As we near the 2019 Democratic debates, I clearly remember one January 2008 Democratic presidential debate in New Hampshire — the site of the headline making exchange between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. To recap, the debate moderator asked Clinton whether she thought she had enough personal appeal to win over voters. But before she could answer, Obama broke in saying, “You’re likable enough.”
Evidently, enough voters thought Obama’s comment insensitive, and Clinton won the New Hampshire primary a few days later. Nevertheless, as we know, Obama won the general election — twice. And to this day, polls show him as an extremely likable ex-president, along with Abraham Lincoln, JFK and Ronald Reagan.
Likability has become an even more important trait today as we see the president of the United States hurling abusive insults at nearly everyone — near and far.
At Maryland’s Towson Town Center, where I walk for exercise, 87-year-old Marty Martinez is very likable. He is known as “the mayor,” since he is there nearly every morning, sitting on the same chair at the same table across from Starbucks. In addition to greeting everyone, in a perennial good mood, Marty reaches out to people of all ages. For example, last year when he discovered that a young worker at Starbucks had just graduated from college and would be spending a year teaching English in Madrid, Marty took the young man with his girlfriend to dinner at Tio Pepe’s to introduce him to Spanish food.
Then there is Sonny, who, when he’s not whizzing by at the mall (no one could keep up with him), volunteers at Sinai Hospital. Without breaking stride, he always greets me and others by name. Of course, there also is a woman who usually walks alone, looking angry and greeting no one. And there are others who only talk to one or two people. But the world would be a lot nicer if there were more people like Marty or like Doug, another walker, who, before he retired, worked in Parks and Recreation with former Mayor William Donald Schaefer. During intermission at a recent BSO concert, while Doug’s wife Florence and I chatted, Doug was greeting what seemed like half the audience, those he knew and, I am sure, others he didn’t.
On a broader stage, there is a wonderful news photo of likability, showing French President Emmanuel Macron sitting next to German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris in November. Although Macron has his hand on Merkel’s knee, this is not a Me-Too moment! They are facing each other, obviously in deep conversation, and Merkel is grinning. Next to them, President Trump looks angrily into the distance. Melania looks totally bored.
As for Macron and Merkel, international allies should share a close relationship, a genuinely likable relationship. Whether it was 9/11 or various wars, we always have depended upon our allies to help us.
What makes someone more likable than someone else?
Basically, most people like others who are kind and caring, who are honest and loyal, who are tolerant, who are helpful and who always have a ready smile. The Burt Bacharach and Hal David 1965 song says: “What the world needs now is love, sweet love.” Today, in 2019, I think likability would do as well.