What you said here was SO true, Sarah, and something I think we keep forgetting:

"I didn't feel at ease on that sofa in his living room, and I wondered why I was feeling so stupid sitting there. And then I remembered something: I usually feel stupid in the company of great men. Likeability is a big factor in politics. As I sat there with Fred Smith, I realized it shouldn't be."

This is not a popularity contest - or at least, it shouldn't be. At the same time, though, for myself I would pay attention to feelings of not liking a candidate, if only to figure out why. The answer to THAT question can be painfully enlightening, as well. . . .

So cool you got the chance to sit in on something like that - I certainly appreciate the - for me - important insight. I think I'm going to remember that.

Posted by prophet at September 28, 2007 09:59 AM

It really had nothing to do with Fred Smith why I felt uncomfortable. I was unprepared to really delve into policy questions. And he was in Politician Mode, ready to answer tough questions from bloggers just like he does from other media. Later when he was just mingling and talking to folks, he seemed nice and approachable. But really, so what if he's not. You don't have to be approachable to have the right answers.

Posted by Sarah at September 28, 2007 12:01 PM

"You don't have to be approachable to have the right answers."

True. But approachability helps to propagate the right answer. And unfortunately, some people equate what they perceive as "aloofness" with "not having anything worth sharing" (i.e., not having the right answer).

(None of this is a comment on Fred Smith, about whom I know nothing.)

Posted by Amritas at September 28, 2007 02:35 PM

I was at the blogger conference both this year and last and Sarah is right about Fred being all business when taking questions from the media and talking about policy. I was a little intimidated myself last year when listening to some of the other bloggers asking questions about local politics, which I did not follow closely then.

She is also right about him being friendly and approachable when not in that press conference setting though. I would encourage anyone in NC to go to one of his BBQs when he gets to your county. He does not leave until he has spoken to everyone who wants to talk to him (which is typically everyone in attendance) and signed every book. Both in the book and from county to county in what will amount to over 100 BBQs, he is putting himself out there and inviting people to decide whether or not he is what they want in a governor. Everyone I have talked to has liked what they have seen.

Posted by Lorie at September 28, 2007 06:38 PM

I guess the part I find interesting is just how important we feel the approachability - 'likeability' - quotient is in our elected officials. It's a delicate balance, isn't it? On the one hand, our elected representative ought to be approachable by us - the electers. But on another level, he ought not to be concerned with popularity polls or with trying to curry public favor, because pubic "opinion" is as changeable as the wind.

Abraham Lincoln comes to mind: he was eminently approachable, yet unswerving as straight steel.

The fact of the matter is that the President of the United States will likely not be our close personal friend. It's a physical - and real - impossibility to be close friends with every American citizen. Anything that leads us to believe he is - or will be - our "friend" is show-bis. (and if I try to spell that with a zee, it rejects this comment for "questionable content"?)

Anyway: Why do we ask that of our prospective President?

Posted by prophet at September 30, 2007 12:42 PM


"he ought not to be concerned with popularity polls or with trying to curry public favor"

I agree. I would add another reason: Popularity has no inherent value. The majority can be right or wrong. A leader is supposed to do what's right. (Yes, I realize that the definition of 'right' is up for grabs ...)

"unswerving as straight steel"

I also see this quality as lacking inherent value. Being unswerving is not a virtue if you insist on driving straight off a cliff. :) I see the ideal leader as adaptable, which isn't the same as wishy-washy.

Why do we demand 'likability' from our leaders? Good question. I think it's because we've evolved to deal with people on a personal level.

Until very recently in human history (i.e., the last few millennia), there was no concept of VIPs far, far away from you. In caveman times, the chief of your tribe was somebody you saw every day. Until *extremely* recently, distant VIPs were just vague notions in people's heads. The only people anyone ever saw were the people in their immediate village. The king was Some Guy Far, Far Away. People probably never even saw a painting of the guy. There were no newspapers, no photography, no video, no YouTube.

