It seems like the conventional wisdom has coalesced around two metrics that determine electability: authenticity and certainty. Certainly, that’s one idea I get from this Washington Post article, which analyzes the President’s recent use of less-scripted, more off-the-cuff public appearances to improve his poll numbers. Apparently, Bush makes little jokes, and “plays the rube,” and people come away impressed because he seems so authentic.
The President’s certainty is well known. For example, he was unable to think of a single mistake he had made during a press appearance a few years ago. One of the things that he has said is that, even if you don’t agree with him, you know where he stands.
Taken together, the authenticity and certainty metrics represent a new way for candidates to campaign. Values and issues are becoming less important, I contend because they are becoming confusing and complex. Global climate change is complicated, foreign relations are complicated, and so are all the other jobs the President is supposed to do. Thus, for someone to establish that they know what to do and that they really believe in it makes all the difference. If their opponents have some nuanced vision of things, all the better for the President.
The problem is, as Kerry said in the first debate, you can be certain and wrong. The internal emotional state of one man is a terrible foundation for complex decisions. The solution here is to focus on results, with concrete, vivid examples, rather than personality contests. Republican candidates will always have the upper hand among confused people, because they seem so sure. We have to fight that with clear, precise examples of their failures. Don’t worry–there are lots to choose from.