Alpha and the Vote

Here's what scares me as an Obama supporter. It's a story I heard after the Pennsylvania primary. A friend of a friend went into the booth to vote for Obama and found himself voting for Hillary.

I’m worried that at the last minute, the kneejerk response will prevail. The majority will vote for someone who’s white and talks tough.

McCain and Palin are betting on the kneejerk vote. They’re banging people’s knees with the socialist hammer, the terrorist hammer, the un-American hammer, counting on the tendency to see others as Us or Not Us. It seems that what's hardwired is not racism per se. but the need to identify allies, which can morph into racism because race is a visible difference. McCain hasn’t played the race card, but by playing the Not Us card, his campaign piggybacks on racism.

But it’s not just how Team McCain are selling, it’s what they’re selling. They’re selling kneejerk animal instinct as the route to security. McCain-Palin are running as Neanderthals -- they're the hunter-warrier team. Grunt, rattle sabers, be fearsome. They're talking to our reptile DNA.

Obama uses the language of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), much of which originated at Harvard. ADR aims to shortcircuit the kneejerk animal attack-attack scenario by using the distinctly human ability to step back and understand what pushes people’s buttons. ADR is a harder sell because it feels anti-instinctual, though it’s not – it just factors in human psychology.

The issue is this: did the human experiment add any value to life on earth? We know human thought is capable of justifying all sorts of horror, but are our human brains actually good for anything? Do we as a species bring anything new and better to the table, or should we just stick to our reptile instincts?

When people get into the voting booth, will they vote for thinking man or primitive man? McCain/Palin mount an alpha display of absolute confidence. They’re so sure of themselves, surer than you are about anything, so sure that they make you wonder whether they might be right.

McCain, when asked how we should deal with evil, responds immmediately with “Defeat it.” Wow. It has an appeal. The problem is, if you go the confidence route, you can’t blink. And during the economic crisis, McCain blinked. He became the man behind the curtain behind the Wizard of Oz.

And therein lies hope. Alpha Watch still believes that in the voting booth, gut will rule, not head. The good news is that voters have had time to develop a gut sense of the candidates. How do the candidates feel in my belly? If the country were a car, McCain feels like an engine that gasps and sputters. Obama feels like an engine with a strong, steady hum. I’m worried, but I’m betting on Obama.

Alpha and the VP Pick

Forget swing states, political correctness, trying to please this constituency or that. The choice of VP is about stagecraft. Think of the VP as a stage prop to raise a presidential candidate’s alpha.

I didn’t find Bill Clinton particularly sexy until I saw him standing next to his 1992 VP pick, Al Gore. The two men together -- one fair, one brunette -- suddenly looked like a couple of hunks. A ménage à trois came to mind. The team of Clinton/Gore was more than the sum of its parts – it made each of them more confident, more manly. As a team, they were subliminally erotic and unstoppably alpha.

Both Obama and McCain are alpha-challenged. Obama's too green, McCain's too gray. Obama looks like a promising candidate for student government president. McCain evokes grandpa bumbling through his retirement speech. Who can they mise en scène to raise their alpha?

Let’s start with Obama and get right to the issue of Hillary. What would she do for Obama’s alpha?

Nothing, if she were any other woman. Forget your Kathleen Sebeliuses, your Claire McCaskills. Forgive me, sisters, but adding just about any woman to the ticket would make Obama look limp. From an alpha standpoint, Obama needs to be seen in the company of men.

But Hillary may be the exception. Hillary's more man than most men. Still, whether she would help or hurt Obama depends on whether his choice of Hillary would be viewed as his subjugation of her, or her subjugation of him. In any case, the specter of a dethroned, gonzo Bill Clinton, lurking about the White House and kibbitzing like a pain-in-the-ass back-seat driver, could put the kibosh on this scenario. And serving two masters could create a conflict of loyalties for Hillary. Despite all this dominance and submission, there would be nothing sexy about this ménage à trois.

But even Hillary might not be man enough to raise Obama’s alpha cred. Obama may need an actual man to validate him as a man’s man. But it has to be a heavyweight, an alpha male, someone who by virtue of pledging his troth to Obama certifies him as alpha. Someone whose virility draws out the same in Obama. A John Edwards by Obama's side would suggest a confrerie of dandies. Evan Bayh is less familiar to us, but "male animal" is not the first thought that comes to mind.

Tim Kaine, on the other hand, has a butch marine look and is tall enough not to have his masculine impact nullified by Obama's height. Obama is so tall that he diminishes the power of a shorter man -- say, a Jack Reed -- to raise the ticket's alpha level.

But, not to carp, Governor Kaine has a relatively large head. Since it's way too late for Alpha Watch not to seem, like, totally superficial, we'll say it -- Kaine makes Obama look like a pinhead. It matters -- visuals trump substance. In 1960, people who listened to the first Kennedy-Nixon debate on the radio thought Nixon won; those watching it on T.V. thought Kennedy won.

