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Do Americans Really Want A President Who “Feels Our Pain”?

Walter Kirn pushes back against an idea that’s become popular among political pundits lately, most recently in connection with the upcoming General Election campaign, that the American people look for a President that they can relate to and who seems empathetic:

Despite the fact it was spoken in annoyance, as part of an effort to quiet and embarrass a heckling AIDS activist at a campaign stop, Bill Clinton’s most famous line, “I feel your pain,” has been regarded for twenty years now as the perfect expression of what Americans—average Americans, real Americans, the kind of Americans that media chatterbots pretend to intuitively understand simply by watching them on b-roll of political rallies—supposedly long for from candidates for president: empathy and emotional support. This rarely challenged notion seems to have resulted from cross-contamination between Dr. Phil and Meet the Press: They, The People are not primarily discriminating, conscious political beings who choose their leaders with their intellects but instinctive, reactive, wounded souls restlessly seeking compassion and connection. It’s not really leaders they want at all, such voters, it’s therapists, confidantes, neighbors, psychic friends. It’s John Edwards, kindly country lawyer, before he turned out to be an evil hologram. It’s George Bush Jr., compassionate conservative, before he actually took office (and for the briefest moment afterward, when he stood on a pile of rubble and hugged a fireman). It’s Bill Clinton, feeling your pain.

But, as the meme goes, and as Kirn points out, its’ not Mitt Romney. I don’t need to repeat what forms the basis of this meme that Romney is somehow detached from the concerns of ordinary Americans, because it’s been all over the media for the better part of a year now. It starts, of course, with his wealth but it’s obviously reinforced by some of the statements that he’s made during the course of the campaign, even when most of those statements were taken out of context. When you say in a campaign speech that you like firing people, or on national television that you don’t care about the very poor, it’s inevitable that they are going to be cited as reinforcing this supposed meme that the media, and the Obama campaign, has created.

Of course as Kirn notes, it isn’t like Barack Obama is some fountain of genuineness and empathy either:

Obama is no champion empath either. Thanks perhaps to his peripatetic childhood and his absent father, Obama seems both hungry for crowd approval and limited in his ability to reach out to others. He’s a bright, lonely boy who needs a lot from us but can’t always return the favor, and he really only expresses public emotion when talking about Michelle, Malia, Sasha, or March Madness. The mythically cool and diffident figure whose blood supply goes mostly to his forebrain to oxygenate and nourish his IQ does make Romney, at moments, seem positively small-town, like a well-dressed Gomer Pyle on an especially great hair day. And Obama is also slightly better than Romney at dumbing himself down for humble occasions (he talks hoops more convincingly than Romney talks hunting and he bothers to drop his Gs when touring the heartland, a trick that is woefully willed-seeming and obvious although he appears to think he does it masterfully, the same way he thinks he does everything masterfully). But in the end he’s just brittle where Romney’s leaden, and twisty-quick where Romney’s straight and plodding. Neither man shares your burdens; they both have the springy, tensile, perfect postures of students who like to get their hands up fast, expect to be called on, always are, and never fail to offer the right answer, or at least a convincing rationale for how their wrong answer was properly arrived at given the flawed information they had to work with.

Indeed, it was arguably the fact that Obama was seemingly unable to connect with “Middle America” in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania that the 2008 Democratic Primary lasted as long as it did.

The question, though, isn’t whether it’s Obama or Romney who feels our pain better, it’s whether this entire meme even makes sense. For decades now, we’ve ben told that politicians need to find ways to connect to ordinary Americans, even though they nearly always come from a world that is far different from the one in which most Americans Even Barack Obama, who spent most of his childhood fatherless and being raised by his grandparents rather than what was by all appearances a mother who was more immersed in her career than anything else, has spent the better part of his adult life living a lifestyle that most Americans can’t relate to. (In case you’ve never been to Chicago, Hyde Park isn’t exactly a middle class neighborhood for example.) The same could be said about Romney, of course, and the Bush’s, and John Kerry, and Al Gore, and Bill Clinton, and Ronald Reagan.

