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Why So Many Politicians Are Such A–holes – POLITICO

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Politicians have devoted their professional lives to the art of public persuasion. Reputation is everything. Success hinges on getting as many people as possible to view their ideas and their life stories as sympathetically as possible.

Sounds simple enough. But here is a puzzle: Why are so many people in the business of being likable actually so unlikable?

Not unlikable merely in the awkward, eye-rolling, prefer-not-to-spend-much-time-with-that-clod sense. Unlikable in the toxic, misanthropic, something-must-be-wrong-with-him sense. In other words: in the Andrew Cuomo sense. Or at least, it is now clear, the way many subordinates and fellow politicians experienced Cuomo on many occasions.

The unlikability of many politicians and people who labor for them is an enduring phenomenon. No need to pick on Cuomo, except that he’s spent decades asking for it and is in the news right now.

His case is part of a convergence of recent events this week that puts an old subject in a vivid new light.

Here’s an obvious truth: Cuomo, battling allegations from women employees of sexual harassment and widespread reports of an abusive office culture in ways that go beyond sex, has not bothered much over the years cultivating friends and allies who are ready to stand with him even when times are tough. To the contrary, many politicians from both parties are calling for his resignation, and an even greater number are plainly enjoying his precipitous fall from the lionized status he enjoyed a year ago, during the opening days of the pandemic.

Here’s another obvious one: Vernon Jordan, the civil rights leader turned business executive who died last week and was eulogized by former presidents and CEOs at a memorial service on Tuesday, devoted his life to making friends and reaping the benefits of those friendships. Since his death it’s also become clear that Jordan devoted considerable time to behind-the-scenes cultivation of media figures, an effort that likely is more than incidental to the reputation he enjoyed.

Here’s what should be obvious but evidently isn’t. Even if the effort is insincere, self-interest alone would dictate that most politicians and operatives try to emulate Jordan and at all hazards avoid coming off like Cuomo. There are plenty of examples of people who seemed ripe for hazing by political opponents or the media — the raw material for adverse scrutiny and judgment seemed likely there — but avoided it in part because good personal relationships made them less appealing targets. And there are plenty of counter-examples, like Cuomo, of important people who learned too late that what goes around comes around.

Yet many people in politics don’t make the effort to be appealing, and many who try don’t succeed. To put the question in clinical terms: What structural factors explain why politics produces so many assholes?

One element is probably ageless. Professions that demand public performance attract ambitious, creative and often needy people who feel under intense psychic pressure and often take it out on people when the spotlight is not on (or they wrongly assume it is not on). There are even examples, or so I’ve heard, of this phenomenon afflicting people in the news media.

But an important factor is distinctly a product of this age: The cult of bad-ass, trash-talking that has come to politics, including or especially to political-media relations. This coincides with the ascent of formerly anonymous political operatives to quasi-celebrity status. Among both principals and advisers, the willingness to swagger and snarl and be combative with opponents and journalists is now often seen as a sign of strength. The trend is bipartisan. In the Obama years, many young operatives, who in some contexts seemed like decent folks, during working hours adapted F-bomb dropping personas in which being smug was cool and being combative was a sign of devotion to the boss.

You might say that Donald Trump, who expressed contempt toward anyone who challenged him, proved the case that likability doesn’t matter. Yet many who have spent time privately around Trump say that he was shaped by the hospitality industry and actually seems to work at being charming when necessary. Even if Trump is as unlikable as he seems, for most politicians he is not a useful example. It’s a bit like they used to say at Evel Knievel’s daredevil motorcycle stunts: Don’t try this at home, kids.

The third factor is that being likable is a more ethically complex question than it might seem at first blush. For 30 years, people have been saying that Hillary Rodham Clinton is actually much more likable — perceptive, sincere, gossipy, funny, normal — than her public persona, which is typically viewed as self-absorbed, calculating, brittle, phony. I have enough first-hand experience to believe this alleged likability is more than rumor. But she rejected advice from counselors on countless occasions to spend more time off-the-record with journalists whose work she resented. Nope, that would only prove she was as disingenuous as critics said. So good for her in not pretending to be more likable than she felt. But sincerity came at a high cost, for her and anyone who believes Trump’s presidency was a setback for the country.

There are also counterexamples. Journalist Mark Leibovich in his acidic book, “This Town,” described Washington careerists who were superficially nice but were actually profiteering bullshitters. I can think of a successful operative turned public affairs professional who easily passes my BS detector — always prompt to return calls and responsive with answers — who has a reputation as an abusive boss. (Nope, no name here — maybe over a drink).