Joe Biden and Chris Dodd were not fascinating enough to be front men but either would make a credible backup singer. Joe Biden, the more likeable of the two, and the more likely VP pick, looks alpha when he talks about foreign affairs. He has a genuine p.o.'d passion about the subject that is both masculine and sexy. Biden would reassure on national security and would be a good choice if he can learn to consciously compensate for his lack of intuitive tact. Biden has a goofy smile, though , that undermines his gravitas. He should stop smiling, completely.

As for McCain, he’s got a dilemma. A youthful guy would raise the testosterone level of the ticket, but make McCain seem older by comparison. An old guy by McCain's side --say, Joe Lieberman-- would evoke a retirement community.

Mitt Romney could raise the mean steroid level, and serve as an icon of economic security to boot. Mitt seems willing to tolerate McCain’s reputed bad temper, which, while at least a sign of life, could scare off some self-respecting VP prospects. But could any of this offset the brutal, deprecating physical comparison of McCain with Mitt? Would McCain's natural vanity even allow him to share a sightline with Mitt? If nothing else, Mitt Romney is an evolutionary triumph.

Could a woman VP candidate raise McCain's alpha? Only if it's former HP CEO Carly Fiorina, a kick-ass broad who could easily fill the traditional V.P. candidate's role of attack dog. Carly's at least as virile as Hillary and a V.P debate between the two would be the stuff of network dreams. If the debate could be held on Pay-Per-View it would bring in enough money to fill the coffers of both campaigns and repay Hillary's campaign debt.

More to come on other possible candidates.

As the VP dating game continues, the candidates should think about who they want as backdrop. Voters aren’t voting for a list of specs. They’re voting for a feeling of security. The right trophy VP could make a candidate look like an alpha – a winner.♦

8/28/08 Postscript: Evangelicals and the GOP VP Pick

(Postscript to Alpha and the VP Pick)

We've written about McCain's age as an alpha problem. To the extent that the evangelical vote is critical for McCain, he has a second, confounding alpha issue.

Evangelicals are subject to the gut pull of human alpha, but above all want to remain firmly in the camp of The Ultimate Alpha. Tom Ridge or Rudy Giuliani are objects of ambivalence because they have instinctual appeal as protectors, but their social policies might provoke the wrath of The Protector. Unless McCain has a dark horse or throws caution to the wind, the choice may come down to Tim Pawlenty or Mitt Romney.

Pawlenty looks young, which would make McCain's age more salient, but he has chemistry with McCain and is an evangelical.

Romney's Mormon religion could pose a problem for some evangelicals, and his alpha-manly looks shrink McCain. But Mitt has considerably more heft than Pawlenty, and as McCain knows all too well, Mitt would make a shameless attack dog.♦

8/27/08 Dem.VP - Epilogue:
The antidote to the McCain narrative – that Obama should have chosen Hillary, but didn’t because she criticized him – is to consider how Team McCain would have spun a Hillary VP choice. They would have said Obama cynically chose the past over his message of change, cravenly caved to the Clintons, and created a dysfunctional ticket that can’t govern. ♦

Not 'Change vs. Experience' -
Now it’s Hope vs. Skepticism

It’s not a question of Change vs. Experience anymore. For Democrats and many Independents, the only issue left -- if there is one -– is Hope vs. Skepticism. As long as he can keep hope alive, Obama doesn’t need to be a classic alpha to calm fears in a scary world. You can’t hope and fear at the same time.

For young voters, Hope vs. Skepticism is a non-issue. Obama's short track record? Not a problem. Inexperience doesn’t daunt their own youthful self-confidence. And Obama hardly looks young to them – he’s old enough to be their father!

For aging boomers, this is a poignant moment. Forty years after 1968, hope is stirring once again in our aging breasts. Can we set aside our painfully-earned cynicism -- everything we’ve learned about greedy Washington, the inertia of systems… ...even flawed human nature itself? Believing that real change is possible under Obama's leadership requires belief based not on evidence, but on taking Obama’s word for it. After all these years of ‘yeah, yeah – don't tell me, show me,” that takes a leap.

But boomers are lining up to take that leap. We have some unfinished business when it comes to taking that leap. Bobby’s death prematurely ended the 60’s dream, leaving us with a permanent “What If?” We never found out whether Bobby would have changed the world or disappointed us like all the others.

Obama has resurrected the dream. And as the campaign continues, we're starting to get firsthand evidence of what Obama is capable of. He’s already achieved more change than anyone thought possible. If he can win the nomination, it’ll be pretty hard in the general election to argue with a new line in Obama's resume : “As a first-term African-American Senator, I won the Democratic nomination for President.” ♦

Next Column: "The Problem with Dreams"

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©2008 Alice Krakauer, Ph.D. The comments above do not represent hard science.