Being Qualified No Longer Matters

It took “Dancing with the Stars” to jolt me into the realization that many voters no longer care whether candidates are qualified. Bobby Bones, who hosts a nationally syndicated country music radio show, has a large and devoted following that just voted him into the finals on “Dancing with the Stars.” He’d never scored higher than 8 with the judges, but viewer votes pushed him to the top, eliminating a star who’d repeatedly scored perfect 10’s. Bobby Bones is certainly a delightful person who’s overcome a heartbreaking childhood, but this is dancing with the stars. I was fine with keeping him on the show along with the other stars who couldn’t dance, but voting him into the finals? Come on! Even Bobby was giving a thumbs-down when he eliminated the best dancer of the season.

I should have realized about qualifications when Hilary Clinton, arguably the most qualified candidate ever to run for President, was defeated by Donald Trump, who had no experience in government. I hoped Trump’s election was a fluke, and, after all, Hillary, the qualified candidate, had won the popular vote. Still, “I can’t stand Hilary” was often stated as the reason why a voter acknowledged but ignored her qualifications. But somehow I imagined that, given all those likeable stars on “Dancing with the Stars”, the dancing would determine who won. Or that the judge’s scores would prevail. Thus the jolt. Now I am truly frightened for our country.

Many voters now seem to vote for candidates who are like them. It’s deeper than preferring candidates who look like them. With Obama’s election and the recent Congressional elections of the first Muslim and Native American women, the first black women from New England, the first Latina women from Texan, most of us seem to have gotten over the need to elect candidates who look like us. (Both Bobby Bones and the dancer he defeated are white males.)

Instead, many voters seem to be choosing candidates whose personalities make them feel good about themselves or who could be their friends. Quotes from Bobby’s followers included “I can’t get up in the morning without listening to you. I love you Bobby Bones.” It’s the same as “I can’t stand Hilary.” Trump’s a master at being a buddy to his base. The crudeness, barbs, and nasty tweets bond his followers into an in-group. And when Trump boasts at his rallies that he knows better and does better than any other President, isn’t he conveying that, by supporting him, they, too, know and do better? It appears that his base says, “Who cares if he’s qualified? He’s one of us!”

But when I analyze how I choose political candidates, my analogy with “Dancing with the Stars” breaks down. Mike Pence is qualified to serve in government, but his positions (banning abortion, curbing LGBT rights, promoting coal over clean air, and funding vouchers for charter and religious schools) are not mine. I can’t stand Pence, but that’s because of his positions more than his personality. Was that what the voters who couldn’t stand Hilary meant? Were they referring to her platform or her likeability?

I realize that for me, it’s not qualification in the “can-do” sense but in the “what I value” sense that drives my vote. It’s not friendship, shared background, nor making me feel good about myself. I’ve even voted for a crook because his positions match mine. Perhaps, because I value dancing, my analogy does hold.

Qualification, personality, platform – on what basis do most voters vote? Not knowing may be scariest of all.

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