Update 4/12/08: Click to read this NY Times article and Is Obama a snob? on CHB, and reconsider the following. We had three glimpses into Obama’s personality two weeks ago, and now a fourth, which may convey the impression to some that he’s a prissy intellectual (and now an elitist). Prissy intellectuals (and those perceived as elitists) from Adlai Stevenson to Michael Dukakis don’t become president.
If Hillary Clinton, who no doubt is as much an intellectual as Obama, convinces enough blue collar voters he’s an elitist, and worse, a snob, and he runs against McCain with his war hero and regular guy image, she could be handing the election to a Republican.
Even George McGovern, a World War II B-24 bomber pilot with 35 missions, couldn’t overcome his image as a Ph.D. history professor.
It’s been widely reported that John Edwards hasn’t supported Obama because he came across as "glib and aloof" talking to him when, out of money, he had to withdraw. And then there was the spectacle of his bowling. Forget the score. Who bowls wearing a tie? Finally, at a famous chocolate factory, he insulted the cooks when he fussed about his waistline.
Of course being a prissy intellectual doesn’t preclude someone from being an excellent world leader. But they just don’t get elected in modern America where candidates come into everyone’s home from via television and YouTube.
To be clear, I am using the Cambridge Dictionary defintion of prissy: "always behaving and dressing in a way that is considered correct and that does not shock."
Hillary Clinton has taken a crash course in becoming everywoman. Sure, she still often comes across as stilted in unguarded moments, and rehearsed in her scripted attempts to appear spontaneous.
But she’s improving. Kudos to her acting coaches.
Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama have the "smart" credentials that John McCain lacks, but they aren’t about to bring up a former POW’s Naval Academy standing in the general election. But they will have to run against someone who, like George W. Bush, many voters can see inviting to a backyard barbeque.
While you may want to take with a grain of salt anecdotes from those who have interacted with Hillary socially, or when she isn’t "on". By many accounts she’s personally an easy going and warm person who doesn’t come across as if she’s intellectually superior, (added) at least not among people who she thinks knew the difference between a minaret and a minuet on their SATs.
If this is an integral part of her personality which tends to be secondary to her driving ambition and go for the jugular competitive instincts, her coaches will use this to help her to "humanize” her public persona.
Barak Obama emerged as a public figure being perceived as a "regular guy" despite his stellar academic achievements. It could be argued that this perception was a major factor in why he won so many primaries.
This was, it seemed, a beer and burgers guy who just happens to wear a suit. Like George Bush, and unlike John Kerry, many people could see being comfortable with him at a backyard barbeque.
Now he seems more like a professor at a faculty party at Harvard sipping pinot noir and nibbling on hors d’oeuvres.
By and large we’re a burgers and fries, frayed jeans and t-shirt country. The closest most of us get to eating canapes is eating pigs in blankets at funerals.
Americans want to elect smart presidents. But they don’t want to elect presidents who seem to be elitists and smarty-pants.