Choosing A President
“In what American election is the greatest number of votes cast? The answer is the presidential election. In what American election is the next greatest number of votes cast? The answer is the annual Miss Rheingold contest. In 1956, the vote totaled just over 23 million. This year it promises to be even bigger.”- The New Yorker, September 21, 1957.
The Miss Rheingold contest was a beauty competition designed to sell Rheingold beer. The heavily financed campaign at its peak, cost $8 million a year. That is the equivalent of over $60 million today. It became an annual East Coast event that went on for 25 years. It never lost its popularity.
The question is: Have our presidential elections become a popularity contest? The quick answer seems to be yes.
Being popular is important. Otherwise, people won’t like you. I know, bad joke. Our obsession with polls reminds me of my memories of that brilliant marketing campaign for Rheingold beer.
Adults could vote at local grocery stores and taverns for their favorite pick to become the Rheingold Girl. Large, glossy photos of each contestant were strung wall-to-wall with their first and last names prominently displayed.
The neighborhood discussions were heated. Loyalty was fierce. It was obvious to me who was the most beautiful, even though I couldn’t vote. Every time I entered the grocery store with my mother, I would study their photos with new eyes. No matter how many times I revisited their pictures, I always came away with a deepened conviction that my choice was the right choice.
I have to admit that when my friends shared their choices and they didn’t agree with mine, I felt disappointed. In them. In their faulty judgment, lack of discernment and their apparent inability to see the obvious.
The Rheingold contest was straightforward. It was a beauty contest. Fast forward to today. What is the essence of this presidential race? Is it a beauty contest? Obviously not, but I suspect that it does resemble the Miss Rheingold popularity contest with a shift in focus from beauty to power and that intangible quality called charisma.
Some people possess this quality that has very little to do with looks and nothing at all to do with youth. It is an aura of power, control, believability, showmanship or who knows?
Character, personal power, position power, wealth, rigid loyalties and the many combinations of these qualities seem to be the formula that can capture the loyalties of the masses.
In our media driven world, we are bombarded with opinions from ‘experts’. I recall a clever definition of an expert: “An ex is a ‘has been’ and a spurt is a ‘drip under pressure.’
In this 2020 election a furious, vitriolic clash of beliefs is in play. What bothers me greatly is that liking or opposing someone or something is a part of human nature but the job description of President of the United States needs to be clearly defined. Once that is determined do the candidates you are backing have the core competencies, the intrinsic character and the leadership skills to do the job?
Another critical issue at this time addresses our responsibility in this mess. Eleanor Roosevelt captured it in this quote: “No leader can be too far ahead of his followers.”
Susan is a local author and leadership development facilitator. susanvelasquez.com.