A Short Post About Demonizing Your Political Opponents

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David Ryan

David Ryan is a boat builder and USCG licensed master captain. He is the owner of Sailing Montauk and skipper of Montauk''s charter sailing catamaran MON TIKI You can follow him on Twitter @CaptDavidRyan

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  1. Avatar Will Truman
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    says:

    Every now and again I’ll read about a champion athlete who refused to meet with The President. I think that’s kind of sad, to be honest. And not for the president.Report

    • Avatar Morat20 in reply to Will Truman
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      says:

      I’d be happy to meet with any President, even one whose politics I despised. I hold the office in high regard, and the job is one of the most difficult — if not the most difficult — on earth.

      It’s pretty obvious seeing the before/after pictures of Presidents that the stress of the job ages them, and quickly. I can’t imagine doing it.

      So I might despise his or her politics — I’ll happy write it, speak it, vote it — but face to face? I’d prefer to show the part of me that respects the sacrifices of the job, the duties and responsibilities of it, and honor the office and the man (or woman) as best I can.

      As for likability — these days, I don’t think you can get too far in politics without learning to be personally likable to people. At least people you only meet for a few hours.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Morat20
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        says:

        Romney certainly seemed to have managed.
        Or maybe that was just his silver spoon?Report

      • Avatar Vikram Bath in reply to Morat20
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        says:

        I’d be happy to meet with any President, even one whose politics I despised.

        Likewise. Though for me, any president would necessarily be one whose politics I despised.Report

      • Avatar Art Deco in reply to Morat20
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        says:

        It’s pretty obvious seeing the before/after pictures of Presidents that the stress of the job ages them, and quickly. I can’t imagine doing it.

        The Social Security Administration has some data on life expectancy for men at given ages. The contemporary data would not be valid for someone inaugurated in 1921, but the life expectancy for men who have reached late middle age is a datum that tends to change quite slowly anyway. Of our most recent chief executives:

        5 are deceased but overshot the mark on their life expectancy
        2 are still living and have overshot the mark
        6 are deceased and undershot the mark
        1 was assassinated
        3 are still living and under 70

        It does not appear to age the occupants severely.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Morat20
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        says:

        AD,

        Does that account for the fact that Presidents get top medical care among other life-extending benefits?Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Morat20
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        says:

        Presidents are unusually healthy going into office. Compare presidents to senators over the same time span, and it’s quite notable.

        Relevant:
        Dr Michael Irwin, of the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute, agreed with this analysis. He said: ‘It is unequivocal that significant life stress perceived by a person does accelerate aging.’

        But despite the undoubted stresses of the job, the fact that presidents tend to be well-educated and come from comfortable backgrounds counts in their favour when it comes to aging.

        Eileen Crimmins of the University of Southern California said: ‘They’re the cream of the socioeconomic crop. Generally they’ve had pretty good lives and already made it to a fairly old age, so they’re going to live relatively long almost by definition.’Report

      • Avatar Art Deco in reply to Morat20
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        says:

        Read Ivan Ilich’s Medical Nemesis.

        The predominant reason for improvements in life expectancy at birth has been improvements in nutrition and sanitation; the technics of medical care have been a small part of the mix. Also, improvements have been intensely concentrated in reductions in infant and early childhood mortality. I think there has been improvements in old-age mortality in the generation since Ilich wrote, so perhaps some of the benefits from improvements in medical technology are beginning to kick in. The Social Security Administration has some tables on the evolution of life expectancy at given ages, and about 4 years have been added to the life expectancy of 60 year old men since 1953 (so Eisenhower did beat the clock).

        You could look at it another way. Ford, Carter, and Bush-pere were all athletic men, and Reagan was arguably above the median on that scale. As a career soldier, one would guess Eisenhower had to keep in shape for a longer period in his life than ordinary men. Roosevelt was weakened by either polio or Guillaume-Barre syndrome and also smoked cigarettes. Lyndon Johnson took terrible care of himself, chain smoking and imbibing quite a bit.Report

      • Avatar Art Deco in reply to Morat20
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        says:

        Eileen Crimmins of the University of Southern California said: ‘They’re the cream of the socioeconomic crop. Generally they’ve had pretty good lives and already made it to a fairly old age, so they’re going to live relatively long almost by definition.’

        Again, these figures on life expectancy compare them to other men of their age.