So if you accept the theory of the pundits, what they’re basically saying is that the American people are looking for politicians that are good at faking empathy in order to make them feel better. As Kirn notes, though, there’s not a whole lot of historical evidence to support that:

Did Teddy Roosevelt feel our pain? No, and he would have thrown up if he had. Did FDR? No, he was merely well informed about it by his patrician, yacht-owning advisers. Did Jack Kennedy? Hardly. Jack felt no pain, no pain of any kind—too doped up on speed and morphine. Did Nixon? No. He was mired in his own. Then why is it that, with no supporting evidence, we’re said by the folks on TV to want it terribly? My theory is that in the Oprah-haunted ’90s, when self-help had supplanted public-policy as the preferred path to widespread human betterment, the press needed an apolitical way to talk about politics. They made it about feelings. They made it about identifying, relating. They forgot about Harvard and Yale, the will-to-power, the ruthlessness that is ambition’s twin, and finally they forgot about us. They forgot that we want to salute, not share a hug, and that we don’t mind a little remoteness if its offset by wisdom, strength, and intellect. Americans are still puritans, down deep. We like to look, not touch. And we yearn, though it’s dorky to say, to look up.

Kirn may be pouring it on a little thick there at the end, but I think he has a point. For the most part, those President’s that we classify as “great” aren’t the one who have been the most empathetic in some weird Oprah Winfrey/Dr. Phil kind of way but the ones who acted like leaders even when that meant being aloof, even above, the public. One would have thought that after Watergate, we would have outgrown the idea that politicians are “just like us” when the evidence is eminently clear that they’re not. Rather than asking them to put on a false face and pretend that they’re something they’re not, perhaps it would be better if we all acted like adults and accepted the fact that they are flawed human beings, most of whom have spent the better part of their public careers lusting after power not because they “care” about people but because they just want the power.

H/T Maisie Allison

Related Posts:

About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Dave Schuler says:

    As I wrote over at my place a week or so ago, I think we could use a bit more genuine empathy in our presidents. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been a choice for the last several presidential elections—all of the candidates have come from backgrounds pretty far afield from those of ordinary Joes.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  2. Rob in CT says:

    Sure. I hate the “I feel your pain” thing. Because in almost all cases, it’s bullsh*t.

    I don’t want them to feel my pain. I want good governance.

    I don’t want Romney to be POTUS because his stated policy preferences stink, and the party that has just about finished nominating him is even worse. Not because he’s totally out of touch (though he is). I prefer Obama as the lesser of the two evils not because I think he *gets* me and my concerns, but rather because I think he and his party are better on the issues.

    Mostly, anyway. Not entirely. My general sense is that national-level politicians basically live in bubbles. The people they know and talk to are all pretty well-off (at a minimum) and tend to have “1 percenter” concerns. So, in theory, it’s preferable (all other things being equal, which they never are) to have a candidate who really does know what it’s like for the little people. The trouble is that this can be faked, and mostly is faked.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 2

  3. al-Ameda says:

    Many political observers and pundits believe that voters elected George W. Bush twice (once?) because he was supposedly the guy we could relate to, the guy we could have a beer with down at the local bar. Problem is, I’ve never thought it was a good idea to elect that guy down at the bar to be president.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 2

  4. Lit3Bolt says:

    All of this “feel your pain” nonsense is a by-product of politics in the television and internet age. Before, our elites were so remote and abstract that even knowing what your president looked like was a big deal. Now, presidents are the most photographed people on the planet, and every grimace, smile, and tear is dissected in media labs across the country.

    The political process by which we select our elites has got to change. Now, not only do you need money and Ivy League connections, you need to campaign like a celebrity on tour, smile and make engaging connections with every single person you meet, never get mad and/or relax, get little sleep or contact with your family for over a year, yet still have the near-messianic certainty that you are destined to be a leader among men.

    No wonder this breeds in our political elites a pattern of pathological lying, sociopathic feelings of entitlement, and a contempt for common law and social rules that the rest of us have to follow. If we want better elites, we need to make it attractive for many, not a select few.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  5. @Lit3Bolt:

    Yes I tend to agree that the television age, and now the internet, has tended to make trivial factors about candidates far more important than they used to be. A candidate who isn’t GQ model good looking isn’t going to go very far in national, politics, for example. And one doubts that a male candidate with a high pitched voice (such as Jefferson is believed to have had) would go very far.

    I’m also not entirely sure that the 365/24/7 always-on news cycle is really all that healthy. But, there’s really nothing we can do about that at this point.

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  6. Rob in CT says:

    I think that’s all basically true, Lit3Bolt.

    What I don’t see is a workable solution.

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  7. Brummagem Joe says:

    For the most part, those President’s that we classify as “great” aren’t the one who have been the most empathetic in some weird Oprah Winfrey/Dr. Phil kind of way but the ones who acted like leaders even when that meant being aloof, even above, the public.

