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Choosing a President

By Susan McNeal Velasquez
By Susan McNeal Velasquez

“In what American election is the greatest number of votes cast? The answer is, of course, 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 magazine reported in September 1957.

The Miss Rheingold contest was a beauty competition designed to sell Rheingold beer. It did that and it did much more. The heavily financed campaign cost $8 million a year, equivalent to $60 million today, and brought attention and participation. It was everywhere and became an annual East Coast event that went on for 25 years, from the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt to John Fitzgerald Kennedy, and it never lost its popularity.

Has our presidential elections always been a popularity contest? On the surface the quick answer seems to be yes.

Of course, being popular is important. Otherwise, people won’t like you. I know, bad joke. But this obsession with polls reminds me of my memories of that brilliant marketing campaign for Rheingold beer when I was a young girl in New York City.

A 1953 era ballot for Rheingold beauties.
A 1953 era ballot for Rheingold beauties.

When you went to the local grocery store, the adults were able to vote for their favorite pick to become the Rheingold Girl. Large, glossy photos of these beautiful girls with radiant smiles were strung wall-to-wall, one next to the other 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 and I never chose cavalierly, 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. No contest.

I have to admit when my friends didn’t agree with my choice I felt disappointed in their faulty judgment, their 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.

I suspect that at this point it does resemble the Miss Rheingold popularity contest with a slight shift in focus from beauty to that intangible quality called charisma.

Some people possess this quality that goes way beyond romantic or sex appeal. It has very little to do with looks and nothing at all to do with youth. It is an expression in the eyes, or an aura of being in control, or responsible, or something easy, or powerful, or entertaining or, who knows?

Personal power, position power, wealth and abundance, sex appeal and the many combinations of these qualities seem to be the formula that can capture and enslave the loyalties of the masses.

I realize that in our media driven world, it is not enough to be competent. Likeability is also a factor. What bothers me greatly is that “liking” or “opposing” someone or something is an attribute of human nature, but in order to make informed choices the job of president needs to be clearly defined to identify the core competencies beyond the likability factor.

Another issue addresses our responsibility in this mess.

It is captured in this quote by Eleanor Roosevelt. “No leader can be too far ahead of his followers.”

Susan is a local author, seminar facilitator and personal development consultant. Learn more at: beyondintellect.com

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