Sunday, November 02, 2008


The Toothpick Test
Chapter Seven

Okay, obviously we're in the home stretch.
My meatspace job babysitting adults pulled focus this weekend and the last of my little toothpick excursion will be very whirlwind. I'll no doubt be skipping several significant elections in favor of focusing on elections since the advent of the television age. As I said near the end of the last chapter, the Toothpick Test is about the perception of authenticity. The public can be a very stupid thing (mobs, anyone?), and the whole "perception is reality" can be particularly frightening in light of that fact. A great many factors shape those perceptions. Eddie Izzard said perception is 10% what you say, 20% how you say it, and 70% how you look when you're saying it. Case in point:

1960 Election
Democrat John F Kennedy vs Republican Richard M Nixon
Nixon served as Veep for two terms in the fifties. That he would be primed for the presidency after Eishenhower retired would seem a no-brainer. However, the 1960 debate in front of live cameras spelled the unfolding of a whole new vista in the way presidential candidates were vetted by the voting public. Previously, voters assessed candidates on public appearances, newspaper and radio accounts of same. Various accounts I've read of this debate mention Nixon's sallow, peaked apperance contrasted with the youthful, vigorous countenance of JFK. In black and white, I don't see the paleness they mention. What is evident is that JFK is very comfortable in this medium, whereas Nixon is almost fidgety and is awkward. Surrounded by cameras, there were no doubt many distractions in the studio, and yet JFK remains cool, focused and on point. Kennedy looks straight into the camera, unblinking, while Nixon's eyes scan between the moderator and the journalists, making him look shifty. Nixon doesn't look terrible, but he does look nervous and seems by comparison lacking in confidence. If you got on a commercial flight and the captain's voice came on the intercom and they sounded nervous and uncomfortable, would you be confident in their ability to fly the plane? Not likely. Nixon didn't speak badly, but his discomfort likely made a lot of people feel he was not ready to take the reins of our nation, despite his extensive executive experience. Kennedy's steady gaze and obvious comfort struck a stark contrast with the profusely sweating Nixon. The net effect is that Kennedy took the toothpick prize.
Watch a clip and see for yourself:



Perhaps Nixon's fidgeting and discomfort was related to knee surgery just a couple weeks before, but you wouldn't know about that from the video. Appearance plays a major role here. Many who listened to the debates on the radio felt Nixon had been the clear winner, and yet those who watched the debate came away with a very different conclusion.

The race that year was brutally close. Times were changing, and while Nixon represented a staid, old-guard philosophy, Kennedy put forth a progressive ideology with much more government involvement in various aspects of peoples' lives in the form of programs. The race was close all along, and in the end, Kennedy barely edged out Nixon. JFK won by a scant 0.2% of the vote. Nixon's supporters challenged the results in 11 states unsuccessfully, while JFK's supporters prevailed when they challenged Nixon's victory in Hawaii. Despite what must have been a grave disappointment, Nixon was very dignified throughout the process.

Ironically, the seed of the Kennedy family wealth in the US was JFK's grandfather's saloon, and Nixon was the son of Quakers who eschewed drink and chew and women wot do. All America wanted to do was have some fun, canoodle with Marilyn Monroe and have sex in White House closets. Ya know: find what you're good at. Looking at the mien of the two men, it's very easy to imagine people considered JFK vastly more youthful and forward-thinking, although he was only 4 years younger than Nixon. Obviously, many times we vote for the person we hope someone is, rather than who they actually are.

The distressing thing about this way of judging candidates is that appearances can be so deceptive. Some have speculated that in an age of television and radio, a person with the grating voice and stultified delivery of Abraham Lincoln would never have been elected to national office. There are, of course, such oddities as Barney Frank who find their way to D.C. on our dime but generally, the cool customer will inspire more confidence. Anyway, maybe going on appearances and delivery rather than carefully examining the record of all candidates is just a trifle superficial. Based on who-knows-what, some Americans have been convinced that one certain candidate will be filling their gas tanks and paying their mortgages. I wonder if such people will be angry when they find out they still will be ponying up the dosh at the gas pump and with their mortgage company, regardless who was elected? *sigh*
Written by phlegmfatale
2 cared enough to comment!


Name: Phlegmfatale
Location: Elsewhere, Texas, USA

I'm not whining;
I'm unburdening.
FATALE ABSTRACTION


Learn more here



September 2002

November 2002

January 2003

March 2003

June 2003

July 2003

August 2003

September 2003

October 2003

November 2003

December 2003

January 2004

February 2004

March 2004

April 2004

May 2004

June 2004

July 2004

August 2004

September 2004

October 2004

November 2004

December 2004

March 2005

April 2005

June 2005

July 2005

August 2005

September 2005

October 2005

November 2005

December 2005

January 2006

February 2006

March 2006

April 2006

May 2006

June 2006

July 2006

August 2006

September 2006

October 2006

November 2006

December 2006

January 2007

February 2007

March 2007

April 2007

May 2007

June 2007

July 2007

August 2007

September 2007

October 2007

November 2007

December 2007

January 2008

February 2008

March 2008

April 2008

May 2008

June 2008

July 2008

August 2008

September 2008

October 2008

November 2008

December 2008

January 2009

February 2009

March 2009

April 2009

May 2009

June 2009

July 2009

August 2009

September 2009

October 2009

November 2009

December 2009

January 2010

February 2010

March 2010

April 2010

May 2010

June 2010

July 2010

August 2010

September 2010

October 2010

November 2010

December 2010

January 2011

February 2011

March 2011

April 2011

May 2011

June 2011

July 2011

August 2011

September 2011

October 2011

November 2011

December 2011

January 2012

February 2012

March 2012

April 2012

May 2012

June 2012

July 2012

August 2012

September 2012

October 2012

November 2012

December 2012

January 2013

February 2013

March 2013

April 2013

May 2013

June 2013

July 2013

August 2013

September 2013

October 2013

November 2013

December 2013

January 2014

February 2014

March 2014

April 2014

May 2014

June 2014

July 2014

August 2014

September 2014

October 2014

November 2014

December 2014

January 2015

February 2015

March 2015

April 2015

May 2015

June 2015

July 2015

August 2015

September 2015

October 2015

November 2015

December 2015

January 2016

February 2016

March 2016

April 2016

May 2016

June 2016

July 2016

August 2016

October 2016

December 2016

January 2017

March 2017

April 2017

May 2017

June 2017

July 2017

October 2017

Who links to me?