But now the mass media allow us to indulge in the illusion of 'knowing' people. Although the celebs have no idea we exist, we not only know that they exist, but can see and hear every detail of their public lives (and receive reports alleging what they do in private). We're wired to react to people we 'know', and we feel we 'know' those strangers. And we want these 'familiar' strangers to be 'likable'.

Posted by Amritas at October 1, 2007 12:31 AM

Granted, Amritas, foolish inflexibility in the name of integrity would not be a virtue to aspire to. And I don't think you implied that I did. . . It's funny though, because I think that we are VERY FAR indeed away from the danger of foolishly sticking to a course of action. If we are in danger of heading off a cliff, it may very well be because we DON'T stick to anything! We don't do anything long enough to see what good it does. We are swayed from one extreme to the other, at the whiff of the slightest change in "public opinion".

C.S. Lewis put it well in Screwtape Letters

The use of Fashions in thought is to distract the attention of men from their real dangers. We direct the fashionable outcry of each generation against those vices of which it is least in danger and fix its approval on the virtue nearest to that vice which we are trying to make endemic. The game is to have them all runing about with fire extinguishers whenever there is a flood, and all crowding to that side of the boat which is already nearly gunwale under. Thus we make it fashionable to expose the dangers of enthusiam at the very moment when they are all really becoming worldly and lukewarm

[and, I might add: we descry the folly of stubborn persistence on a dangerous path at the very moment when there IS no safe path and the only safety to be had - if any - is by all sticking together, heading in the same direction.]

We're like a bunch of foolish chickens, running about aimlessly.

Perhaps "unswerving straight steel" may indeed be seen as a virtue if we're talking about tracks to run on. It is not so good an image if we're talking about how we conduct our relationships. I think that what I was trying to convey was a sense of personal integrity - something that holds and does not change at a whim - even as it takes people and circumstances into account. I guess it's the old 'ends' versus 'means' debate, eh?

Posted by prophet at October 1, 2007 01:56 PM

Sarah, it's very cool that you were invited to this event. Yay for you! Who knows where this will next lead you? You've been in a book, you've attended a getting-to-know-you event, what's next? Lovely picture of you, by the way :)

Posted by Kate at October 1, 2007 04:49 PM


No argument from me at all. It looks like we want the same things from our leaders. I was using the term "wishy-washy" to refer to what you were criticizing in your most recent post: fluctuating by following fashion.

Of course, the point at which changing one's mind becomes "adaptable" (what you describe as "people and circumstances into account") as opposed to "wishy-washy" (what you describe as "running about aimlessly") is open to debate. Everyone wants "integrity" but not everyone *perceives* "integrity" in the same person.

Suppose I change my mind about issue X: my view is now A instead of B. And it turns out that 51% of the public believe in B instead of A.

If you are my ally, you will say that I mean it when I claim I considered the evidence and came to the right conclusion.

If you are my foe, you will brand me as an appeaser - a panderer.

Without more details, what conclusion can you rightfully draw from the correlation between my new view and the public view? None, I'd say. These beliefs about me say more about others' tribal loyalties than they say about my integrity.

But add context. Suppose it turns out I have a long history of jumping on bandwagons. Then a pattern becomes clear: I'm a follower, not a leader.

Followers are dangerous, because reality is not a democracy. If the majority believes something that is not true, or that is outright dangerous, and a 'leader' follows this just to get votes, that person not only has no integrity, but is also doing the public a disservice. If everyone in a theater believes the theater isn't on fire, and a 'leader' goes along with this instead of shouting, "Let's get outta here!" he's won the election, but he'll 'lead' his constituents to their deaths.

Posted by Amritas at October 1, 2007 10:25 PM

"reality is not a democracy."

By this I meant to say that majority belief does not make something true. A leader should pursue truth and convince others to join him in that pursuit.

Posted by Amritas at October 1, 2007 10:28 PM

Clarification #2 (sorry, Sarah):

"If everyone in a theater believes the theater isn't on fire, and a 'leader' goes along with this instead of shouting, 'Let's get outta here!' he's won the election, but he'll 'lead' his constituents to their deaths."

This should read, "If everyone in a burning theater believes the theater isn't on fire ..."

Posted by Amritas at October 1, 2007 10:30 PM