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Being ‘too serious’

| Monday, November 9, 2015

At the Democratic primary forum Friday night, moderator Rachel Maddow asked Bernie Sanders about the biggest public misconception of him. “Well, people think I’m grumpy,” he responded, as the crowd erupted in laughter. “People think I am too serious. But I think what people don’t see is I have seven beautiful grandchildren who are the joy of my life.”

That Sanders would need to refute claims that he is “too serious” speaks to the huge emphasis placed on personality in U.S. presidential elections. The New York Times published a piece last week asking whether it was a problem that Sanders doesn’t engage in much of the schmoozing expected of presidential candidates: “As effective as his policy-laden speeches may be in impressing potential supporters, Mr. Sanders is missing opportunities to lock down uncommitted voters face to face in Iowa and New Hampshire, where campaigns are highly personal.”

Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton has also repeatedly faced the question of “likability” — a critique which is frequently gendered. Clinton’s campaign strategists have acknowledged making a conscious effort this fall to show her humor and heart. In her tour of the late-night circuit over the past few weeks, she has been easygoing and affable, willing to show that she’s in on the joke. Clinton’s campaign even tweeted a link an Onion editorial that parodied her attempts to prove that she is fun: “I have been fun on multiple social media platforms, wherein I can also be witnessed taking a carefree approach to life.”

The expectation that candidates be personable is by now an ingrained part of the American political process. Images of presidential hopefuls kissing babies and visiting small-town diners have become part and parcel of the campaign trail. Inevitably, the media will ask that ridiculous question designed to gauge charisma: “Which candidate would you rather have a beer with?”

However, likability is, frankly, irrelevant when it comes to running the country. While this campaign cycle often seems like an absurd joke (see: Donald Trump and Ben Carson), we are electing a president, not a late-night host. The issues facing our country are gravely important — urgent climate change, rising income inequality, student debt, police brutality, racial discrimination, among countless others. When the stakes are this high, can a candidate really be “too serious”?


The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Matthew Munhall

Matthew thinks everyone should listen to Charly Bliss.

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  • Jack Wolf

    Second Round of Hearings for the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, Nov. 12 and 13. The remarkable turn-out for the public hearings on the EPA’s Clean Power Plan in September has persuaded the agency to hold supplemental hearings in Denver, Atlanta, Washington, DC, and in Pittsburgh

    9:00 am to 8 pm, Thursday, Nov. 12
    9:00 am to 8 pm, Friday, Nov. 13
    William S. Moorhead Federal Building, Room 1310
    1000 Liberty Avenue
    Pittsburgh, PA 15222

    Because of the importance of this hearing, a coalition of environmental groups lead by Penn Environment will hold a rally:

    11:30 am to 12:30 pm, Thursday, Nov. 12
    Outside the Federal Building.

  • Johnny Whichard

    Ben Carson seems like “an absurd joke” to you? And yet you are defending the socialist ROFL!

    • Nathan

      The man is on record saying that:
      1. None of the founding fathers had governing experience: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2015/11/05/ben-carsons-absurd-notion-that-the-founding-fathers-had-no-elected-office-experience/
      2. The Egyptian pyramids were actually primarily built to store grain: http://www.businessinsider.com/ben-carsons-absurd-theory-on-pyramids-2015-11

      He’s also in a spat with the media over whether or not he attempted to stab someone as a young man, and insisting that he in fact did.

      People may like him for other reasons, but for a lot of people these claims sound patently laughable.

      • Johnny Whichard

        Funny how nobody seems to be laughing about the blatant (and questionably damning) statements from Hillary regarding her email server and Benghazi. Maybe if the left media scrutinized that liar instead of trivial crap like Ben’s take on the pyramids…we would get somewhere.

        • João Pedro Santos

          If only Republicans were that concerned about the fact that they invaded Iraq because of WMD that didn’t exist.

        • HolyHandGrenade

          Carson also doesn’t believe in man-made climate change or evolution. The former, obviously, has serious legislative consequences if he were to be in office.

        • Nathan

          If it makes you feel any better Clinton is one of only two candidates I can say with 100% certainty I would never vote for (hint: the second one is not Carson).

          Just because I pointed out that Carson has said some outlandish things doesn’t mean that I like or support Clinton

    • João Pedro Santos

      Johnny, do you have any arguments against Bernie Sanders (assuming that you refer to him when you say “the socialist”)?

      • Johnny Whichard

        Well he’s admitted he is a “socialist” so no need for the quotes at this point. In what area, Joao? I’d rather not run down the entire laundry list of reasons one should not support Bernie.

        • João Pedro Santos

          And what’s the problem of being a socialist? Do you even know what Bernie defends? In fact, that’s what he defends:

          • Johnny Whichard

            It’s vehemently against what the United States stands for. We are a people of subsidiarity. Not dependence. Suggest reading the Bill of Rights and the Constitution.

          • João Pedro Santos

            So… where is it in the US constitution that there can’t be public healthcare of free college?

          • Johnny Whichard

            It isn’t. But it is stipulated that the federal government shouldn’t be managing either.

          • João Pedro Santos

            In what part of the constitution is that?

          • Johnny Whichard
          • João Pedro Santos

            I don’t understand how that opposes the creation of a national health service. Unless the US want to be sided with the 3rd world countries instead of being sided with the 1st world countries.

          • HolyHandGrenade

            Perhaps it has passed your mind, but what is the point of holding to outdated ultimatums on the role of the U.S. government if they are not befitting to the citizens themselves? An apparently democratic government that defies the wishes of its people is nothing more than autocratic or deaf.

            “…laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.” – Thomas Jefferson

            There is nothing inherently wrong with socialistic policies (of which we already have many!!!).