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Character of politicians

Mark Schmitt, an extremely smart liberal at the New America Foundation, coined a saying that captures the dynamic: "It's not what you say about the issues, it's what the issues say about you." ... In other words, the literal popularity of an issue often matters less than the way that issue fits into a narrative of a politician's character. JohnMcCain used his support for campaign finance reform to craft a narrative of himself as a brave truth-teller unafraid of special interests. George W. Bush in 2000 used a couple of issue positions relatively minuscule in scale (faith-based initiatives, education reform) to craft an image as a compassionate innovator.

Clinton's problem is that everything she does to staunch her perceived ideology problem compounds her perceived character problem. What she says about the issues may be popular, but what the issues say about her is that she's a shameless self-reinventor.

Gore is winning plaudits because he's in the opposite position. A couple of years ago he appeared to be veering too far left when he denounced the Iraq war and the administration's disregard for civil liberties. But now, almost no one can argue with those positions — certainly not any prospective Democratic voter. And his focus on global warming, which may not rank high on the list of voter concerns in Ohio, points to his genuine conviction on the issue. Gore cared about the environment before it was cool (or, as it were, warm.) The issue helps him more as a character issue than a substance one.

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