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Who Wants A Likable President Anyway?02:32
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Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass, addresses an overflow crowd outside an organizing event at McCoy's Bar Patio and Grill in Council Bluffs, Iowa, Friday, Jan. 4, 2019. (Nati Harnik/AP)
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass, addresses an overflow crowd outside an organizing event at McCoy's Bar Patio and Grill in Council Bluffs, Iowa, Friday, Jan. 4, 2019. (Nati Harnik/AP)

Sen. Elizabeth Warren is hosting an organizing event in New Hampshire this weekend. As her exploratory bid for president kicks into high gear, a familiar — if frustrating — topic keeps coming up: Is she likable enough to go the distance?

But who wants a likable president, anyway?

That’s a point that’s missing in this silly debate over whether Warren is “likable” enough to win the Democratic nomination. Sure, we don’t want a sociopath for president. And, since this is largely a sales and marketing job, it’s important to find someone with charisma.

But “charismatic” doesn’t necessarily mean “likable.” Just look at Donald Trump. And think about the demands of the presidency today. In a hyper-partisan, obstructionist political culture … in a world with a growing crop of authoritarian despots … at a time when climate change will likely force some titans of industry to change how they do business … we’re probably best off with someone a little abrasive.

The most sage political analysis I saw, during the 2016 presidential race, came from RuPaul. Yes, that RuPaul. In an interview, he laid out the qualifications of each party’s nominee — using some words you can’t say on the radio (or print here). “You’ve got to dance with the devil” in this job, he said. He was alluding to Hillary Clinton’s ties to Wall Street and her history of cold-blooded compromise. She was what America needed, he declared: “a bad-(blank) (blank) who knows how to get (blank) done.”

Yes, you can be that person and still be worth hanging out with in a bar, a tea house or the Cheesecake Factory. But you can also be female and belligerent and effective: No one ever said Margaret Thatcher was nice.

Elizabeth Warren, to borrow another politician’s phrase, is “likable enough.” She’ll have plenty of primary opponents before long, in varying shades of congenial and cross.

But I’d prefer to judge them all on their ability to state a vision, sell a program and stare down a foe. I have plenty of people to drink beer with in my life. For my president, I’ll take someone who leaves me a little cold — and leaves her opponents quaking in their boots.

This segment aired on January 11, 2019.

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Joanna Weiss Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Joanna Weiss is the editor of Experience Magazine, published by Northeastern University.

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