As the presidential campaign heats up and we are forced to watch a daily barrage of campaign stops, speeches and soundbites, one thing becomes evident: John Kerry wants to win terribly.
Which is exactly how he's campaigning.
Kerry's major problem seems that he trying so hard to be perfect. Too hard.
So did Al Gore.
If you check the tape you will find in most cases, that part of the reason a politician rises to the top; what makes him attractive as a candidate for the most powerful position in the land, is by being the best that he can be, warts and all. When they begin their run for the presidency, they and their advisors attempt to hide the warts. And in doing so, they also hide the real person.
Pre-presidential candidate Gore was, arguably, bright, funny and sincere. Presidential candidate Gore was stiff, pretentious and wore way too much makeup. One gathers that he was listening to advisors who told him that he was not good enough; not perfect. And so he tried to be just that: perfect. You might remember, he lost.
But another metamorphous took place after he lost. His humor returned, his stiff smile relaxed and he added about forty happy pounds. He, in fact, he would make a really good candidate now.
He can now say what he wants. Isn't that what we want in a candidate? In the least they're less boring. At best they are, well, the best. At least the best they can be.
And if you watch Kerry's demeanor in his Sunday talk show appearances prior to his run for President, he was relaxed, no where near as cautious as he is today and entirely engaging. No sign of what some might call flip-flopping
Perfection is as attainable as the green grass on the other side of the fence. It looks great but it's unattainable except, perhaps, momentarily. It's more than elusive, it's an impossible reach. It also stilts creativity, teaches us nothing and hurts the neck. Like a narcotic, it feels great at first, but you could spend your whole life unsuccessfully trying to attain the same high again. Ask any addict.
Most Americans are not stupid. They can spot a phoney, which is what someone trying to act perfect makes you.
Trying to act perfect is a prison of sorts. You play it safe and it keeps you from stepping into uncharted territory where the risk resides. But discovery lives there too. Inherent in the seeming security of perfection is a real danger. You trip over perfection. Do you remember what it felt like the first time you learned how to drive; how it felt to try anything for the first time? You work so hard to get it right, you drive too slow, think so much you can hardly think and sweat right through your deodorant.
Ever talk to anyone who feels they have to be perfect? How long do you want to hang around them?
In a recent Los Angeles Magazine interview, former Senator Max Cleland, writer Mark Z. Barabak said that the losing of his Senate seat allowed Cleland to be "blunt in a way that Kerry never would or could be; in that way, defeat has been liberating." The pressure is off. He can be himself.
"I can go where my heart leads me," said Cleland.
In failing Cleland learned something he may have never discovered from winning and it has enabled him to energize his audiences in a way he couldn't seem to do as a candidate.
In the classic 1972 film "The Candidate," Robert Redford plays a candidate who listens to many advisers who tell him to do and say differently from what he believes, but what they say will attract the most voters. He wins but in doing so, loses himself.
John Kerry has to learn be totally honest to himself, be willing to make mistakes and say some things that may not be what everybody wants to hear. In short he has to learn to relax and risk failure.
If not, he may end up losing himself and the election.