        John Kennedy came out of the plutocratic elite; he was a physical wreck. Franklin Roosevelt came from a family of old-money patricians; he died prematurely. Woodrow Wilson came from a high class (not wealthy) background. His lifespan (67 years, four years an invalid) was unremarkable for his cohort.

        Presidents Hoover, Nixon, and Reagan came from common-and-garden small town petit bourgeois families. Eisenhower was a farm kid from a family of moderate prosperity. I think that description applies to Jimmy Carter as well; IIRC, the big money only began rolling into the Carter household after about 1963. Johnson's family was also agrarian, but financially ruined and declasse. Truman's upbringing was half agrarian and half small town bourgeois (and also declasse). Bilge Clinton's family was functionally small town petit bourgeois, culturally white trash.

        Her description might apply to Gerald Ford (city kid, haut bourgeois) and the Bushes.

        As for their adult situations, wealth did not translate into long life for most of the Carters. Pancreatic cancer wiped out the entire family bar the President, with only Miss Lillian living into old age.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Morat20
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        says:

        Reagan was arguably above the median on that scale.

        It’s an easy argument to make. As a young man he worked as a lifeguard (on a river, not a swimming pool) and saved 77 lives. At college, he was the captain of the swim team. I’d say that’s at least as impressive at being a light-hitting first baseman.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Morat20
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        says:

        Bloody italics.

        Fixed.Report

    • Avatar dhex in reply to Will Truman
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      says:

      i think it’s kinda neat. even if it’s driven by steel-don’t-melt levels of thought. gives the kids something to think about, maybe.Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Will Truman
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      says:

      It seems to me that it makes a pretty nice statement, to refuse to meet the President, at least if the people who do it are visible enough, or if enough people do it. I understand separating the the person who holds an office from the office and even from that person as the holder of the office, and I admit that my dealings with politicians above the city and county level have been nothing but pleasant (I’ve known some city and county-level folks who’ve been complete asses). However, when an athlete meets with the President, that athlete is usually meeting the President in his or her (hopefully her someday soon) as the holder of the office, not as the likeable person, and that is political, whether we like it or not. While I don’t think small scale disagreements warrant actions like refusing to meet the President, large-scale ones, like say over wars that kill hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians, certainly can.Report

  2. Avatar Burt Likko
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    says:

    One of my undergraduate professors had the same story to tell about Richard Nixon. He said that he had been a “professional Nixon-hater.” And then he actually met Nixon. Still didn’t agree with Nixon’s policies, but admitted that his socks had been charmed right off his feet about the man.Report

  3. Avatar BlaiseP
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    says:

    It’s all schtick. If you shake enough hands in life, it’s like the first five moves in chess. Pretty much every good chess player can manage the first five, no problem. Though chess is theoretically NP complete, it has defied a complete mapping — but the first eight moves are optimally mapped out.

    Same with meeting people. Politicians have shaken more hands than you’ve eaten eggs. Nixon was a good poker player, a bare knuckles politician and the weirdest little man American politics has ever produced. George W Bush, an affable dunce. These guys aren’t born, they’re excreted.Report

  4. Avatar Michael Drew
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    says:

    Curious about the relationship of the last sentence either to the point of the post, or of its subject (Max’s decision to expatriate) to his meeting with Dubya.Report

  5. Avatar Michael Drew
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    says:

    More generally, it doesn’t seem to me like we should be surprised when politicians of every stripe, however hateful their policies, turn out to be likable in person. That is, after all, what they do – it’s how they get where they get. It’s not like what we do is just go find the most persuasive policy intellectuals and elect them.

    It is interesting to hear the stories about it when it is a revelation to people, though, so the post is appreciated.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Michael Drew
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      says:

      They aren’t likeable. You’re likeable. They have met ten thousand people like you. At the end of the day, they soak their right hands in ice water. There’s nothing sincere in a single word they’re saying.

      Try engaging a politician for thirty seconds. Watch how he ends the conversation. There’s a revelation for anyone.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to BlaiseP
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        says:

        A famous person can be likable without being particularly sincere or having much time to spend with any one person. The job of a politician puts those constraints on his ability to interact with people (and sure, for some this will be an absolute bar to finding them likable in any way); it was within those constraints that I meant that politicians will be able to get people to think they’re likable (enough, Hillary). So I’ll grant, they’re not as likable to people as the people they spend four hours a week bowling or playing softball or quilting with. But inside of those 30-60 seconds or maybe five minutes you might have to talk to a working politician, you shouldn’t be surprised at how surprisingly likable you find them (and fair enough Will, maybe that’s the kind of surprised you’re not surprised to experience that you’re talking about – the point is that, on reflection, we shouldn’t be surprised). That’s just one of their basic necessary competencies, or in any case one they have to make up for in other areas if they don’t have it.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP
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        says:

        I’ve shaken far too many hands. Maybe that’s my problem. I’m not convinced by the first thirty seconds. I’m paying close attention, if the person has good social skills, they’re on exhibit at that point. But really, the first thirty seconds are governed by social convention and not by someone’s likeability.

