Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Cult of Personality: Why "Liking" Mike Huckabee Isn't a Good Enough Reason to Vote for Him

I'll be candid. There's a few things I don't like about Mitt Romney. I wish he was more personable. I wish he had realized earlier that it wasn't enough to oppose abortion personally, but that it should be legislated against. Finally, I wish he had grown up in a middle class household so he could relate a bit better to people like me. But I've wondered how wise it is for me to focus on the few things I don't like about Mitt, rather than the many things I do.

Which brings me to Mike Huckabee. Huck's recent surge has shocked just about everyone: political pundits, the Republican establishment, probably even Huck himself. Here at Mitt Rocks we've shared in this shock, especially since Huck's rise has hurt our man Mitt, particularly in Iowa. My initial reaction was an emotional one: "How could such a weak candidate like Huck undercut a candidate of Mitt's caliber?" I've been thinking about this the last couple of weeks and I think I have an answer. I think this just might help explain what some are calling "The Huckabee Phenemenon," but which I'll call The Cult of Personality.

Humans are predisposed to what I'll call "liking." We naturally gravitate to people whose personalities we like. We do it at work. We do it at school. We do it with the opposite sex. In all these areas we enjoy surrounding ourselves with people who put us at ease. We seek out those whose personalities resonate with our own, people with whom we'd feel comfortable telling anything, people we really like. What's odd, however, is that we establish the same criteria for embracing political candidates. We want to align ourselves with politicians we like, those we think would make great personal friends, those who share our interests, religious beliefs, culture, and economic status.

The problem with this emphasis on "liking" is that it places a premium on personality, while ignoring that politicians are, first and foremost, professionals. Like doctors and lawyers, politicians are bona fide professionals, experts in civic affairs whom we expect to be skilled at their craft. Among other things, we expect our politicians to expertly balance huge budgets, lead large teams of people, negotiate compromise, and successfully manage the day-to-day affairs of a complex bureaucracy. These are all critical skills that a politician must have, and history has shown that those who don't possess them have failed.

Yet we persist in wanting to elect politicians we "like," often at the expense of electing people who have the real skills to succeed. I'd like to sketch a hypothetical scenario. If you were about to go into a high risk surgery, which doctor would you prefer to lead your operation? (A) the doctor who was not terribly personable but who stayed current on the latest medical research and whose surgical skills were first rate, or (B) the doctor who was very friendly but whose surgical skills were out of date and lacking? Which of these doctors would you trust with your life?

I'm concerned that Mike Huckabee is the equivalent of the friendly but unskilled doctor. His personality is charming, his wit appealing. But he has never managed an organization that lives or dies on its ability to produce results. He has never waded through billion dollar budgets or managed large teams of people. He has never taken over a struggling enterprise (like the US govt) and made it successful. Mitt Romney, on the other hand, is the equivalent of the skilled doctor, a man who might not be as personable but who possesses all the critical skills needed to succeed. Mitt has done all of the above--in spectacular fashion. When you factor in that he is also a kind person and an outstanding family man, it's easy to see that Huckabee vs. Romney is not apples to apples.

I hope that Americans realize the difficult spot we're in right now. Our economy is slumping and our borders are insecure. Not only are we threatened by radical jihadists, but those in other countries have a negative view of America, perhaps more so than at any other time in our history. And if this weren't enough, the Republican party is in tatters, desperately needing a proven leader.

This is not the time to get caught up in a Cult of Personality. It is not the time to elect someone just because we "like" him. We are choosing a president, not a best friend. The person we choose as our next president needs to be someone with proven political skills, a person who has demonstrated excellence in all the areas that make one a good professional. This person needs to possess tenacity, a strong backbone, and a proven ability to cope with difficult situations. I believe Mitt Romney is that man. He is the only electable candidate of any party with the full skill set of the effective politician. He is the only one in whom I can place my full trust to lead America forward, competently.