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The Political X-Factor: Empathy

30 November 2011

5:43 PM

30 November 2011

5:43 PM

In the midst of a piece explaining how Jon Huntsman bungled his Presidential campaign, Ross Douthat offers this:

Voters don’t necessarily need to like a candidate to vote for him, but they need to think that he likes them.

This is good, though really a small twist on the need for politicians to have some understanding of, or feel for, the electorate. Still, likeability is a two-way thingy. Al Gore was never tremendously likeable but he was also done in by the sense that he didn’t much care for voters either. On the other hand, Margaret Thatcher was not obviously likeable but she liked her kind of voter and understood them too. Charlie Haughey had some similar qualities. Tony Blair managed both; Gordon Brown neither.

Of course, navigating this river is tricky. Mitt Romney is not especially likeable and his attempts at flattering his audience generally fail to convince. Like Gore, he lacks empathy or, to put it another way, imagination. Meanwhile, one of Barack Obama’s under-valued assets is the fact that many people still want to like the President even though they’re not always sure they really do like him as much as they would like to like him.


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