Jonah Goldberg
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What is it Tommy Lee Jones says in "Men in Black"? "A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals, and you know it." Similarly, the American electorate is an odd beast, distinct from the American voter. Political scientists, the large-animal vets of this already strained metaphor, find all sorts of odd explanations for the electorate's behavior.

For example, sometimes the critter's stall is too damp, or not damp enough. In 2004, Princeton political scientists estimated that some "2.8 million people voted against Al Gore in 2000 because their states were too dry or too wet," costing Gore seven states, any of which would have cinched the election for him. I can't judge the political scientists' math, but the point is that virtually no individual voter says, "You know, it didn't rain much this year; I'm voting Republican." That's something only voters do in a group.

I bring this up by way of introducing a topic that I guarantee will consume pundits and talking heads about a year from now: Who is the more likable presidential candidate?

We'll talk about this because we have ever since TV changed politics. I can spare you several weeks' worth of a college course on modern politics by telling you that JFK won his televised debate with Richard Nixon (while Nixon won among radio listeners) because the scruffy and angry-looking Nixon seemed like he should be cruising schoolyards in a trench coat.

At least one of the myriad reasons for Michael Dukakis's loss in 1988 was that he seemed like the kind of guy for whom the best time of his life was when as V.P. of his high school chess club, he ascended to the top spot when the president got mono.

In 1996, the fact that Bob Dole seemed like he'd be more comfortable wearing the Grim Reaper's cloak and pointing the bony finger of damnation probably didn't help compared with Bill Clinton's affable nightclub-host personality.

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Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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