Likeability

| Wed Aug. 27, 2008 2:31 PM EDT

LIKEABILITY....Dayo Olopade on Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer's speech last night:

Not only was Schweitzer's delivery emphatic and simple — his mien was entirely genuine, a reality only enhanced by his bolo tie. The governor, an irrigation specialist and practicing catholic, got the meat of these two identities across without being pedantic, speaking of a crucifix in his home and the environmental battles he fights as an executive with fluency.

....A quick Google investigation of the governor reveals an appearance at an American Prospect event in which he lays out the very case for casting him as a major face of the party in future: "[People] like what we Democrats do when we're elected — we just have to be more likeable when we're doing the things they like." And oh, was he. Beyond his endearing tics — the A-OK hand gestures, his refrences to "industry" — he got off some great jabs at McCain, and his hokey but effective pep-rally techniques were straight from the heartland.

This is something of a problem, isn't it? Yes, successful politicians all have to be likeable in one way or another (Richard Nixon is the exception who proves the rule), but this a particular kind of likeability that Dayo is talking about. It's the rural, jeans-wearing, brush-clearing, aw-shucks likeability of John McCain and George Bush and Ronald Reagan and Dwight Eisenhower. (And LBJ and Bill Clinton.) But if that's the only kind of genuinely acceptable likeability in presidential elections, then our list of electable candidates shrinks to about two or three per year.

I don't have any brilliant answer to this problem, and obviously a lot of people this year are hoping that Barack Obama's version of likeability turns out to be acceptable too. That said, I sort of wish liberals would stop buying into the Schweitzer-esque version of what's likeable and what's not. In the long run, it just kills us.

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