The 'War in Iraq' may once have
been aimed at winning over the 'hearts and minds' of the Iraqi people. But when it comes
to winning the votes of the American people, President George W Bush seems to have set
his sights much lower. A trust-my-gut conservative himself, Bush once declared: 'I don't
spend a lot of time taking polls to tell me what I think is the right way to act; I
just got to know how I feel.'
This focus on the gut may turn
out to be the deciding factor in the upcoming presidential election. While Democrat
John Kerry conveys big-city intellect, Bush radiates down-home confidence. Kerry's dress
is the executive's white shirt and tie, with the sleeves only occasionally rolled up
to portray a ready-for-work attitude, but it's Bush whose favourite outfit is the blue
denim shirt of the common man. Kerry, despite serious efforts during the campaign to
appear folksy, still tends to lecture the faithful in long, convoluted sentences peppered
with commas and semi-colons, while Bush talks to his followers in his own naturally
relaxed manner, using simple, crisp sentences that rarely require even a period.
Some argue that this discrepancy
in style is evidence of a difference in intelligence, and well it may be. But the question
that needs to be asked is: what kind of intelligence?
Almost a decade ago, an American
science journalist, Daniel Goleman, borrowed and popularised the term 'Emotional Intelligence'.
Claiming to 'redefine what it means to be smart', he promised to reveal why emotional
intelligence 'can matter more than IQ'. Tapping into a deep vein of distrust of all
things intellectual, emotional intelligence (EQ) became an overnight success. Believing
that 'nice matters most', businesses began training
executives to be empathic and caring, and schools began emphasising emotional skills
at the expense of academic achievement. Very quickly, it seems, the world of warm feelings
rose to trump the realm of cold facts.
And that's where Kerry and Bush
differ. Not on values, patriotism or even policy, but on EQ. Kerry may be highly intelligent,
but he is starchy, stiff and emotionally not as skilled. Bush, on the other hand, may
intelligent, but he's got that folksy, casual, lip-biting emotionality. That's how he
gets away with such gaffs as mispronouncing Abu-Gharib prison as Abu-Garif. After a
pause and a 'deer in the headlights' flash of
embarrassment, he stumbles on and the people forgive him. After all, we might have done
the same under the spotlight - he's just one of us.
So different yardsticks measure
the two men. It was these different yardsticks, for example, that determined the effectiveness
of the advertisements about Vietnam put out by the infamous '527' groups. Kerry,
the intellectual, got bogged down disputing the 'facts' of those who criticised his
military record, offering his own 'facts' and giving the public a lot to think about.
Bush, on the other hand, managed to remain the
bashful boy who should be forgiven for any misbehaving in his youth. After all, he admits:
'I've made mistakes in my life, but I'm proud to tell you I've learned from my mistakes.
And that's the role of a leader - to share
wisdom, to share experience with people who are looking for someone to lead.'
According to Samuel Popkin, a political
scientist at the University of California at San Diego, voters filter small bits of
information and then use their instincts to guide their decision - which he calls 'gut
rationality'. Apparently voters like their options clear and uncomplicated. Popkin says:
'People don't learn more than they need to make a simple choice. They're choosing between
Deepak Chopra, the guru of Eastern
philosophy and medicine, supports the importance of gut instinct, going so far as to
say that the mind doesn't reside only in the brain but permeates the body. 'The cells
in your gut', he states, 'make the same peptides that your brain makes when it has ideas'.
Whether we take Chopra's theory
seriously or treat 'gut' as a metaphor, it's clear that gut instinct is an important
variable in this upcoming US election.
While Mario Cuomo, former governor
of New York, may lament that '[Americans] are not well-informed, and a lot of that is
our fault', I'm not sure it really matters. Perhaps the voters just don't much care
about all of the
facts and figures.
With two candidates showing such
apparent differences in IQ and EQ, this election may boil down to whether aiming at
the gut pays off. Are emotions really, as Goleman claims, 'more powerful (and important)
than intellect'? The Republicans hope so; the Democrats hope not.