Given the state of the economy, by any historical standard, Barack Obama should be 15 points behind Mitt Romney. Why is he tied? The empathy gap. On “caring about average people,” Obama wins by 22 points. Maintaining that gap was a principal goal of the Democratic convention. It’s the party’s only hope of winning in November.
George H.W. Bush, Romney-like in aloofness, was once famously handed a staff cue card that read: “Message: I care.” That was supposed to be speech guidance. Bush read the card. Out loud.
Not surprisingly, he lost to Bill Clinton, a man who lives to care, who feels your pain better than you do — or at least makes you think so. In politics, that’s a trivial distinction.
On Wednesday night, Clinton vouched for Obama as a man “who’s cool on the outside but who burns for America on the inside.” Nice phrase, but not terribly persuasive. The real job of Clintonizing Obama was left to Mrs. Obama. As she told it in the convention’s most brilliantly cynical speech, her husband is not just profoundly compassionate but near-Gandhiesque in feelings.