Events Sprint Past Politics; in Presidential Elections, the Importance of a Pleasing Personality Is Inversely Proportional to the Seriousness of the Nation's Challenges

By Will, George F. | Newsweek, August 2, 2004 | Go to article overview

Events Sprint Past Politics; in Presidential Elections, the Importance of a Pleasing Personality Is Inversely Proportional to the Seriousness of the Nation's Challenges


Will, George F., Newsweek


Byline: George F. Will

The story is probably apocryphal but also plausible. It is that John C. Calhoun, the austere 19th-century South Carolinian who was a congressman, vice president and senator but never was Mr. Congeniality, once attempted to write a poem, which he began, "Whereas..." John Kerry also invites satire about his demeanor, which is New England reserve leavened by senatorial ponderousness. The Democratic convention was planned as a packaging exercise to increase Kerry's cuddliness quotient. Most of the first 15 presidents--and some after the 16th, Lincoln--could have walked down most American streets virtually unrecognized. But television imposes intimacy with presidents. They are in most living rooms most days, so candidates must pass a threshold test of likability.

Democrats can relax. In presidential elections the importance of a pleasing personality is inversely proportional to the seriousness of the nation's challenges, underscored last week by the 9/11 Commission's report. Furthermore, fascinating developments are afoot, redefining the political landscape while demonstrating how much change is autonomous of politics.

A University of Chicago report says that between 1993 and 2002, the proportion of Americans who identified themselves as Protestants declined from 63 percent to 52 percent. Soon America will cease to have what has existed here since Jamestown was founded--a Protestant majority. Among religious Americans, the percentage adhering to faiths other than Protestantism, Catholicism and Judaism more than doubled, from 3 to 7. Americans saying they have no religion rose from 9 percent to 14 percent. Religion is not necessarily losing its saliency, but its role in civic discourse is bound to change in unforeseeable ways.

For four decades America's worst domestic crisis, the source of most social pathologies, has been the rising percentage of children born out of wedlock, especially those born to teenagers--babies having babies. But the most recent figures, for 2002, show the teenage birthrate is at its lowest since government began collecting such data in the 1940s. It is unclear why illegitimacy rates began rising rapidly four decades ago; it is difficult to locate in social policy a cause for improved behavior by the teenage cohort.

Last year Congress lowered the tax on corporate dividends to 15 percent, down from the rates applicable to ordinary income, which are up to 35 percent. As president, Kerry might try to repeal that reduction. That might, or might not, help explain why last week Microsoft,which has been holding $56 billion in cash, announced that it will pay $32 billion in dividends, the largest payout in U. …

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Events Sprint Past Politics; in Presidential Elections, the Importance of a Pleasing Personality Is Inversely Proportional to the Seriousness of the Nation's Challenges
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