"I don't smoke, and I don't chew, and I don't go out with girls who do." My, how times have changed since kids amused each other with schoolyard doggerel like that one. Tobacco's out, but now nearly everything else is "in." Modern voters no longer pursue clean-living good boys, but good ol' boys with a little sin on their rap sheets.
If he is the Republican nominee -- and he took a big step toward a coronation convention in Tampa, Fla., with that solid win in Florida -- Mitt Romney's goody-goody-two-shoes reputation could hurt him worse than his flip-flops on abortion and health care reform. Or so observes Jonathan Tobin in Commentary magazine:
"It may well be the fact that he never smoked or drank that will be held against him by voters who don't think they can trust a person who won't have a beer with them, or who prefer the redemption stories of sinners who found the light."
It's a persuasive proposition. George W. Bush was a hard-drinkin' Texican before he found God and gave up the bottle, and the telling of his conversion story hurt him not at all when he ran first for governor of Texas and then for president. Nobody likes repentant sinners more than an American voter. You don't even have to sin big sins to be the man's man that many voters are looking for. Just a suggestion of having tasted the temptation of the dark side will do.
Barack Obama has lived a life in the sun, with a private-school education, full-ride scholarships and law-review editorships in the Ivy League, but he took pains in his autobiographies to spin tales of a fatherless childhood and the privations of growing up with an abandoned single mother. That struck a sympathetic note with voters. The birther accusations that he was actually born in Africa even lent a hint of intrigue.
He didn't make it to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., but John McCain's tough-guy fighter-pilot image, refined and hardened in the hell of the Hanoi Hilton, has served him well in an otherwise successful political career. Bill Clinton, having littered the battlefield of love (or at least of lust) with big-haired ladies by the score, is no parent's idea of a beau ideal, but his rapscallion reputation lent him a deadly charm with voters that led to two terms.