        My mother once had a man turn up in the middle of the night. Before he could report his wife was in labour with complications, the entire four-response Hausa social back-and-forth had to be conducted before the poor man could blurt out why he’d come.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to BlaiseP
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        says:

        I recall there was a flap about George W. Bush using antibacterial hand sanitizing gel after shaking Obama’s hand for the first time, and Bush wound up getting a pass because it turns out all politicians use that stuff. They shake hundreds of peoples’ hands a day, thousands a day when on campaign. So the thought is that they don’t want to have all sorts of common cold pathogens communicated to them nor render themselves vectors for the massive distribution of said pathogens, because all it takes is shaking hands with one guy who forgot to wash his hands after scratching under his nose.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Michael Drew
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      says:

      Most people would be really surprised what a cool guy Oliver North is, in person.

      Anyway, you can know on one level that of course politicians are going to be likable, but still be quite stunned when you like them in person. Several years ago I met five candidates for a significant elected position. Most of the five were interesting as three would later become players. One won the job, another later won the job, a third would also become influential in local politics.

      There was a fourth guy who had no chance of winning because he had already been disgraced. He was a real slimeball of the first order. He was well-positioned for future success, but his sliminess just caught up with him. This race was his last chance. I am still shocked at how much I liked the guy. Despite knowing what you say right here. Him? I would come out of it liking him? No way. Yup.

      I still think he’s a slimeball. But he did manage to make me forget that for a spell and make me wish that he was the guy I met that night.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        Oliver North, to my knowledge, was never much of a politician – certainly not a very successful one.

        Anyway, you can know on one level that of course politicians are going to be likable, but still be quite stunned when you like them in person.

        I mean, I guess you can have any reaction you want to anything, including being stunned that things turn out how you expected they would. I’ve met a few politicians, found some of them likable (not saying they all are), and stunned is not how I’d characterize my reaction to it.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        North may not have been a successful politician, but it wasn’t because he lacked a politician’s likability. Not in person, anyway. Like I said, very likeable. Surprisingly so. The same applies to the slimeball, who crashed and burned. He had that temperament too, though. (The one who was there who would later go on to win the office did not fall into this category.)

        To clarify the quoted section, it should say “when you like certain specific politicians in person.” Sometimes you are pretty sure your disdain for them will override whatever likeability they have. That they are successful politicians – or have their following – because they appeal to a kind of person who you are not.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        Ah, gotcha, sorry. I thought you were being facetious, implying there’s no way he’s likable. I didn’t realize you had met him.Report

  6. Avatar KatherineMW
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    says:

    It should hardly be a revelation that politician, especially one who’s gotten anywhere, has some facility for public relations. Of course they come across as friendly and charming. It’s how they get elected.

    I care a lot more about the character than the personality of anyone in office.Report

  7. Avatar LeeEsq
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    says:

    I’m in agreement with BlaiseP and KatherineMW, a mastery of basic social skills is a pre-requisite for getting elected. You need to be able to relate to all sorts of people. This is especially true if your in a first past the post electoral system and are voting for a particular person rather than a particular party.Report

  8. Avatar Jim Heffman
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    says:

    It’s funny how people are responding to “my friend actually liked George W. Bush” with “BUT THAT MEANS HE’S EVEN MORE EVIL!”

    Like the whole point of the post was “beware those dangerous psychopaths! They could be anywhere, be anyone! We must be pure in our ideology, pure in our devotion to the Party, pure in our precious bodily fluids!”Report

    • Avatar Morat20 in reply to Jim Heffman
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      says:

      I think you’re misreading it.

      The response seems to have variations of “I am not surprised he is likable. That appears to be a necessary skill for any politician, especially one for the bigger offices. [Insert tale of really vile person who was also likable]”.

      I don’t see any “therefore Bush is even eviler” unless you think “Of course he was likable, no matter what you think of his politics and decisions — he’s a politician! They’re supposed to be!” as “of course he was likable, he’s a politician and thus EVIL”.Report

  9. Avatar NewDealer
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    says:

    I would say that even though I never liked Bush II, he did try for the whole “I’m a uniter and not a divider” thing.