    I wonder if you understand the nature of empathy Doug. It doesn’t necessarily involve pretending to be a regular Joe. If one looks at the most empathetic presidents of the last 100 years (TR, FDR, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Reagan, Clinton) three of them came from old money and it was very obvious. FDR (and to a somewhat lesser Kennedy) absolutely dripped American aristocracy and spoke like a Harvard man but average people adored him because they perceived he cared about them and that he was loathed by the moneyed interest. Obama is a bit professorial but has always been popular at the personal level for a variety of reasons (personal grace, sports, family, etc) but he is perceived to have the interests middle class people at heart and there’s nothing phony about this. On the other hand Romney is perceived correctly or not as being as phony as a $3 bill including by many in his own party. Empathy is entirely compatible with a thirst for power and like quality is hard to describe but you know it when you see it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  8. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Lit3Bolt:

    All of this “feel your pain” nonsense is a by-product of politics in the television and internet age.

    I think it would be fair to say its a by product of modern communications but it goes back long before tv and the internet. Radio and the movies were the pivotal shift.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  9. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Lit3Bolt:

    No wonder this breeds in our political elites a pattern of pathological lying, sociopathic feelings of entitlement, and a contempt for common law and social rules that the rest of us have to follow.

    You think this was absent do you when Mark Hanna was making presidents?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  10. Hey Norm says:

    Taken today’s posts together…Doug is saying that Rosen f’ed up by actually telling the truth about Anne Romney, but at the end of the day we shouldn’t even really care.
    Not sure I buy it.
    The measure of your ability to be empathetic is not your address. It doesn’t matter if you live in Hyde Park. It does matter whether or not you are capable of understanding the struggles of average Americans, if you care about those struggles, and what you want to do about those struggles.
    Again…Anne Romney claims to undersstand and to care:

    “…I know what it’s like to struggle…I would love to have people understand that Mitt and I have compassion for people who are struggling…We care about those people that are struggling…”

    Not knowing the woman, I assume she is being sincere. But the unavoidable fact is that her husband fully intends to exacerbate those struggles. His policies are directly aimed at the wealthiest and the most successful amongst us. He is calling for draconian cuts to social programs and safety nets in the interest of tax cuts for the wealthy. There is no other way to describe the Romney/Ryan economic policy.

    The choice we have this November is not between somone who lives in Hyde Park or La Jolla…much as you would like to try to charachterise it as such. The choice we have is between someone who has spent a good deal of his adult life to helping the less fortunate and would use the power, you claim he lusts after, to continue doing so…and someone who lusts after power, as you say, in order to help the already fortunate. It’s not a meme Doug. It’s the truth.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  11. mantis says:

    Even Barack Obama…has spent the better part of his adult life living a lifestyle that most Americans can’t relate to. (In case you’ve never been to Chicago, Hyde Park isn’t exactly a middle class neighborhood for example.)

    Hyde Park is not some gated McMansion community. It is a large south side neighborhood with some very expensive houses, but also a lot of apartment and condo buildings and residents with a broad range of incomes. The Obamas didn’t move into a fancy giant house there until 2005, made affordable by the profits from his books. Before those rolled in, it would be fair to have classified the Obamas as solidly middle class to upper middle class. A lot of Americans can relate to that. From what I understand, Barack and Michelle (then engaged) moved into a rented apartment for UofC professors in 1991, when he started teaching there. I don’t know if or when they moved between then and their home purchase in 2005, but they weren’t rich. Just living in Hyde Park does not mean you are rich.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  12. steve says:

    I tend to assume that we know little about what these guys are really like. Their images are completely managed by their campaigns. Most people will get information about candidates they do not support from hostile media which sends out its own managed image. I start with the assumption that these candidates are fairly bright, ambitious and a bit narcissistic. Anything much beyond that is speculation.

    Steve

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  13. Lit3Bolt says:

    @Brummagem Joe:

    True. You could make the argument that Harding was our first GQ president, because there’s strong evidence his entire political career was based around how he looked.

    @Brummagem Joe:

    Maybe what’s different now is that we even know about it. Before salacious details about politicians were suppressed because of the “sanctity of the office.” None of that now!

    Another thing is the perception of politicians existing in media and security bubbles, so completely remote from common people that they forget what it’s like to be one.

