Paging John Edwards

Back when Matt Singer and I blogged on Not Geniuses, he wrote a helluva post on hate crimes that spurred Dave Neiwert to blast out an even more excellent essay on the subject. At the time, Matt said that certain posts exist merely so some smarter guy will pick up the ball and knock it into orbit. John Rogers, responding to a post of mine from a few days back, does just that with "Learn to Say 'Ain't'". Head over there and watch it fly.

As background here, John was a stand-up comedian for awhile and his post distills lessons learned in bars and clubs into teachings applicable to presidential politics. But it also brings up a pretty basic flaw in our political system: The path to the presidency is best walked by a showman. Reagan, Clinton, JFK, FDR -- popular presidents are those able to make their media persona instantly appealing and trick a nation into investing itself in their success. But we try not to pick actors to run for president -- at least not too often. We still believe, naively, that experience, qualifications, and an array of other, more substantive factors should figure into the choice. And we lose because of it. A sitcom starring Michael Dukakis would reduce grown men to tears, a stand-up routine by John Kerry would kill plants, and, speaking of plants, Al Gore, at least when campaigning, was actually able to make folks call him "wood". And you know what? I don't much care if that's simple media spin. I've watched these guys lecture, harangue, pontificate and persuade until tears ran down my cheeks. I've dug through libraries for old footage and crawled C-Span for archived feeds. Every one of these candidates was just as boring as the media said. If you want, go ahead and blast our superficial punditocracy for pointing that out, but killing the messenger doesn't make the message-writer any better in front of a crowd.

The question generally asked is why, after all our losses, we don't nominate leaders more skilled in speaking to a camera. The better question, and one I can't answer, is how we ended up with a system that prizes the skills learned in stand-up above those learned in government. John's post is fantastic, as much a must-read as I've seen, but the dynamic it's addressing is nasty and wrong-headed. Our system is poorly prepared to pick a president and accounting for its failures will force us to nominate poorly-prepared candidates, as executive experience and legislative success rarely take up residence with charisma. But account for it we must because the alternative, watching a few more stilted communicators sputter out at the polls, is far worse.

Update: Read this one of John's posts as well. Damn that guy's on fire.

Update 2: Neil's got some thoughts as well, plus a perspective from an unusually frank red stater.

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