June 23, 2011

Politics and Stories

I'm always looking for a "system" to predict presidential contest outcomes, despite the fact that there are surely too many variables to take into account, not the least of which are mistakes the candidates make themselves during the election season.

But it seems like if there's a pattern in recent years it might be this idea of Americas wanting to cast a vote less on measures like experience, competence, intelligence or even ideology but for someone they can root for, an underdog, which means someone who has overcome odds, someone with "a story".

Does the man with the "better story" always win?

Obama v. McCain: Both have stories, Obama coming from African-American roots and raised by a single mother, and McCain as war hero in Vietnam. But we've had a boatload of war heroes as POTUS before and no black President, so advantage easily Obama.

Bush v Kerry: Bush had the story of being something of a f--k up from a famous family, and an alcoholic, and so his inspirational story of becoming a highly disciplined sober person was something the American people ate up. With Kerry, his war story was somewhat tainted by "swift boat" allegations. Advantage Bush.

Bush v. Gore: Again Bush had the conversion story of being the black sheep of the Bush family who made good. Gore had no real narrative. Advantage Bush.

Clinton v. Dole: Being an incumbent likely makes the story narrative less effective since on the basis of stories Dole's heroic service - and his limp, injured arm - would seem to trump Clinton's triumphant rise from an alcoholic father and "a place called Hope". Advantage Dole.

Clinton v. Bush: George H.W. Bush was a WWII vet but Clinton's rise from a tiny Southern town seemed to trump the familiar war trope. Advantage Clinton.

Bush v. Dukakis: Bush's war record barely trumps Dukakais' coming from second generation immigrants. Advantage Bush.

Reagan v. Mondale: Not sure Mondale has a story; if he did the fact it wasn't well-publicized was a problem. Reagan rode high answering the question, "Can anybody really become President, even an ex-actor?"

Reagan v. Carter: The story of an ex-Hollywood actor rising up the political ladder is inherently more exciting than a peanut farmer's rise.

Who will win in '12? I don't know enough about the '12 candidates or their stories yet, but I do know there was a lot more thirst in America to elect the first black man than the first Mormon, given the relative unpopularity of Mormonism. (Not to mention that you won't get high-fives from the MSM for voting for a Mormon instead of an African-American.) Based on the story theme, only Bachmann seems to jump out, and maybe Pawlenty on the slim basis of coming from a blue collar background.

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