Most of us who survived adolescence remember that maddening thing our parents always told us as we ventured to a party or date or class: "Be yourself." Sure, our insecure teenage selves thought: Like that's going to impress people.
But it was good advice, and so it's baffling why people running for president haven't learned it yet. We all have our personality quirks and odd characteristics; that's part of what makes us human, and makes us individuals. People can handle those eccentricities. In some cases, they can become endearing. It's when candidates try to be someone they're not that they get into trouble.
Rick Perry, for example, has certainly established a solid rep as a blunt-speaking, brash conservative. In true-to-form directness, he said it was "heartless" to punish the children of illegal immigrants by denying them college tuition breaks. That's a legitimate view, and one that might be appreciated by Latinos whose votes are still very gettable by some Republican candidates. But Perry was slammed by the right wing of his party for the comments, so he walked back from them. He should have stood by them; people are probably not going to reject him for his view on the college tuition issue alone, but he might lose the votes of people who won't trust him to stick by what he says.
And Mitt Romney? Not funny. And that's just fine. We don't need a court jester in the White House. But someone must have told the straight-laced former Massachusetts governor that he needs to be more approachable or relaxed, so Romney's been trying to be someone he's not. Jokingly suggesting that a woman getting her picture taken with you is trying to grab your behind? Not funny. And especially, not funny when coming from Romney. It just seems bizarre. And answering the criticisms of primary opponents during the GOP debate by saying "nice try"? Also not funny, and not even logical. "Nice try" is what you say when you're trying to let your foes know you are aware of their attempts to manipulate or provoke you. Why not just take apart their criticisms by stating your own record and views?
Michele Bachmann may be facts-challenged, Ron Paul may seem a little doctrinaire in his libertarian views, and Herman Cain may seem just a tad paranoid when he suggests that African-Americans have been "brainwashed" to vote Democratic. But there is something very real, and very genuine, about these candidates. You know exactly who they are, and they are clearly very comfortable with who they are. Voters may not end up being comfortable enough with them to nominate any of them, but if they lose, they'll at least know that they were rejected for the right reasons, not because some high-paid adviser's directions were wrong.
So, candidates, just be yourselves. After all, you've got a head start.