OPINION: It’s Not Sexist To Talk About Likability In Politics

OPINION By Tom Wrobleski Staten Island Advance, N.Y.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Is it sexist to talk about a female candidate's likability? In this opinion piece, Tom Wrobleski makes the case for why it is not sexist, but really a matter of semantics.

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y.

The list of things you're not allowed to say gets longer and longer. And more ridiculous. Especially in politics.

The latest has to do with the debate over the "likability" of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat who recently launched her 2020 presidential campaign.

The likability debate has nothing at all to do with the kerfuffle over Warren's ersatz American Indian heritage. Or her liberal stands on the issues.

It has to do with whether voters out there will like her enough to vote for her for president.

Suddenly, or maybe not so suddenly, it's sexist to talk about a female candidate's likability. I don't agree that it's sexist, but it's really a matter of semantics.

It's not really likability we're talking about. It's demeanor. It's the ability to connect with voters. To show them empathy. To have them think that you understand what they're going through. That you're on their side.

Warren may say all the right things about fighting for downtrodden, but that ability to connect just isn't there. At least not yet. She comes across as a schoolmarm who's itching to give you detention.

That's not a judgment of her as a person. I don't know her as a person. I know her as a politician on TV. I'm sure Warren's friends like her just fine. I'm sure she can let her hair down when she's hanging at the beach with her family. But warm and fuzzy she's not. At least not in public.

And Warren appears to know that she needs some work in the "common touch" area. Why else go on Instagram Live and drink a beer, as she did after announcing her White House bid? She wants to show that she's one of us. Of course, she loses some of us when she quaffs a Michelob Ultra, but whatever. You don't want a buzzed president anyway. You never know when a crisis will break out.

Is that sexist? Or is it fair game when you're talking about somebody who's looking to sell themselves to millions upon millions of voters? Who's looking to raise hundreds of millions of dollars from donors?

Because that's what running for president is all about at its root: The biggest sales job on the planet.

You're saying there's no personal dimension to that? Stop kidding yourself. Every aspect of a person's private life, public works and personality goes under a very large microscope when the White House is at stake.

But let's forget about women. Let's forget about Democrats. Let's talk about the late and newly sainted George H.W. Bush.

Venerated upon his death, Republican Bush was lambasted while alive as an rich, out-of-touch, preppy bumbler who didn't know how a supermarket checkout scanner worked. Definitely not one of us. Definitely not someone who felt our pain.

Richard Nixon? People didn't talk about how unlikable he was? His sweaty upper lip? His five o'clock shadow? How awkward and socially graceless he was? He lost a presidential election in part because John F. Kennedy looked better on television. That's not about likability? That's not about making a connection?

Bill Clinton? That's someone who connects. I saw him hold a room at the Hilton Garden Inn in Bloomfield spellbound some years ago. I saw him do the same thing in a packed arena at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. A once-in-a-generation politician.

Barack Obama had big impact too, a great ability to inspire crowds.

Hillary Clinton? Sorry. Too stiff. Too formal. Too programmed.

Michelle Obama? Exciting. She comes across as perfectly natural and engaging. She connects.

President Donald Trump? Sorry, resisters, but he connects. Big-time, as the president would say.

It's a gift. Politicians are performers. Some put themselves across better. Same as actors or musicians or anybody else who puts themselves in front of an audience. Can you reach from the stage to the back of the hall? Can you break through the TV to the folks sitting at home? Gender has nothing to do with it.

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