The Likability Project: Why Do We Love Grumpy Old White Men?
After the Democratic skrimishes between Hillary Clinton supporters and Bernie Sanders acolytes in the 2016 primaries, I promised myself I would not engage with any Bernie Bros or Sisters for the 2020 campaign. It was all too ugly and unnecessary four years ago, and there’s just no need to relive that stress and anxiety.
But with 77-year-old Sanders’ anouncement that he, an Independent and faux Democrat, would seek the Democratic presidential nomination again (meaning, if he were to be elected, he would be about 79 1/2 years old when he would be sworn in), I couldn’t help asking myself this question — “What’s up with our love affair with grumpy old white guys in the White House?”
It’s not just older voters who are enamored of the G.O.W.G.s.
In 2016, many Millennials claimed that their Bernie love stemmed from his ideas and they didn’t care about his age or his unkempt gray hair or the tone of his voice that suggested he was just as comfortable shaking his fist and yelling at kids to get off his lawn as he was standing in front of crowds of supporters.
But this time around, many of the myriad younger Dem candidates have adopted his stances on college tuition, health care, and more. So we really have to ask ourselves, where is the love coming from that raised over $5 million on the day of Sanders’ announcement, now that he’s in his late 70s?
It’s not an ageist question; when the average life expectancy of men in America is 78 (less depending on the year one was born), there’s something else going on when voters of all generations are able to put that factoid off to the side and believe that men of a certain age are still capable of being the leader of the free world (even though they didn’t give a then 69-year-old Hillary Clinton that benefit of the doubt).
“He who shall not be named” will be 74 if he runs for a second term (or if he hasn’t been impeached and run out of town by 2020). 75-year-old John Kerry hasn’t thrown his hat in the ring yet, but he’s “going to think about it,” even though he lost the presidential race in 2004. And even if you have a soft spot for Joe Biden, he’s only a year younger than Bernie at 76.
Some pundits have suggested that the interest some voters had with G.O.W.G.s is over because of all the Democratic women we elected in 2018. We’ve got Nancy Pelosi back in the Speaker’s chair! 2018 was the latest Year of the Woman! And while it is heartening to see so many women who’ve announced their 2020 presidential campaigns, and there are also much younger dudes considering their own White House ambitions, in light of our past track record as voters, it seems like we still can’t help ourselves when it comes to leaning toward the G.O.W.G.s.
So it’s time to dig deep and really ask ourselves the big question — Are we a country of voters that can’t let go of the image of the senior statesman?
One professor of sociology suggests that could be the case because our society venerates older white men in a way we don’t with women, and that makes it easier to see them sitting in the most powerful position in world. And according to one recent survey, a vast majority of politicians and elected officials are still white men, even though white males make up only 31 percent of the population, which could suggest that it’s hard for voters to let go of the white senior statesman image, even as the numbers of women of all backgrounds running for various offices has grown exponentially in the last few years.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m married to a wonderful white guy, so I have nothing against them as a general matter! But until the political psychologists figure out voters’ complicated relationship with the G.O.W.G.s, maybe we just ask white guys of a certain age to stop running for office.
Joanne Bamberger is a noted expert on the political involvement of women & mothers, and is the author/editor of the award-winning bestseller Love Her, Love Her Not: The Hillary Paradox, a book that examined Hillary Clinton & the likability issue. She was one of the first journalists to shine a light on how social media empowered women to become politically vocal, which led to her first book, Mothers of Intention: How Women & Social Media are Revolutionizing Politics in America. A sought after speaker and occasional TV commentator, Joanne is proud to say she survived the pundit’s baptism by fire of appearing on Fox News more than once. A “recovering attorney”, Joanne has written opinion commentary for a variety of national publications including USA Today, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Hill, & U.S. News & World Report, & CNN.com. You can find her on Facebook at @joannebambergerauthor and on Twitter at @jlcbamberger.