It’s the likability, stupid

The economy is in the toilet, unemployment is over 8%, our foreign policy is a mess, and President Obama’s approval ratings are dismal.  And yet, polls show him still running neck-and-neck with Mitt Romney, if not a little bit ahead.  How can that be?

You might recall my theory–articulated, for example,  here, in which I predict an Obama victory– that in our postmodern times the majority of the American people vote for a candidate not primarily because of ideology, policy ideas, nor issues of any kind.  Such appeals to objectivity and even to pragmatism are the stuff of modernism.  In a postmodern democracy, the main factor is which candidate voters “like” the best.   That is, the candidate voters consider to have the most pleasant personality.

Consider the winners over the last few decades:  Obama vs. McCain; Bush II vs. Kerry; Bush II vs. Gore; Clinton vs. Dole; Clinton vs. Bush I; Bush I vs. Dukakis; Reagan vs. Mondale; Reagan vs. Carter.  Doesn’t my theory hold?  Now before that, the theory doesn’t apply, since in those modernist days Carter could beat the more likeable Ford, and Nixon could beat the more likable McGovern and Humphrey.  Of course, not everyone agrees in whom they like, but this also explains the antipathies that also are factors in elections:  Lots of people just cannot stand George W. Bush, a visceral feeling that goes far beyond rational assessment, associated with feelings about privileged rich kids, frat-boys, and smug right-wing Texans.   Obama’s cerebral, detached, professorial personality makes some people dislike him while making others like him.

My theory in the past has been somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but now there is actually data to support it!  From Karen Tumulty, writing in the Washington Post:

If you believe the polls, it would appear there is one big factor standing in the way of Mitt Romney being elected president: Americans don’t like him as well as they do Barack Obama.

That was confirmed again in a new USA Today-Gallup survey in which respondents gave Romney higher marks on the economic issues, which voters say they care most about this year. But President Obama crushed Romney — 60 percent to 30 percent — on the question of which of the two was more likable.

In April, a Washington Post-ABC News poll found an even larger gap, with 64 percent of those surveyed describing Obama as the friendlier, more likable candidate, and only 26 percent saying that about Romney. . . .

In every presidential election for the past two decades, the candidate viewed as more likable was the one who won.

via Romney’s problem: Americans don’t like him as much as Obama, polls say – The Washington Post.

Romney is just hopeless when it comes to social graces.  He goes to England for the Olympics and instead of the glad-handing pleasantries that are called for on such an occasion insults his hosts by worrying about security and labor problems and wondering if the country is ready to put on the show.  Never mind that the British people have been expressing the same concerns, but this is just a social awkwardness that Romney keeps showing.

It has become campaign dogma that “It’s the economy, stupid,” and there is evidence that economic conditions are the major factor in the elections, above.  I hope that’s the case, that the American people will look to objective considerations of some kind, but I wonder if they will.  Then again, the likability of Obama as compared to Romney might be a close call.

Damnatio memoriae

I salute Steven L. Jones, a student at Houston Baptist University, for recalling another of those useful Latin phrases.  This one has application from George Orwell’s “memory hole” in 1984 to the NCAA sanctions against Penn State:

Question: What do Joe Paterno and the Roman Emperor Nero have in common?

Answer: damnatio memoriae

Damnatio Memoriae (Latin for “the condemnation of memory”) is the act of trying to erase a person from history. In the Roman world, this meant erasing the condemned man’s name from inscriptions, removing coins with his image from circulation, or defacing images and statues of him.

As you might imagine such an endeavor is extremely difficult to accomplish. Even in an age less bombarded by media than ours, it could be difficult to track down and remove every single mention of a person. People who generate great anger are normally people who have also left a lasting and far-reaching mark.

But more than being difficult, is it right?

via JoePa Meets Nero « Reflection and Choice.

How would you answer that question?

 

HT:  Micah Mattix

The history of eugenics

The History News Network posts an earlier article by Edwin Black on the American eugenics movement and what it accomplished.  Twenty-seven states adopted eugenics laws, with the biggest program to sterilize the “unfit” being established in California.   Major funding for the eugenics movement came from the Carnegie Institute and the Rockefeller Foundation.   Black shows how the American eugenics movement spread to Germany and was championed–and later implemented on a massive scale–by Adolf Hitler.

Read the whole article, but here is a chilling sample:

Eighteen solutions were explored in a Carnegie-supported 1911 “Preliminary Report of the Committee of the Eugenic Section of the American Breeder’s Association to Study and to Report on the Best Practical Means for Cutting Off the Defective Germ-Plasm in the Human Population.” Point eight was euthanasia.

The most commonly suggested method of eugenicide in America was a “lethal chamber” or public locally operated gas chambers. In 1918, Popenoe, the Army venereal disease specialist during World War I, co-wrote the widely used textbook, Applied Eugenics, which argued, “From an historical point of view, the first method which presents itself is execution… Its value in keeping up the standard of the race should not be underestimated.” Applied Eugenics also devoted a chapter to “Lethal Selection,” which operated “through the destruction of the individual by some adverse feature of the environment, such as excessive cold, or bacteria, or by bodily deficiency.”

