Category Archives: smiles

OBSERVATION: Smiling all the way to the White House

As a long time political consultant and advisor (no, I was not the guy who suggested that Lincoln take an evening off and go to the theater), I have come to the conclusion that one of the most important factors in a successful candidacy is rarely analyzed in the post-election punditry. Sure, we get all kinds of thoughtful opinions on issues and strategies, but not much on one of the biggest factors — likeability. Yeah. Likeability. Frankly, I think it is more important than issues and strategies — although they play a role.

We often use the word “like” when we mean prefer. I preferred John McCain, but Icannot say I liked him. In fact, I did not like him very much at all from the first time I met him privately in person.

Does anyone doubt that Barack Obama was more likeable than the strident and intense Hillary Clinton or the grumpy and testy McCain. You can disagree with Obama on issues, and even wonder about his dubious past associations, but it is damn near impossible not to like him. It also extends to his family. They look like a magazine advertisement for Better Homes and Gardens.

One of the reasons Obama could score high on the likeability scale is that he is a non-scary black guy. This is the reason those other black presidential candidates — Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Shirley Chisholm — did not fare so well. Can you imagine … President Jesse Jackson? It would be a cross between Halloween and April Fool’s Day.

Then there is that smile. Obama has the best presidential smile since Dwight Eisenhower – who was so likeable that his campaign slogan was simply “I like Ike.” Ike was the first president to make the smile a political asset. Most of his predecessors posed for portraits or photographs with haughty seriousness. I mean … have you ever seen a smile on Thomas Jefferson or a clear look at George Washington’s fabled wooden teeth? I recall a photo of Abraham Lincoln with a slight grin, and Franklin Roosevelt sometimes held his fancy cigarette holder clenched between his upturned lips, but grins don’t count. You have to show teeth.

If you project the likeability factor across the political spectrum, you can see why the GOP took a drubbing. Can you name the Republicans who are just plain likeable? Oh sure, Ronald Reagan, but he’s dead. (But can you ever forget that smile?) Issues/shmissues. If the GOP hopes to do better next time, they need to find likeable candidates with big ear-to-ear smiles.