily saccord with assessments by people who actually know and work with those figures.
I thought about that conversation when I read this description of Hillary Clinton at the Political Animal.
As President Obama’s former speechwriter (including during the 2008 primary), Jon Favreau admits that he was not always a fan of Hillary Clinton. He writes about how his view changed while he worked with her in the White House.
“The most famous woman in the world would walk through the White House with no entourage, casually chatting up junior staffers along the way. She was by far the most prepared, impressive person at every Cabinet meeting. She worked harder and logged more miles than anyone in the administration, including the president. And she’d spend large amounts of time and energy on things that offered no discernible benefit to her political future—saving elephants from ivory poachers, listening to the plight of female coffee farmers in Timor-Leste, defending LGBT rights in places like Uganda.”
Given the sustained assault on her character over the years, many of us have had a less-than-enthusiastic response to Hillary’s candidacy. She is clearly the most knowledgable and experienced, but she has also been the most tarnished–sometimes fairly, often not. People I’ve met who actually know her tend to share Favreau’s impressions.
Who’s right, who’s wrong? Who knows?
At least she isn’t arguing about who has the biggest penis.