Mark Shields’ likeability rating plummeted for this viewer with last Friday’s edition of the NewsHour. The affable given-to-stammering Shields is the liberal counterpart to the smooth-talking conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks.
Judy Woodruff opened the Shields-Brooks weekly news analysis by asking what the latest Washington Post-ABC presidential poll in Iowa said about the contest — beginning with the Democrats.
Shields meandered his way to announcing the final poll results showing Obama in a statistical tie with Clinton before he moved into those “internals,” which, in Shields’ estimation, clearly indicate that Obama and Edwards are seen as more likeable than Clinton.
Our liberal guy pontificated as follows:
“And I think you can make the case, the Democrats lost two presidential elections to George W. Bush where their nominees, John Kerry and Al Gore, were both seen as more intelligent, knowledgeable, and in Al Gore's case, far more experienced than George W. Bush.
“But George W. Bush won, I believe, in both cases because he was seen as more steadfast in his beliefs and convictions, more honest, and more likeable. And I think Democrats, there's a certain sense among some that they've seen this movie before, where their candidate failing on the likeability, honesty, straightforward question becomes a problem.”
Brooks was quick to agree with Shields that the above should be a “significant worry” for Clinton.
Neither analyst — both displaying the smugness of male superiority — reminded viewers of the public’s current perception of George W. Bush, the latest polls showing Bush as perhaps the least trusted and most demonstrably incompetent president in our nation’s history.
And of course, neither of the NewsHour’s political gurus suggested it might be wise for the electorate this time around to consider a few weightier qualifications for the highest office in the land than this choice description of candidate Bush: “He’s a guy you could enjoy swilling a beer with from time to time.”
The deja vu was suffocating.
My inaugural post for Katalusis in late August was titled Charm versus Substance in which I reached back to the 2000 campaign to quote pollster John Zogby from a typical NewsHour transcript:
Zogby opined: “Well, I think basically if you go back to 1988, that's the classic example. Dukakis never really built up his likeability, therefore it was easy to knock him down. But America likes George W. Bush. They seem to like what they see. And at the same time, they don't like Al Gore very much.”
From the 2004 campaign, I grabbed this quote from a NewsHour transcript featuring Shields and Brooks:
Shields comments: “I’d add one more thing: George Bush’s likeability edge, which I think everybody acknowledges over John Kerry, and his congeniality and just his naturalness were bigger assets in 2000 than they are in 2004.”
In the same post, I noted that in 2004, the American electorate allowed charm to trump substance once again by electing Bush to a second term, but I added that according to the latest polls, charm had worn out its welcome in the White House.
Dan Balz of the Washington Post recently concurred in his post in The Trail last Wednesday titled What Happened to Liking the Candidate You Support? Balz noted that both Giuliani and Clinton, national frontrunners for their respective parties, scored lower than their rivals on likeability in the latest Washington Post-ABC poll. But Balz points out that in the same poll, both Giuliani and Clinton were seen as being the strongest leaders in their fields.
Balz has stumbled around a lot in covering this campaign, but he finally reaches the conclusion I’d reached earlier in interpreting Clinton’s lead: “In part, what voters may be reflecting is a reaction to what they have seen over the past eight years. Given Bush's low approval rating and the harsh assessments of the administration's competence in managing the war in Iraq and the Katrina aftermath, there's no doubt that voters are looking for more than likeability in their chief executive. "
Yeah. Qualities such as competence; responsibility to all the people, not just her or his base, gravitas, etc.
One can only hope that pundits such as Brooks and Shields will eventually catch up, as Balz evidently has, with the maturing of the American electorate.