But He's Got a Great Personality...

Drinking buddies are for the bar, not the capitol

| November 2, 2006

In the final stretch of the midterm campaign season, no one can escape the onslaught of ads calling opponents liars, suggesting we break-up with representatives (registration required), or even accusing them of billing taxpayers for 'adult fantasy' phone calls (as evidenced by a hotel bill with a $1.25 misdial charge). As if there aren't already enough challenges to fair elections, this conflation of personal history or charisma with a candidate's political stances is helping to keep voters from being informed about the real issues -- the ones on policies -- when they cast their ballots.

As Jon Margolis makes clear in High Country News, no one has a perfect record. Looking at the ads from a contentious race in northeastern Colorado, he notes that one candidate has filed for bankruptcy, while her opponent rear-ended a car and then left the scene. But focusing on petty personal quandaries only detracts from the real issues at stake: the policies that will eventually affect voter's lives.

Margolis lays some of the blame on 'political journalists who dislike politics, and who therefore encourage voters to choose the contender 'you'd rather have a beer with.'' But he says it's more than an accident of bad reporting. Politicians looking for a way to sidetrack voters -- and the other candidate -- don't hesitate to start the ball of distraction rolling. Margolis quotes a memo from Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole (R) that reads, 'When people are looking at national issues that are not breaking our way, what you want to do is focus on your opponent.' That kind of campaigning puts the less organized, less endowed party (yes, that would be the Democrats) at a disadvantage. They don't have the surplus resources to dig up the dirt, spread it around, and defend themselves after the character assassination begins. Furthermore, Margolis argues, character-based voting is just plain pointless. 'You are never, ever going to have a beer with that candidate,' he writes. 'Ever.'

But what if you did? The political pranksters at the Onion do a great job of laying that fantasy to rest in the November 2005 piece, 'Long-Awaited Beer With Bush Really Awkward, Voter Reports.' The article details a fictional pub rendezvous between working-class Pennsylvanian Chris Reinard and George W. Bush. After attempting to buy Bush a Bud ('I completely forgot he stopped drinking'), Reinard finds that he and the affable politician live in vastly different realities. Even fishing talk cannot alleviate the strain of the meeting. ''I felt that we finally made a connection,' Reinard said. 'But then he started telling me about this one time he was on a yacht with some Arab prince and they spent four hours landing a sailfish.'' Perhaps the only thing that can crack a politician's carefully crafted persona is an invincible sense of humor.

Go there >> In Politics, It's Not About Who You Want to Drink a Beer With

Go there too >> Long-Awaited Beer With Bush Really Awkward, Voter Report

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