Hillary Clinton's 'Likeability Factor': Why all the Fuss?

I'm for Bernie Sanders, just saying. But that doesn't mean I hate Hillary Clinton, or that I feel her Presidency would be a terrible alternative. Rather, I feel the aspect of whether she is likable or not, is a rather destructive focus in an age where leader after leader has disappointed us.
04/19/2016 12:03 pm ET Updated Apr 20, 2017

I'm for Bernie Sanders, just saying. I think he would make an awesome President and that he would not give up on fighting for fairness when it comes to the banks controlling too many resources, and this is one of many of those issues I feel pretty sure he would persist about. I don't think he would retreat and kneel down and compromise through castrating his agenda. But that doesn't mean I hate Hillary Clinton, or that I feel her Presidency would be a terrible alternative.

Rather, I feel the aspect of whether she is likable or not, is a rather destructive focus in an age where leader after leader has disappointed us. At dinner this evening, a very knowledgeable and personable man whom I met for the first time asked out loud, "Why is it that I can't like Hillary Clinton?", to which I responded that maybe the question should be why it's so important that we like one candidate over another, to begin with. Why do we assume likeability is a key virtue of someone whose leadership requires discipline, hard work, critical thinking and even wisdom?

I had just seen, last night, the 2015 documentary about Steve Jobs. I had been one of the many millions all over the globe who had mourned his death with intense sadness. I learned, through the documentary, about his abuse of power, and abuse precisely through the fact that he had charmed so many people, and captured their hearts and in some ways their minds. I learned of his lack of ethics and of his lack of empathy. I had liked him, and maybe at least in my case, that was part of the problem.

One way of looking at really loving another person is that we cannot love without knowing someone. We can be infatuated but that is not the same as loving. At the same time liking can be more superficial, having more to do with qualities that please or seduce us. But in effect isn't this a problem when liking becomes more important than substance?

One thing that worries me at a time when many Democrats talk about the disruption and destruction going on within the Republican Party, is that the Democrats can be so talented when it comes to self-destruction in their own ranks. The level of insults going back and forth between Sanders and Clinton is worrying, because when one or the other wins the nomination, there will need to be a united front to beat the Republicans, who are not done yet by a long shot.

I want to think ahead, at least partially. I don't want to feel defeated as a Sanders voter, deciding in advance that his election or nomination would not be practical or feasible. On the other hand, I don't want to be part of demonizing Hillary Clinton, when she is solid in terms of experience and information, when she is way saner than anyone in the Republican ranks.

I want to make it clear that I do not dislike Hillary Clinton; in fact I find her honesty about her difficulties in being a campaigner, disarming. Yes, she has been much more tied to business interests than Bernie Sanders, and there is little doubt that he would at least try to interrupt a system where capitalism has run ragged over environmental, social and economic justice issues. On the other hand, our political system is so divided by polarization, and religious fanaticism, that we need to recognize that sanity may be the key element of electability, at least for some of us. And although I like Clinton for her savvy, for her bluntness and for her admission of her not having an easy time campaigning, I don't want to fall into a trap where liking is the main deal. Please, think about the Republicans up and running who out prejudice or evangelize at every turn, and don't fall into the rut where we scapegoat a woman (yes she would be the first woman President!) because she is not a sex symbol and doesn't bowl us over with the oozing of glop.

We need to be ready to come together and back either Bernie or Hillary; you know those of us leaning away from homophobia, gun possession run rampant, and walls against immigrants of any persuasion. We need a President who can pause and think, who can admit a mistake, who can involve advisors in collaboration and who can work with people of varied opinions.

People who are likeable often enough have studied how to fool other people into believing they are nice or kind or in some way deserving of winning us over. They are often people who study the vulnerabilities of others and play right into them. And it is bad enough that many of us have come to frown upon critical thinking and relish following the leader without questioning in some ongoing fashion. As such it would be bad to buy into the "Well I just don't trust her", when please, let's consider the possible alternatives, and perhaps interrupt our need to surrender to the likeability factor.

Liking and being liked sometimes happens magnetically and rather easily, but just as often it is something that occurs over time, and through respect. Respect does not always emerge spontaneously, but rather through a process of getting to know the other person, and through working at mutual understanding. It can come through solving problems together, through working through and over challenges that are complex and difficult.
I'm hoping that we can interrupt the tone of insults that can border on degradation. It will bite us, and our chances of coming together effectively.