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  14. Fausta says:

    Do Americans Really Want A President Who “Feels Our Pain”?
    Hell, no!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  15. Hoyticus says:

    To answer the question posed by the title of this post, I would say yes Americans “want” a POTUS who “feels our pain”, but they probably want someone who is at least somewhat competent or ideologially appealing more than someone who is empathetic. In other words I’d prefer Bush the Elder to someone like Carter.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  16. PD Shaw says:

    I personally have little use for empathy, but I think voters do. In that sense, I think Brummagem Joe is spot on, empathy (or communicating it) is a skill that can transcend personal position.

    I used to walk my grandfather’s Democratic precinct in the late 70s, carrying his campaign literature in my red wagon as he went from house to house. The spiel was almost always the same:

    [Insert Democratic Candidate] understands the working man.

    I used to ask him about the Kennedys, how could people so rich understand the working man? He loved the Kennedys: “Jack understood the working man; he had “it.” Bobby understod the working man. Teddy . . . he kind of lost his way.”

    He would vote for one Republican his entire life, Reagan twice. Because . . . [drumroll] . . . he told me “Reagan understands the working man.”

    I can’t doubt the power of empathy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  17. dennis says:

    Kirn’s pop-psych analysis is absurd. It doesn’t matter who is or isn’t “feeling our pain”; it’s who understands where us “commoners” come from and the day-to-day problems and challenges we face. I’m sorry, but I find it very hard to believe that Romney, or anyone raised with the kind of wealth he was, understands the average person. Proof of point: Romney pulled a total 180 from the Massachusetts health care legislation he supported, signed and touted as a great success, proving he did it purely out of economic interest rather than any feeling for the healthcare of the commonwealth at large; otherwise, he would have embraced it and its success, crazy-azzed party be damned.

    Romney, and Obama, are politicians. As al-Ameda said above, I wouldn’t want the average Joe at the bar, who has no clue outside of parochial community concerns, running things. That said, I think Obama is closer to feeling and understanding where people are coming from than is Romney.

    I have to slightly disagree with Doug on his last statement. Sometimes, politicians do honestly seek to bring about change for the better, in spite of ego and the lure of power; but, that’s pretty rare.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  18. dennis says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    “I’m also not entirely sure that the 365/24/7 always-on news cycle is really all that healthy. But, there’s really nothing we can do about that at this point.”

    That’s why we come to OTB, Doug!

    Seriously, though, I appreciate you guys’ efforts in posting and running this blog.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  19. @dennis:

    It would be incorrect, though, to say that blogs aren’t a part of that news cycle. Some work consciously to create memes. Others get caught up in them. The fact that the post that is getting the most comments today is the one about a 1:13 comment by a Democratic operative on CNN.

    The media covers stories like this because they’re easy to cover. Thinks like Syria or the impact that the upcoming French elections may have on the future of the Eurozone, and in turn the world economy, are harder and that’s why we barely hear about them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  20. dennis says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    True. Which is why most of us read blogs & news websites, foreign and domestic, to get a fuller picture of what’s on in the world. Take Asia Times, for example. Usually anti-USA in its tone, they most certainly present another side of events than we get on CNN, MSNBC, FOX, etc. As for THIS blog, I almost always get a tidbit of something that leads me to other sources and perspectives.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  21. Dave Schuler says:

    BTW, Doug, I really loved the summary:

    We need a lot less fake empathy in politics.

    I’m saddened that no one has risen to the defense of fake empathy in the comments ;-)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  22. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Lit3Bolt:

    You could make the argument that Harding was our first GQ president, because there’s strong evidence his entire political career was based around how he looked.

    Allegedly he was chosen by the party bosses of the day because he looked like a Roman senator. In a way I think a disservice is being done to the quality of empathy by associating it with Oprah Winfrey type shows. It extends far, far beyond that and it’s actually quite hard to fake over a long period of time. If you haven’t got it you’re better off not trying to fake it or you end with ridiculous moments like Nixon going for a walk on the beach in wingtips. It has a lot to with politician himself being comfortable in his skin and in interacting with ordinary people. Obviously the president has it and Romney doesn’t but I’m not going to vote against Romney because I think he’s a phony but because he represents a political ideology that is deeply flawed. His phoniness is essentially a by product of this. As far as I know he’s a perfectly reasonable and likeable guy at the personal level but because he has to twist himself into a pretzel to defend this nonsense he acquires a reputation for falsness. From the couple of interviews I’ve seen which were softballs he’s definitely not as relaxed as Obama, there’s a tension there. I’m not blaming him I’d be tense. But about two months ago I saw an interview with the president talking about sports and not only did move easily between several different sports he was making fun of himself and the interviewer in a way that was completely unforced. It’s an enormously important personal trait.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  23. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Good blog.