Finally, there is a blurry line between being friendly and, as the kids say, being thirsty. Journalists should not tilt coverage in the direction of people we personally like, or against those we don’t, but it is folly to suggest this isn’t sometimes a factor. There was a presidential candidate this last cycle who loved talking to the press but never gained much by doing so, since the candidate came off as suffering from narcissistic personality disorder. Who knew being likable was so difficult?

But Jordan shows the benefits of mastering the art. Jordan was not someone who was quoted often. His death revealed how he was in regular touch, once every couple weeks, with veteran journalists like Al Hunt, and younger ones like Margaret Talev (and, very occasionally, with me.) He was part of a species that in the old days included James A. Baker III and in more contemporary times includes people like Rahm Emanuel. Even in an age of unruly social media, the evidence suggests that working the press works.

Jordan’s memorial service, which was streamed live, featured law partners and CEOs like Ken Chenault of American Express and Ursula Burns of Xerox who considered Jordan a mentor. Bill Clinton recalled how solicitous Jordan was dating back to the 1970s, even before he became Arkansas governor, and again in the 1980s, after he had lost his first re-election and it wasn’t at all obvious he had a future in politics. In practical terms, Jordan eventually gained a lot through the relationship as Clinton’s most important outside adviser. But he paid attention even when it was not obvious there was any careerist reason to do so.

In his remarks, Clinton hinted obliquely at the kind of criticism that often shadowed Jordan but never produced a major political or journalistic takedown. One was the belief that he had traded his moral authority as a civil rights leader for private sector gain. (Noting the 1980 assassination attempt that nearly killed Jordan, Clinton said, people can criticize if they also “have lead in their back.” He noted that his conversations on the golf course with Jordan were “not so politically correct.” No doubt they weren’t. But save for an occasional piece, like Marjorie Williams’ artful 1993 Vanity Fair profile, noting Jordan’s “reputation as a ladies’ man,” this side of his character was the subject of Washington gossip rather than Washington exposé .

Genuinely likable people probably don’t need good reasons to be likable. But Cuomo and Jordan both show, in very different ways, that there are good reasons.

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Biden offers tax credits for COVID-19 vaccination and paid time off

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By Trevor Hunnicutt

WASHINGTON (Reuters) –President Joe Biden on Wednesday announced tax credits for certain businesses that pay employees who take time off to get COVID-19 shots, a new effort to involve corporate America in his vaccination campaign.

“I’m calling on every employer, large and small, in every state to give employees the time off they need with pay to get vaccinated,” the Democratic president said.

The tax credits will apply to businesses with fewer than 500 employees, he said.

In a speech, Biden also said he expects the United States to reach his 100-day goal of getting 200 million coronavirus vaccine shots in arms by the end of the day, even as the nation faces an increase in infections.

“Today we hit 200 million shots,” Biden said. “It’s an incredible achievement for the nation.”

Biden said the vaccine effort is entering a new phase with everyone over age 16 becoming eligible to be vaccinated. Biden said 80% of all seniors have received at least one shot, leading to a dramatic decline in the deaths of elderly Americans.

“If you’ve been waiting for your turn, wait no longer,” Biden said.

Biden administration officials said the government plans to reimburse businesses for the cost of giving workers as many as 80 hours in paid time off to get their shots or recover from any side effects.

The tax credit is for up to $511 per day for each worker, through September. Businesses with fewer than 500 employees employ roughly half of U.S. private-sector workers. The tax credits were authorized under Democratic-backed COVID-19 pandemic relief legislation passed by Congress and signed by Biden over Republican opposition.

The administration’s chief problem in its response to the pandemic is now shifting from securing enough vaccine supply to persuading enough Americans to seek out the available shots.

More than half of American adults have had at least one vaccine dose, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A third of U.S. adults are fully vaccinated, as well as 26% of the population overall.

The U.S. COVID-19 death toll of more than 568,000 leads the world. The coronavirus is still killing hundreds of Americans daily and many Americans have shown a reluctance to get vaccinated.

Countries around the world with less successful vaccination campaigns than the United States are dealing with a spike in infections.

Biden, who has loaned some unused vaccines to Canada and Mexico and donated funds to a multilateral vaccination effort for poor countries, said the White House is still looking at its options for eventually sending vaccines to Canada, Central America and elsewhere. Biden told reporters after his speech that he spoke with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier on Wednesday.

