Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Campaign Annoyances

A couple strands of campaign rhetoric have been bugging me as of late. (Of course, more than a couple have been bugging me but a couple have been bugging me in particular.)

The first is all of the credit/blame that the various campaigns seem to get for the performance of their respective candidates. If a candidate performs well (or poorly), much of the talk turns to campaign strategy and what could have been done differently to secure a better result.

The problem with all of this is that it leaves out the fact that the voters decide who wins and who loses these things. It isn't like sports where if you play better than your opponent, you win the contest. You might do everything right in a political campaign and still lose because, to put it bluntly, the voters just don't like you (or, gasp, might not think you'd be a very good president). So Rudy gets creamed in Florida (which, let's face it, was a stupid strategy) and much of the discussion is about what he could have done differently to secure the nomination. The right answer to that, it seems to me, is "be a different person." At the end of the day, people just didn't buy him as president, or at least thought there were vastly preferable options out there. I wish the pundits (and candidates) would give us some credit and recognize that substance, rather than strategy, is a pretty important political commodity.

My second complaint is related. I expect some pity for Hillary in the coming days that will run along the following lines: She deserves to be president. She's put in her time. She's smart as hell. She endured humiliation from Bill with admirable dignity. Now she's missed her shot--what she's worked for her entire life.

The problem here is that no one deserves to be president and if being president is what you've worked your whole life to become, you better be prepared to be disappointed. All of the comments may be true. But if you have the misfortune to make your presidential run at the same time as Barack Obama, then it doesn't matter how qualified you are. It's just not your time. (And by the way, after listening to him speak last night in Texas, I really don't see any way he doesn't win in November. Unless some big scandal breaks--and I mean that it comes to light that he tortures poodles for fun and sells human livers on the black market and gets $1 million a year from big tobacco--it may even be a landslide.)

Another sports analogy seems appropriate here. If Phil Mickelson had been born at a different time, he may have been the best golfer of his generation. He just had the misfortune to come along in the Tiger Woods era. On a certain level, that may stink for Phil. But that's the game these guys get into. There are no guarantees in sports or politics and if you can't handle that, you should probably do something else.

Let's all promise not to feel too bad for Hillary.


NonVoxPop said...

Remarkable insight re: both points. If you know of any links to the TX speech you mentioned, please forward a link. I'd like to share in the confidence that he'll be president!

abby said...

Adam-I'm glad you're back at your blog! Great insights (in many of your posts, I'm just writing here). I didn't cast my vote based on how I perceived a candidate had "treated" my state. I'm not a 12 year old girl and it is annoying that the media treats the voters as if we are.

Another of my great annoyances in campaigns has been the lack of any discussion of candidates positions and how they might fare as president. The media, especially the talking heads, is much more interested in process stories than anything else. And I don't even have cable and pretty much only watch PBS and this annoys me.

So that's my two cents. Good to have your writing back!

Leah said...

This has been my favorite post of your so called "return of the blog." I often find myself wondering how the "loser" feels. Even when I am cheering for a particular sports team I sometimes find myself empathizing with the losers even when I don't like them.

I think this must come from having been the "loser" a number of times. At musical auditions (which surprisingly are much like sporting events ... would be even better if they served beer at them I suppose) I know what it is like to not be the one picked for the job. After having "worked for this my whole-life" I usually walk away feeling fairly defeated. Then I rationalize...

"It was not my time"

"God has a different plan for me"

"If only I had not missed that high F"

"If only so-and-so had not been there I would have won. I played really well but so-and-so had something they like a little better"

"I wish so-and-so had fallen on her face on the way into the audition room"

etc, etc...

But I got over all these losses, and I'm still here to talk about it. The losing candidates must feel a similar hurt, but must deal with it in the public eye.

On the contrary, when I have WON an audition, I don't think of these things. I don't sit around saying "well I won because so-and-so wasn't here." I think I won because I was the best that day, the best for the job. God's plan in action.

Losers should take it all in stride, and I suppose we shouldn't feel too bad for them. After all, if everyone won everything they had worked for their whole lives, they wouldn't learn a darn thing in the process.

AJK said...


My point isn't so much that failing to achieve your goals isn't tough--you and I both know how brutal it can be. And I think it's entirely legitimate to feel bad after such failures. If it wasn't, then the goals probably wouldn't be worth working toward.

Rather, I'm just trying to object to the idea that one should have as one's life goal something that depends too much on factors beyond one's control. And that's really the connection between the two points in this post, namely, that if Hillary (or any other candidate) made it their life goal to become president of the United States, then they shouldn't feel like they have failed in their life mission when they don't achieve it or that they haven't received something that is their due.

The appropriate goal for Hillary should be (and may in fact be) to serve her country to the best of her ability. Her understanding of how best to pursue this goal may include a campaign for the presidency. But she can, I think, perfectly well satisfy the life goal while failing in the campaign. And if she is devastated because she feels like she has failed in her life goal to become president, then I just think she has the wrong life goal.

(As a closing aside, I think we, as voters, should object when people say that their life's goal is to become president since it commits us to electing them in order for their goal to be achieved. The notion can create a sense of entitlement that is completely out of place in politics or, for that matter, sports. Why should the Giants care if Tom Brady has winning twelve Super Bowls as his life goal? Are they supposed to lay down so that he can fulfill his dream? Similarly with Hillary. Why should the voters care if being president is what she has built her life around (if she has)? Should we vote for her just so she can accomplish her goals?)