    Indeed the very greatest presidents in our history (Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, T. Roosevelt, Truman, Reagan) were the antitheses of warm and fuzzy empaths with whom Johnny and Cassandra von Space Cadet could relate. They were leaders. They ruffled feathers. They did what needed to be done. In these hard times we need a lot more doing. A lot less preening and posturing. America needs a good swift kick in the ass, not an empathetic pat on the back.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  24. Moosebreath says:

    Tsar Nicholas,

    “Indeed the very greatest presidents in our history (Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, T. Roosevelt, Truman, Reagan) were the antitheses of warm and fuzzy empaths with whom Johnny and Cassandra von Space Cadet could relate”

    That is the converse of the definition of empathy — it’s that the President can relate to the common people, not that the people relate to the President.

    That said, the Presidents you listed are a mixed bag on the empathy front. Washington was felt to be very cold, even by his closest political allies. Jefferson likely thought of himself as empathetic, but evidence for that is lacking. He supported populist policies, but was an elitist person. I’d say TR was very similar.

    Lincoln was very empathetic, to the point that he found nearly any excuse to pardon or reduce the sentence of Civil War deserters, as he felt he would have done the same in their shoes. I think Truman and Reagan similarly were empathetic.

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  25. Tsar Nicholas says:

    @Moosebreath: I was trying to combine the two items to which Mataconis’ post made reference — Americans wanting empathy from the Prez; Americans also wanting to be able to relate to the Prez — into one sentence. I probably should have written it separately.

    In any event, Lincoln might have been empathetic, but certainly he wasn’t warm and fuzzy. It’s also doubtful that Americans related to him. Lincoln was a backwoods boy who went on to become both a lawyer and a merchant. Not too common in the early to middle 1800′s.

    Truman wasn’t warm and fuzzy. Perhaps he was empathetic, but certainly not to striking steel union workers, striking mine workers, or to striking rail workers. He didn’t feel MacArthur’s pain.

    Reagan wasn’t warm and fuzzy. He wasn’t empathetic to the air traffic controllers, that’s for sure. He did have a lot of charisma, however. I don’t know that Americans felt they could relate to him as much as Americans felt he was a strong leader who was looking out for them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  26. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Moosebreath:

    That is the converse of the definition of empathy — it’s that the President can relate to the common people, not that the people relate to the President.

    Trust Counsellor Nicko to get it back to front. And although Truman was imho probably the second or third greatest president of the 20th century and completely genuine, I wouldn’t rate him as one of the most empathetic presidents. He was way behind FDR or Kennedy in this respect.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  27. Moosebreath says:

    TN,

    “In any event, Lincoln might have been empathetic, but certainly he wasn’t warm and fuzzy. It’s also doubtful that Americans related to him.”

    I think you’re still not using the right definition of empathetic. There’s a difference between understanding the plight of the common man and letting that determine how to govern. The Lincoln biographies I’ve read suggest that, other than his iron will, Lincoln’s strongest point was his empathy. And it was reciprocated by the people, as much was made of the fact that Lincoln was the first President to earn a living through manual labor (the Rail-Splitter) as an adult.

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  28. Dazedandconfused says:

    We prefer dogs….

    [IMG]http://i41.tinypic.com/1m1i9.jpg[/IMG]

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  29. Dazedandconfused says:

    Darn it, here’s the link…

    http://i41.tinypic.com/1m1i9.jpg

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  30. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    Truman wasn’t warm and fuzzy. Perhaps he was empathetic, but certainly not to striking steel union workers, striking mine workers, or to striking rail workers. He didn’t feel MacArthur’s pain.

    Counsellor Nicko demonstrates yet again that intellectual rigor that enabled him to pass the CA bar…..LOL

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  31. Isn’t the old joke “if you can’t be sincere, fake it?”

    … but I agree that while there’s nothing wrong with real empathy, the fake kind, especially the transparently fake kind, is no good.

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  32. steve says:

    @Tsar- Reagan as a strong leader is a meme carried by the right. His actual leadership was a mixed bag. His sunny optimism was his more universally appreciated characteristic. (This is the guy who ran from Lebanon.)

