Personality Quirks Don’t Define a Leader

    If you’ve had a chance to follow any coverage of the presidential campaigns this year, you have undoubtedly received a heavy dose of information about the candidates’ personal lives.

    Some of this information can be used in forming logical opinions about the candidates. Sen. Barack Obama was editor of the Harvard Law Review, an elite position that requires both intelligence and the ability to embrace responsibility. Sen. John McCain fought in the Vietnam War and was held prisoner for over two years, no doubt instilling in him a mental toughness and perseverance few situations could replicate. Gov. Sarah Palin rose to fill the top position in the Alaskan government, all the while helping to raise five children, certainly proving an impossible work ethic and perseverence. Joe Biden was elected to the U.S. Senate at the tender age of 30, up to the task of demanding decision-making even in his most young and restless years.

    Unfortunately, the Democratic and Republican conventions also provided us with information completely unbeneficial to the process of selecting the next leader of our country. Obama experimented with drugs when he was young (yes, students at Harvard like drugs, too). Palin is an apparent expert at driving her children to hockey practice — and equally good at driving strange young men back home from hockey practice. McCain apparently has no idea how many homes he has.

    Examples are endless. To most Americans, these biographical facts may seem like simple par for the course, but if one looks deeper, they reveal an obsession voters have with the personal lives of candidates — a huge distraction from the more pressing issues at hand.

    Part of this problem is the ridiculous length of the campaigns themselves. The current candidates have been on the campaign trail for over a year, still with three weeks left until Election Day. I’m still waiting for either Obama or McCain to strap a camera to his head and star in his own reality show. Laugh now, but I think “Barrack’s House” would be a hit.

    As, always, the media also plays a huge role. Networks are keenly aware that their viewers crave carnal knowledge about the competitors, never hesitating to pump us full of monotonous drivel. The American public simply must know how much Sen. John Edwards pays for a haircut, or the cost of McCain’s footwear of choice. These are clearly matters of national security.

    The 2008 presidential election has been particularly telling of our society’s obsession with political persona. Obama has garnered such a fervent following that he has undergone a sort of deification in some circles.

    The child of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. A menthol-smoking community organizer who attended Columbia and Harvard. A handsome young man who speaks so silky smooth that if he ever fails in politics he would instantly have a lucrative career in commercial narration. Sounds like Abraham Lincoln’s second coming just dropped down from heaven.

    Thus far, the focus on Obama’s personal life and appearance has worked in his favor. In essence, his lack of experience in the higher ranks of government has led the public at large to home in on and celebrate useless facets of his personality — never mind his economic plan or how he figures to provide universal health care.

    Don’t get me wrong: Obama’s ability to inspire is extremely important to public participation. Neither candidate will be able to implement policies that are 100-percent effective, but if the next president can force individuals to take the well-being of the country upon themselves, that may be more than any policy could ever achieve. But if voters are turning all their attention to home-life details instead of trying to understand the issues he’s attacking, this country may be in for a world of hurt.

    I believe most people would claim that while they certainly notice these juicy little nuggets of information, they are not shallow enough to let them shape their final sophisticated opinions. Despite this, nearly every time I witness someone engage in political conversation, the focus inevitably boils down to meaningless factoids. An informed political debate constructed solely on character-free issues is truly hard to come by.

    This problem is perhaps best personified with the “who would you rather have a beer with?” voter. You know, the guy who at the bar who says he is standing by the policies of President George W. Bush because he would be a great guy to knock a few back with. And you know what — this guy’s right. There is no doubt in my mind that I would rather hit a beer bong with ol’ Georgey Boy than with Al Gore or John Kerry. But I, for one, wouldn’t let that sway my vote for America’s next commander in chief.

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