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December 8, 2012

Win the minds,and the hearts should follow

I’ve always found politics interesting, and as a newspaper editor it’s impossible to avoid paying attention to the topic. But I wouldn’t label myself a political junkie. Our world is so large, and our national politics so small, that it seems futile to invest an inordinate amount of emotion in something so degenerate and discouraging.

That said, I’m a language buff, so one of the highlights of this election year for me was the long-awaited quadrennial return of one of my favorite nouns: likability.

It’s hard to think of any word more vague or amorphous in the entire English language. Merriam-Webster defines it as “having qualities that bring about a favorable regard: pleasant, agreeable.”

But what, exactly, are those qualities? I don’t know, but I’ve read that President Barack Obama has them. And whatever they are, they sound fascinating, based on what conservative pundit Michael Medved wrote this summer.

“Even with dark clouds surrounding the economy and highly energized, well-funded conservatives preparing to storm the seat of power,” Medved wrote Aug. 7, “Obama strategists view Fortress Likability as the final, secure stronghold that will deliver them from all dangers.”

Mother Teresa once said peace begins with a smile. So too, apparently, does a successful defense against a besieging enemy.

Head-scratching metaphors aside, Obama does have a pleasant, agreeable personality – as poll after poll has shown, and as even many who despise his policies will concede. But this is based almost entirely on anecdote – not on Obama meeting some objectively definable criteria that can be easily applied to other candidates.

It seems it’s the details that make a man likable. For example, while opponent Mitt Romney turned down multiple offers to appear on the late-night talk shows this year, Obama routinely accepted, making him seem more accessible and comfortable in his own skin. Likewise, Obama’s annual SportsCenter appearance to fill out his NCAA tournament bracket is a subtly effective way for any head of state to connect with hoi polloi.

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