Eugenic breeders believed American society was not ready to implement an organized lethal solution. But many mental institutions and doctors practiced improvised medical lethality and passive euthanasia on their own. One institution in Lincoln, Illinois fed its incoming patients milk from tubercular cows believing a eugenically strong individual would be immune. Thirty to forty percent annual death rates resulted at Lincoln. Some doctors practiced passive eugenicide one newborn infant at a time. Others doctors at mental institutions engaged in lethal neglect. . . .

Only after eugenics became entrenched in the United States was the campaign transplanted into Germany, in no small measure through the efforts of California eugenicists, who published booklets idealizing sterilization and circulated them to German official and scientists.

Hitler studied American eugenics laws. He tried to legitimize his anti-Semitism by medicalizing it, and wrapping it in the more palatable pseudoscientific facade of eugenics. Hitler was able to recruit more followers among reasonable Germans by claiming that science was on his side. While Hitler’s race hatred sprung from his own mind, the intellectual outlines of the eugenics Hitler adopted in 1924 were made in America.

During the ’20s, Carnegie Institution eugenic scientists cultivated deep personal and professional relationships with Germany’s fascist eugenicists. In Mein Kampf, published in 1924, Hitler quoted American eugenic ideology and openly displayed a thorough knowledge of American eugenics. “There is today one state,” wrote Hitler, “in which at least weak beginnings toward a better conception [of immigration] are noticeable. Of course, it is not our model German Republic, but the United States.”

Hitler proudly told his comrades just how closely he followed the progress of the American eugenics movement. “I have studied with great interest,” he told a fellow Nazi, “the laws of several American states concerning prevention of reproduction by people whose progeny would, in all probability, be of no value or be injurious to the racial stock.”

Hitler even wrote a fan letter to American eugenic leader Madison Grant calling his race-based eugenics book, The Passing of the Great Race his “bible.”

via History News Network.

TV’s most powerful moments

The Nielson ratings people and Sony surveyed just over 1,000 Americans to determine the top 20 “most universally impactful moments” on television.  Here they are:

1. Sept. 11 tragedy (2001)

2. Hurricane Katrina (2005)

3. O.J. Simpson verdict (1995)

4. Challenger space shuttle disaster (1986)

5. Death of Osama bin Laden (2011)

6. O.J. Simpson white Bronco chase (1994)

7. Earthquake in Japan (2011)

8. Columbine High School shootings (1999)

9. BP oil spill (2010)

10. Princess Diana’s funeral (1997)

11. Death of Whitney Houston (2012)

12. Capture and execution of Saddam Hussein (2006)

13. Barack Obama’s acceptance speech (2008)

14. The Royal Wedding (2011)

15. Assassination of John F. Kennedy (1963)

16. Oklahoma City bombing (1995)

17. Bush/Gore election results (2000)

18. L.A. riots (1992)

19. Casey Anthony verdict (2011)

20. Funeral of John F. Kennedy (1963)

via TV’s most powerful moments: 9/11, Katrina, O.J., Nielsen study finds | The Lookout – Yahoo! News.

I’ll grant 9/11, but what about the Cuban Missile crisis? The early space launches?  The Moon landing?  The Watergate hearings?  Ronald Reagan getting shot?  The Berlin Wall coming down?  Operation Desert Storm?

Those compelling moments of watching history unfold didn’t make it but the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton did?  The Casey Anthony verdict?  Whitney Houston?

Three reasons why we are so messed up

Here is a fascinating essay by Ed Driscoll on different theories about why the modern/postmodern world has gone wrong.  Is the culprit moral relativism?  the omniscient state?  Or the assumption that we can reinvent everything from ground zero?

Or all of the above?

That “begin from ground zero” characteristic is, perhaps, the one that most of us will not have thought about, but which is most telling now that we have thought about it.  It explains everything from modern art to gay marriage, the various political/social  experiments (communism, fascism, the various kinds of socialism) to the way many Christians approach theology.

Do read the whole essay:  Ed Driscoll » Beyond the Theory of Moral Relativity.

Happy Augsburg Confession Day!

On this day 482 years ago–June 25, 1530–the Reformation princes and free cities confessed their faith before Emperor Charles V at the Diet (the governing assembly of the Imperial states) held in Augsburg, Germany.  The 28 articles drawn up by Philipp Melanchthon (not Luther!) became known as the Augsburg Confession.  It was the first confession of faith of the Reformation and, to this day, it is perhaps the most succinct and definitive summaries of Lutheran theology.

Part of its genius is that it spells out what did NOT change in the Reformation churches–the continuity with historical Christianity that later protestants would throw out–as well as precisely what elements in the medieval church did need to be reformed.  The Augsburg Confession is still startlingly relevant to today’s controversies of theology and practice.

Honor the day by reading it:  Augsburg Confession – Book of Concord.


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