Much has been written about the Massachusetts Senate race in the last few weeks, and E.J. Dionne Jr. made a worthy contribution in the Washington Post titled “Elizabeth Warren vs. Mr. Personality.” Given Warren’s position as a candidate in a heavily Democratic state, many are struggling to understand why Republican incumbent Scott Brown is even or beating her in most polls. Dionne attributes the success of baseball-loving un-elitist Brown to his downright likability and man-of-the-people attitude, perhaps captured best in his simple campaign slogan: “He’s for us.”
As Dick Flavin, “a veteran of the Massachusetts political wars” told Dionne, “A lot of people vote on how they feel about a candidate, not what they think about a candidate. And she’s doing the think stuff.” Brown’s success may seem less surprising when you consider that a seasoned political vet is calling analysis “the think stuff.” Tough knocks for Harvard professor Warren.
Dionne offers Warren some sage advice that he admits may be a little odd for a law professor: She can't out-personality him, so she has to link her political ideas to the voters’ feelings. Warren, a communicator so agile that an off-the-cuff remark about regulation went viral, needs to get voters emotionally involved in her policy recommendations.
Dionne is right, but perhaps could have taken his analysis a step further. On another level, what does this race say about us? Right now the Massachusetts Senate race suggests that being downright likable is a greater political asset than being able to express ideas persuasively. This author certainly hopes that’s not the case, but these days nothing seems out of the question.