“We don’t have enough to be confident to send it abroad now, but I expect we’re going to be able to do that,” Biden said.

“We’re looking at what is going to be done with some of the vaccines that we are not using. We’ve got to make sure they are safe to be sent.”

(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt and Steve Holland; Editing by Will Dunham and Jonathan Oatis)

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The Liberal Government rolls out post-pandemic spending plan ahead of likely election

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By Julie Gordon

OTTAWA (Reuters) -Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government on Monday lined up billions in new spending to provide emergency support during a virulent third wave of COVID-19 and to help launch an economic recovery ahead of an election expected later this year.

The budget, the Liberal government’s first in two years because of the pandemic, is aimed squarely at boosting near-term growth and includes a long-promised national daycare plan.

It also follows through on stimulus promised late last year, outlining a C$101.4 billion ($81 billion) “growth plan” over three years, with nearly half of that spending coming in the first year.

“We have to finish the fight against COVID – and that costs a lot of money,” Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland told reporters, adding that hundreds of thousands of Canadians remain out of work because of the pandemic.

Liberal insiders expect Trudeau to seek an election later this year to try to secure a majority in parliament. The Liberals currently need the support of at least one other party to pass legislation, including the budget.

Opposition lawmakers were unimpressed with the budget. But the leader of the left-leaning New Democratic Party said he was not prepared to bring down the government over it.

“It is clearly irresponsible to have an election or in any way to trigger an election while we are in the midst of this third wave,” Jagmeet Singh told reporters. “The impact on people would be devastating and we are not going to do that.”

Erin O’Toole, who heads the official opposition Conservatives, said: “This is an election budget and a poor one at that.” His party trailed the Liberals by 37% to 29% in an Abacus Data poll published last week.

Business groups were pleased with the added certainty of finally having a full budget, but remained unsold on the need for a massive stimulus plan with the economy already set to surge later this year as pent-up demand is unleashed.

“There’s a lot of spending in a lot of programs. But the effects of all of those combined together for me is just a bit unsure,” said Robert Asselin, senior vice president of policy at the Business Council of Canada.

The deficit for the fiscal year that started on April 1 will be the second largest in recent decades, with the closely watched debt-to-GDP ratio hitting 51.2%, although Freeland promised a return to restraint as the economy gets back to normal.

“I think the key here is the debt-to-GDP (ratio) is expected to peak this year … and it’s expected to come down in the years ahead,” said Doug Porter, chief economist at BMO Capital Markets. “I think that’s a credible plan if they can stick to it.”

THIRD COVID WAVE

Trudeau’s Liberal government has been buoyed in opinion polls by its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. But a third wave of infections is pounding the country’s largest city, Toronto, and its suburbs – a key Ontario region for securing an electoral majority – and the coronavirus vaccine rollout has trailed other wealthy countries like the United States and Britain.

Of the nearly C$50 billion in new spending this year, C$27 billion is set aside to extend pandemic recovery measures like wage and rent subsidies for businesses and for a new program to help transition companies back to hiring.

The budget also aims to create a national childcare program and to make a more aggressive effort to reduce carbon emissions, both measures that polls show are important to Liberal voters.

While Freeland said historically low interest rates allowed significant investment, she also pledged to unwind deficits and reduce the debt-to-GDP ratio over the medium term. A senior government official said, however, that a fiscal anchor should not be seen as a “straitjacket.”

The official also said that the government had run stress tests on the accumulating debt and was confident of its abilities to service that debt even as interest rates rise in the future.

“It’s hard for us to draw a conclusion that we’re out over our skis. We don’t believe we are. We think we’re in very solid terrain,” the official told reporters.

Surging growth should also increase revenues, with 5.8% growth forecast for this year, after a 5.4% contraction in 2020.

The deficit in the current year is projected to hit C$154.7 billion, less than half that of the previous fiscal year, with total national debt soaring to C$1.23 trillion this year, up from C$1.08 trillion in the previous year.

The Canadian dollar steadied at about 1.2530 to the greenback, or 79.81 U.S. cents, after the budget was released. Canada‘s 30-year yield extended its rise, up 7.5 basis points at 2.060%.

