While Ezra Klein, Kevin Drum, and several other liberal bloggers argue about how detailed a presidential candidate’s health care plan should be, longtime MPAA President Jack Valenti has a piece in the Politico today saying, essentially, plan-schmlan, policy doesn’t matter much either way, because voters rely on image and personal appeal. Now, this is not a particularly new argument, nor it is a surprising one coming from a man who spent three decades representing the image-obsessed movie industry. But I think it’s largely correct. In our current visually-saturated landscape, image may not be everything, but it’s a lot. The only thing I think Valenti leaves out is language—the phrasing and rhetorical style employed by candidates. But this is still a matter of packaging.
This is, for example, why we’ve seen such a fuss about Obama. I know it’s off limits to call him “articulate,” but he’s really an excellent public speaker. He’s mastered the art of political presentation far better than most candidates, and that’s why the public (and the media) is drawn to him despite his thin record.
Now, this isn’t to say that policy doesn’t matter at all. If that were true, we’d see a far greater swing from party to party each election. But however much D.C. types want to dig down into the dirty details of a particular policy proposal, a substantial number of voters simply want to cast a vote for someone who says the right things, looks the right way, and projects a general sense of trustworthiness and ability. Of course, sometimes even finding that can be a challenge.