Likability And Politics

by John Hawkins | February 13, 2006 11:35 am

Dick Morris worked for the Clintons for a long time and therefore, knows them very well. That’s why it was sort of a surprise when he started running around claiming that Hillary was an unstoppable juggernaut and the only hope the GOP had was to run Condi Rice against her.

Today, Morris has written a column[1] that discusses Hillary’s political style in detail and surprisingly, given the very high opinion Morris seems to have of her as a politician, she doesn’t seem to come across all that well:

“….Hillary takes her political positions very seriously and personally. She has a hard time seeing virtue in those who disagree with her. What others would dismiss as honest disagreements about how to accomplish good ends, she often looks at as a clash between good and evil, selflessness and selfishness, generosity and greed. (She once asked how someone could “be a Republican and a Christian at the same time.”)

In her speeches and interviews, she has two speeds: bland and shrill.

When she has no sharp ideological or substantive point to make, she relaxes and acts casual — tossing her head, giggling, feigning intimacy with the interviewer.

But when she has something to say, the passion burns inside her and metastasizes into anger and thence to shrillness. Like Bella Abzug before her, Hillary can’t speak about issues without coming across as harsh and angry. Mehlman captured that affect perfectly in his characterization of Hillary as “angry.”

…For Hillary, there is only the sound-bite, hyperbolic, aggressive, podium thumping, rhythmic partisan rhetoric — the kind typical of Ted Kennedy. That or bland nothingness.

The fact is that Hillary has always gained in popularity by keeping quiet. Her “up” periods, when she gained in popular approval, were all accompanied by the sounds of silence. Her global tours after the health-care plan failed; her listening tour of New York state; her opening years in the Senate — all were characterized by a silence broken only by bland, vanilla interviews in which she worked hard at saying nothing.

But when Hillary has to speak out, she usually drops in the polls.”

After reading that, does anyone think that sounds like the person who’s going to be our next President? A woman who, “has two speeds: bland and shrill?”

You know, likability isn’t everything, but it is certainly important. In fact, if you look at Presidential contests all the way back at least to 1972, the more likable candidate won every single time (Neither Nixon nor McGovern were particularly likable, so that’s a hard one to call).

Moreover, it’s possible that you could even make an argument that plain old likability is a big part of the reason why the GOP is ascendant and the Democrats have fallen on hard times. Republicans tend to be more optimistic, patriotic, and respectful of cultural traditions and religion than Democrats, who often come across as pessimistic, angry, and yes, shrill.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you support candidates just because they’re likable because after all, politics is about getting your agenda enacted to help the country, not winning for winning’s sake. But, likability is important and it’s a big part of the reason why Hillary would have a tough time winning the presidency.

  1. Morris has written a column:

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