You heard it here first.
Since the presidential candidates refuse to talk about the issues, the next president will likely be elected on personal style alone. And that means Michael Dukakis loses.Pollsters say the swing votes will be cast by the Midwest this year. And the Midwesterners I've spoken to tell me the Duke makes them nervous. They say something in his manner grates on them. They feel patronized.
It's true the legacy of liberal politicians has often been "implied superiority." They tend to be a little too self-congratulatory. They convey the impression they've risen above self-centered, small-minded concerns and have discovered Compassion.
"Everyone at heart is ego-centric," e.e. cummings said. "Altruists more than most."
Midwesterners believe that.
In the Pledge it's "liberty and justice for all," but the Republicans tend to hear the "liberty" part, Democrats focus on "justice." Dukakis speaks like a man who has weighed liberty and justice in a scale, and found liberty wanting.
There's a steeliness to Dukakis. He has a chilly way about him.
George Bush, on the other hand, is seen as a "Joe." Dukakis has a superior little smile, Bush has a nervous little smile. When the Democrats said Bush was "born with a silver foot in his mouth," they simply made him more endearing to Americans. Who among us isn't a bumbler? Who doesn't feel backward at times?
By casting the Veep as a bumpkin in fancy clothes, the Democrats made him part of the American middle class, a likable social climber, a man learning the ropes of sophistication with the rest of us.
The whole thing reminds me of the Mondale/Reagan race. Mondale wanted to do all he could to help folks everywhere. But Reagan . . . , Reagan was folks.
To many Midwesterners, Bush is a guy you'd invite to dinner; a guy who'd chip in with table conversation, maybe bounce the kids on his knee. A guy who'd spill a little gravy on his tie.
Dukakis, with his ironic smile, comes on like a fellow who'd compliment your cooking, then give a sly wink to his savvy friends while you were in the kitchen.
And Bush knows that. He tells us he's not much of a public speaker, that he can't debate. He pitches his campaign right at gut level - patriotism, defense, God and Country.
Dukakis tries to keep things on a philosophical level. He wants to talk ideas, not feelings.
Columnists keep trying to bill this election as an uninteresting schoolyard fight between a wimp (Bush) and a nerd (Dukakis), but there's some real boxing going on. Dukakis wants to show that Bush has nothing upstairs, so he goes for the head. Bush wants to show Dukakis has no heart. He throws body punches.
I covered boxing for three years. I've never seen a "headhunter" beat a "body puncher."
And in American politics, going for the body beats going for the head.