    Steve

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  33. anjin-san says:

    Do Americans want a President who can “feel their pain”? It’s debatable. Do they want a President who has a clue that the pain exists? I think so.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  34. Tsar Nicholas says:

    @steve: I was talking about the public’s perception of the man, not necessarily about the objective reality. In reality his reputation even at that time was beyond his actual accomplishments. As you stated he cut and ran from Lebanon. Iran-Contra was a fiasco. The Bork-Ginsburg-Kennedy kabuki theatre truly was a theatre of the absurd. Agreed, his optimism was his calling card. But the public also perceived him to be a strong leader who looked out for their interests. You can’t win 49 states without that being the case.

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  35. Brummagem Joe says:

    @steve:

    His sunny optimism was his more universally appreciated characteristic.

    Reagan was likeable and had to work with a Democratic congress for most of his presidency. Economic times were fairly good after the early 80′s and he had weak presidential opponents. Overall his presidency was a success but the strong leader stuff is complete fantasy and by his second term is was awfully obvious he was losing it. My ma who alive at the time said he was showing signs of memory loss and disorientation and she was right.

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  36. Brummagem Joe says:

    You can’t win 49 states without that being the case.

    You do if your opponent is Mondale/Ferraro. As I recall as if to prove the point the Dems took the senate back.

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  37. Tsar Nicholas says:

    @Brummagem Joe: You mean the Mondale/Ferraro ticket wasn’t up to snuff?? Well, Joe, that certainly would have been news to the Gallup Organization. FYI, during the Dems’ primary season that year Gallup had Reagan only five points ahead of Mondale. Right after the Dem convention in 1984 they vomited up a “poll” that alleged Mondale was up two points over Reagan! Didn’t quite work out that way. Twas wishful thinking on Gallup’s part.

    P.S. — The Dems took over the Senate after the 1986 election cycle, not in connection with the 1984 cycle. In 1986 it was a case of a whole slew of freshman GOP Senators who had won their offices in 1980 riding Reagan’s coattails. When they had to stand on their own two feet, however, they fell down – in droves. The other issue from the GOP perspective was that Reagan in 1986 didn’t campaign for his GOP Senate brethren. Basically Reagan stayed above the fray. Twas a ghastly mistake on his part.

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  38. An Interested Party says:

    I would love to have people understand that Mitt and I have compassion for people who are struggling…We care about those people that are struggling…

    Oh sure, with the exception of those people who had their jobs outsourced overseas by Bain Capital…

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  39. PD Shaw says:

    Did someone mention Lincoln? I think a look at Lincoln’s climb up the occupational ladder is revealing:

    Farmer, Age 7-22
    Flatboatman, 22
    Miller, 22-23
    Store Clerk, 22-23
    Militia Captain, 23
    Merchant, 23-24
    Postmaster, 24-27
    Surveyor, 24-28
    Legislator, 25-33
    Lawyer, 28-52

    A cynic like Kirn might say Lincoln was not a man of the people, he was corporate lawyer, but his background allowed him to connect with people in a Jacksonian America that felt his ideology elitist. Lincoln hated splitting logs, that’s what propelled him away from home and the Jeffersonian ideal of agriculture.

    Did this make him empathetic? I think yes and no. He was profoundly upset by the perceived injustice of his father lending him out as hired labor as a child, and some have argued that this was one of the seed-corns if his views on slavery. On the other hand, when friends or family asked for money to square a debt, he tended to view his own rise past adversity (and insolvency) as entirely replicable. He was optimistic about the market economy in the way that largely went out of fashion with the rise of the welfare state.

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  40. anjin-san says:

    He was optimistic about the market economy in the way that largely went out of fashion with the rise of the welfare state.

    Maybe you should just go to work for Fox – they will eat that up.

    I fully support various governments providing a robust safety net in our society. I write fairly large checks to the IRS & state of California to help pay for them every year, and if next years are larger, you won’t hear me crying about it.

    Currently I am involved with three start ups. I have a lot of optimism about the market economy. I just don’t think it is a magic pony that will solve all our problems if left unfettered.

    History and the study of human nature tell us that the sharks pretty much always eat the minnows. For our society to work properly we need a good balance between the private and public sectors.

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  41. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    Well, Joe, that certainly would have been news to the Gallup Organization.

    Opinion polls aren’t elections.

    The Dems took over the Senate after the 1986 election cycle, not in connection with the 1984 cycle.