($1 = 1.2526 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Julie Gordon; Additional reporting by David Ljunggren, Steve Scherer, Fergal Smith and Moira Warburton; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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Beijing huddles with friends, seeks to fracture U.S.-led ‘clique’

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By Gabriel Crossley and Yew Lun Tian

BEIJING (Reuters) – China is shoring up ties with autocratic partners like Russia and Iran, as well as economically dependent regional countries, while using sanctions and threats to try to fracture the alliances the United States is building against it.

Worryingly for Beijing, diplomats and analysts say, the Biden administration has got other democracies to toughen up to a rising, more globally assertive China on human rights and regional security issues like the disputed South China Sea.

“China has always resolutely opposed the U.S. side engaging in bloc politics along ideological lines, and ganging up to form anti-China cliques,” the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement to Reuters.

“We hope relevant countries see clearly their own interests…and are not reduced to being anti-China tools of the U.S.”

After last month’s stormy talks between top U.S. and Chinese diplomats in Anchorage, Beijing also appeared to engage more urgently with countries like Russia, Iran and North Korea, which are also on the wrong end of U.S.-led sanctions.

COLD COMFORT

“China is very worried about U.S. alliance diplomacy,” said Li Mingjiang, associate professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, pointing to what he calls attempts to “huddle for warmth” with governments shunned by the West.

Days after the Alaska meeting, the Chinese government’s top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, received Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, who called for Moscow and Beijing to push back against what he called the West’s ideological agenda.

A week later, Wang flew to Iran and signed a 25-year economic pact, which Renmin University professor Shi Yinhong said “effectively exposes every Chinese company participating to direct or indirect U.S. sanctions.”

President Xi Jinping, meanwhile, exchanged messages with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, calling for a deeper partnership with another country whose ambitions for nuclear arms has drawn sanctions.

China is also wooing its economically dependent neighbours. Wang hosted foreign ministers from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and South Korea in China’s southeastern Fujian province in recent weeks.

Li said Beijing will be holding out promises to help these countries revive their economies after the COVID-19 pandemic, making them think twice about siding with the United States.

After Philippines diplomats and generals accused China of sending militia-manned vessels into their waters, President Rodrigo Duterte said he was not going to let territorial disputes in the South China Sea get in the way of working with China on vaccines and economic recovery.

BUILDING BLOCS

Biden has continued to pressure Beijing on many of the same issues the Trump administration did, but with a more alliance-focused strategy.

At a meeting between Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Friday, the two countries presented a united front against China’s assertiveness, on issues ranging from the disputed East China Sea islands known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, to rights issues in China’s Hong Kong and Xinjiang region.

Last month, the United States, the European Union, Britain and Canada imposed coordinated sanctions over reports of forced labour in China’s western Xinjiang region, while over a dozen countries jointly accused China of withholding information from an investigation into the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Germany, Britain, the Netherlands, Canada and France all recently joined the United States in sending warships through the disputed South China Sea, or announced plans to do so.

Washington also said it wants a “coordinated approach” with allies on whether to participate in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, amid concerns over human rights violations, particularly related to the treatment of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.

BREAKING THE ‘CLIQUE’

China has responded angrily to shows of unity by Washington’s allies, with its diplomats dubbing Japan a “vassal” and Canada‘s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a “running dog” of the United States.

China’s strategy to weaken this unity revolves around encouraging U.S. allies to engage independently with Beijing, and put the economic benefits first, while punishing them if they engage in joint-action against China.

Beijing responded to the EU’s sanctions of Chinese officials over Xinjiang with disproportionately harsh counter-sanctions, analysts said, potentially torpedoing a long-awaited investment agreement.

Janka Oertel, director of the Asia Programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations, believes Beijing is prepared to sacrifice economic benefits for core interests if they are threatened by the U.S.-EU alliance.

Xi drove home the message in a recent phone call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, telling her that he hoped “the EU will make a correct judgment on its independence”.

But China still needs European technology and investment, said Joerg Wuttke, president of the European Chamber of Commerce in China.

“They still talk to us, despite the sanctions, business keeps going, and that’s very reassuring.”

Beijing has not given up persuading Washington that cooperation is better than competition, as demonstrated last week when it assured U.S. climate envoy John Kerry of support for Biden’s virtual climate summit this week.

“China hopes Washington can appreciate that it is in U.S. interests to have China as a friend rather than as a foe,” said Wang Wen, a professor at the Chongyang Institute of the Renmin University of China.

 

(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley and Yew Lun Tian; Editing by Tony Munroe & Simon Cameron-Moore)

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