Bush and Clinton: Two “Gut Values” Leaders

As New Hampshirianites surge to the polls to continue the Obama Hope Revolution, here’s a quote from Applebee’s America that will astonish many a Bush-hater and Clinton-hater. The authors are political strategists who have worked for both men, and their advice may be helpful in sorting through the candidates who remain standing after those Granite Staters weigh in.

Hate to break it to you, say the authors, but these two apparently dissimilar leaders really had much in common. Here’s what: 

Great Connectors like Presidents Bush and Clinton adapt to their times. They also realize that tactics do not win elections. Gut Values do. Cutting-edge strategies are useful only when they help a candidate make his or her values resonate with the public. For all their faults (and they had their share), Presidents Bush and Clinton knew that their challenge was in appealing to voters’ hearts, not their heads. We heard this countless times: “Sure, he had sex with an intern and lied about it, but he cares about me and is working hard on my behalf.” And this: “The Iraq war stinks and his other politices aren’t so hot, but at least I know where he stands.”

Even as the war in Iraq grew unpopular in 2004, President Bush’s unapologetic policies seemed to most voters to reflect strength and principled leadership — two Gut Values that kept him afloat until mid-2005, when he lost touch with the values that had gotten him re-elected.

Even after lying to the public about his affair with a White House intern, President Clinton never lost his image as an empathetic, hardworking leader — the foundation of his Gut Values Connection. Both presidents understood that the so-called values debate runs deeper than abortion, gay rights, and other social issues that are too often the focus of the political elite in Washington.

Voters don’t pick presidents based on their positions on a laundry list of policies. If they did, President Bush wouldn’t have stood a chance against Al Gore in 2000 or John Kerry in 2004. Rather, policies and issues are mere prisms through which voters take the true measure of a candidate: Does he share my values?


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