It’s easy to oversimplify American politics. In the news media we try to bring meaning to the chaos, to find common themes and passions and pivotal issues and stuff that’s really making a difference. But we may fail to capture the true complexity of the American political mind. When you go out and talk to people directly, they’re all over the map.
And this will come into play today, when the campaign, for the first time, is literally all over the map. Georgia, Virginia and Tennessee give today a southern twang, and Newt is up big in Georgia, but Romney’s Massachusetts also votes, and Santorum is looking strong in Oklahoma. Ohio will get the most coverage today, but don’t forget winter-scoured North Dakota, and vast Idaho, and unpeopled Alaska. And isn’t Vermont voting? I think I just made it to 10, finally!
How do you appeal to such disparate audiences if you’re a presidential candidate? Vermont and Alaska have the same percentage of nitrogen and oxygen in the atmosphere but otherwise exist on different planets, politically.
America is a diverse place. Forget everything you’ve heard about the homogenization of this country. This is still a place with all types of folks, with myriad subcultures. The other day when I was in a tattoo parlor in Ypsilanti I discovered that the patrons were of all political stripes — as diverse as their tats.
Some things are universal, though. This is one reason why you can’t win an election simply by deploying an elaborate arsenal of political positions. You can’t rely on policy, or positioning on the political spectrum (I’m right of him on this! He’s a liberal!).
Personality still matters. People everywhere, regardless of ideology, resonate with someone who has a solid temperament, who knows what he (or she) believes, who isn’t afraid to make decisions, who can connect to others and feel genuine empathy, who is curious and open-minded, who seems to enjoy life and makes everyone around him (or her) look and feel better. Political advisers can’t create that.
People are looking for a leader — and that’s a yearning they feel in Cheyenne, Valdosta, Knoxville, Toledo and everywhere else.