    Now how would he react to Sarah Palin and Ted Cruz and other die-hard partisan warriors who are allow about pissing off liberals?Report

  10. Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist
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    says:

    I wonder how much popular entertainment has conditioned us to expect bad politicians to be obviously bad. It’s an easy trope, make the bad guy obviously bad to the viewer/reader/player. It’s such a popular thing that I was actually surprised the other night when a show (The Blacklist) actually held out on the obvious evil until the end.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist
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      says:

      The obviously-bad politician is entirely the creation of Hollywood.

      But good deal of Teevee News has conditioned us to conclude the Votin’ Public is Obviously Stupid. There’s no other possible conclusion. The politician says something the facts don’t support, yet they’re given plenty of airtime to loudly reiterate the point in the interests of being Fair and Balanced.

      See, MRS, it’s like LBJ and the Pig Farmer. LBJ can say the Pig Farmer is screwing his swine — all the other guy can do is deny the scurrilous accusation. What else can be said? The news media don’t check their sources. They’ll run a VNR as if it was actual news. Too lazy and too cheap to do their own reporting. Surprising how many VNRs are out there.

      Politicians have people who do nothing but control the message. They have Body Men and Women, people who dress them. Stylists, to keep them current. Flacks to issue press releases and video for eventual voice-overs. In the wake of the Nixon Tapes, everyone was completely astonished that Richard Nixon was such a crude and foul-mouthed man in private. They shouldn’t have been. Politicians have been farming out their Image Issues to professionals since human societies first emerged.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to BlaiseP
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        says:

        Nixon and LBJ are two presidents from recent memory that seem the least likable*. But then again, Nixon apparently is according to Burt above. I guess Nixon didn’t awkwardly ask about fornication over the weekend?

        I was too young to really see them in action, of course. My impression has always been that they garnered respect (by their supporters and enough others to win elections) rather than garnering personal connection or affection. Nixon was wickedly smart, and LBJ very crafty.

        As an aside, many years ago (before he became who he is) Dick Morris made an interesting observation about Clinton and Gore. He said that Clinton was magnetic in front of a crowd, but in more private meetings he had a tendency to make apparent just how bored he was with you. Gore, meanwhile, stiffened up in a crowd, but was much more charismatic in more private settings.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to BlaiseP
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        says:

        @blaisep Which is kind of my point. IRL, politicians are human, and likable, because they would not be very good politicians otherwise. Popular entertainment plays us for idiots, shows the hero as the one who sees the truth through the lies, and carries the day.

        Thus we expect “bad people” to be obviously bad, especially when we’ve been told they are bad.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP
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        says:

        Al Gore became the creature of his handlers. Al Gore’s fascinating, once you’ve learned the true story. He was the consummate Washington insider, born into the culture. He only saw Tennessee in the summers, working on his father’s toy farm. He only really learned Tennessee as an investigative reporter.

        Gore was one of the youngest people ever elected to Congress, kinda backing into politics. He moves slowly, like a distant planet, across the political firmament, from Right to Left. Gore’s greatest strength, his relentless inquisitiveness and wonkery, would prove his eventual undoing. Gore was too clever by half.

        Gore’s last run for the presidency was horribly managed. Donna Brazile is the reason Gore wasn’t elected. Like King Midas, everything she touches turns to doo-doo.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist
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      says:

      Case in point with Richard Nixon: The Nixon-JFK debate was the first such televised debate. People who heard it on the radio were sure Nixon had won. Those who saw it on television were sure Kennedy had won. Nixon didn’t have a good makeup artist. He sweated profusely under the television lights and looked just awful, fidgeting, awkward. Kennedy, by contrast, looked cool and composed.

      These men were once friends. Their debate was civil, both men spoke well — and JFK appears to have won the debate. But Nixon sounded like he won the debate.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist
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      says:

      There’s a famous essay by John Steinbeck in which he speculates that Joe McCarthy fell from grace once his hearings were televised, precisely because people could see for themselves that he was a sneering, sadistic bully, exactly like the black hat in a TV Western.Report

  11. Avatar zic
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    says:

    Demonizing political opponents is, I suspect, our greatest national past time. When you look at all the money sloshing around politics, including campaigning, PACs, media, blogs, etc., I suspect it outweighs the NFL and baseball combined.Report

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