    Yep I wasn’t absolutely sure which is why I qualified it. Either way it was obvious Mondale/Ferraro was a trainwreck waiting to happen and it duly did.

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  42. PD Shaw says:

    @anjin-san: The point was that Lincoln, though raised poor, never saw any need for government programs to help the poor, which are a given today. That appears to be a reflection of his own personal experience as well as the social norms of the time.

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  43. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    You caused me to look it up. Interestingly although Reagan won every state except MN and the DC, Mondale still got 41% of the vote….Reagan didn’t quite hit 59%.

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  44. Moosebreath says:

    PD Shaw,

    “The point was that Lincoln, though raised poor, never saw any need for government programs to help the poor, which are a given today.”

    Except for the Homestead Act (giving away land to farmers who otherwise could not buy their own) and the Morrill Act (establishing land grant colleges to expand the pool of people who could be college educated), both enacted under Lincoln.

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  45. anjin-san says:

    the social norms of the time.

    Ah, the good old days of the 19th century that the right pines for. A tiny group of people owned virtually everything. Opportunity existed for white men almost exclusively. Poor people died like flies, and if they got out of line rich people hired Pinkertons to crack their skulls. No franchise for women. Things were grand before those socialistic liberals got involved.

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  46. PD Shaw says:

    @Moosebreath: Lincoln’s core ideology, which didn’t realy change was “self-improvement,” which certainly did not rule out government involvement. For him that meant three things: protective (i.e., non-revenue raising) tariffs to help American industry; a government banking/finance system to ensure access to capital; and internal infrastructure (roads, canals, railways) to bring goods to market. Many Americans saw these as benefits for banks and big business, but Lincoln argued they provide the opportunity for everyman to improve his position. Lincoln’s modest background helped him make the case better than many others.

    Lincoln was a late advocate of homesteading, probably for political reasons (support brought the anti-slavery free soil movement into the Republican Party). It wasn’t entirely inconsistent with the ideal of self-improvement, but I wouldn’t consider distributing federal lands to those who want to improve it, welfare in the way we would see welfare today, particularly since there was no means-testing. (It was more compassionate than alternatives of selling to the highest bidder or as the slave power preferred, keeping the lands out of production altogether)

    The land colleges were agricultural institutions, much closer to Lincoln’s ideal of developing new technologies to improve the productivity of the land. I don’t think the notion of going to college as a means of earning a higher wage existed at the time. He thought agriculture should become more like industry, something that horified many poor whites.

    I just don’t see a lot of concern in Lincoln, or many of his peers, for the poor, even though he had been poor. Again, I think that’s partly because he transcended poverty and expected others to do as he did, but its also probably a reflection of attitudes at the time.

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  47. anjin-san says:

    Lincoln’s core ideology, which didn’t realy change was “self-improvement,”

    Lincoln’s thinking was shaped by the lens of his own experiences. A brilliant, talented man who is also a physical prodigy has a lot of roads for advancement open to him. The average or below average person has a somewhat steeper mountain to climb. It may be a climb they are simply not equipped to make. Did Lincoln see this clearly? We can speculate, but that is all we are doing.

    This is an interesting discussion, but there is a whiff of “The great Lincoln would have opposed the welfare state” in your argument, and I am not really buying it. The concept of the welfare state was in its infancy in Lincoln’s time, and I doubt American politicians in the tumultious years leading up to the civil war & during the war spent a lot of time thinking about an obscure social experiment in Prussia and Saxony.

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  48. Rob in CT says:

    Self-improvement was, in the context of Lincoln’s age, the “progressive” position. The idea that you could advance your station in life was actually contested at the time.

    The Whigs were the party of tariffs and internal improvements, which is to say taxes and infrastructure spending. The newly-minted GOP inherited that tradition.

    Lincoln probably would recoil at the idea of our modern welfare state, because like anyone he was a product of his times. The status quo for us would be terribly radical for him, and Lincoln was not a radical.

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  49. An Interested Party says:

    Lincoln probably would recoil at the idea of our modern welfare state, because like anyone he was a product of his times.

    He would also probably recoil at the modern GOP…

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  50. Brummagem Joe says:

    Actually attempting to apply the political ideology and sensibilities of a mid 19th century politician like Lincoln to a 21st century America is totally absurd. You might as well attempt to apply the outlook of Palmerston or Bismarck to contemporary Britain or Germany.

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