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.
Politics Briefing: Trudeau to visit Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation next week – The Globe and Mail
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has accepted an invitation to visit Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation on Monday, after not visiting the community two weeks ago on the first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation.
The B.C. First Nation had previously said that Mr. Trudeau did not response to an invitation to attend a ceremony near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School to mark the inaugural event. Mr. Trudeau apologized last week for travelling to Tofino for a vacation on that day instead, calling it a mistake that he regrets. He said he was looking forward to visiting the community.
Monday’s visit will not be a public event, according to a press release.
Mr. Trudeau’s office also confirmed Friday that the swearing-in ceremony for his new cabinet will take place on Oct. 26, and that Parliament will resume a month later on Nov. 22.
The release from the Prime Minister’s Office said that early priorities for the government will include introducing legislation to ban conversion therapy, 10-day paid sick leave for all federally regulated workers, accelerating climate action and working with Indigenous communities on reconciliation.
There will also be a focus on vaccination against COVID-19: the government outlined five vaccination commitments in the first 100 days, which includes ensuring everyone 12 and up who travels by air or rail in Canada has had their shots.
Speculation continues about which MPs will be in the new Liberal cabinet, though Mr. Trudeau promised last month that his cabinet will once again be gender-balanced, continuing a trend established in his first two mandates. He’s also confirmed that Chrystia Freeland will remain Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister.
The party lost four female cabinet ministers in the last election: three who did not win re-election and one incumbent who chose not to run again.
This is the daily Politics Briefing newsletter, written by Ian Bailey. Today’s newsletter is co-written with Menaka Raman-Wilms. It is available exclusively to our digital subscribers. If you’re reading this on the web, subscribers can sign up for the Politics newsletter and more than 20 others on our newsletter signup page. Have any feedback? Let us know what you think.
Opposition parties and military observers are criticizing the federal government for not disclosing the latest sexual misconduct investigation into a senior military officer during the recent election campaign. Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and acting chief of the defence staff General Wayne Eyre were notified about the investigation into Lieutenant-General Trevor Cadieu on Sept. 5, but neither the military nor government disclosed the information publicly at the time.
Canada could retaliate against American companies should the U.S. go too far with a Buy American approach, suggested Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, after meetings on Thursday with her counterparts in the G20 and International Monetary Fund. U.S. President Joe Biden said this summer that Buy American provisions would be an important part of boosting a postpandemic recovery.
David Amess, a Conservative MP in the U.K, died on Friday after being stabbed during a meeting with constituents in Essex, England. A 25-year-old man has been arrested and a knife recovered. From the CBC.
Ontario launches its digital vaccine passport app on Friday, a week ahead of the initial Oct. 22 target date. The province has had a paper-based proof of vaccination system since Sept. 22, and the new scannable app moves Ontario to a system like the ones already in place in B.C. and Quebec.
The U.S. will announce on Friday that it plans to reopen its land borders on Nov. 8 to non-essential vaccinated travellers, according to a White House official.
PRIME MINISTER’S DAY
The Prime Minister is in private meetings in Ottawa on Friday, according to his public itinerary.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was in Toronto on Friday morning, where he delivered remarks to the Ontario Building Trades Convention.
No public itineraries were issued by the other leaders on Friday.
HOW TO BE A PRIME MINISTER
From Governing Canada, A Guide to the Tradecraft of Politics by Michael Wernick (Published by On Point Press, an imprint of UBC Press)
The Politics Briefing newsletter is featuring excerpts from Governing Canada, a new book by Michael Wernick, the former clerk of the privy council. Our focus is a key chapter, Advice to a Prime Minister. (Parliamentary reporter Kristy Kirkup reported on the project here.)
Today’s concluding excerpt sums up Mr. Wernick’s advice to Prime Ministers:
“The tenure of our prime ministers has ranged from a few months to 21 years. In the “modern era” of politics, the attention and the pressures are unrelenting, and at some point personal burnout and weariness by the electorate will set in. However long you hold the office, every week will be an opportunity to make a difference. If you are mindful of what you want to accomplish and pay attention to time management, to team dynamics, and to your own personal resilience, you will get a lot done and leave important legacies. Try not to govern one day at a time, fighting fires and feeding media cycles. Managing the short-term challenges is just a shield, one that lets you aim higher and bend the curve – of history.”
DATA DIVE WITH NIK NANOS
Nik Nanos, the chief data scientist at Nanos Research, writes about how the 2021′s federal election was a wake-up call for Canada’s leaders – but awakening to what? “The campaign should make us ask whether it’s time for a rethink of our parliamentary democracy – and remind us that Canada is not immune to populist politics.”
Gary Mason (The Globe and Mail) on how the Prairies are showing Canada what a COVID-19 disaster looks like: “Thanks to the governments’ slow adoption of vaccine passports and other measures designed to halt the spread of the virus, the unvaccinated have not been convinced to do what is necessary – which has produced the bedlam we are now witnessing.”
Diane Fu and Emile Dirks (contributors to The Globe and Mail) on how Ottawa may have emerged a loser after Meng Wanzhou’s release, but it can still challenge and co-exist with Beijing: “Many contentious issues will continue to haunt bilateral ties, including Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Taiwan. What’s more, even if relations thaw in the short term, the political values of the two countries remain fundamentally at odds.”
Robyn Urback (The Globe and Mail) on how politicians who recently travelled now have a message for Canadians: Don’t travel: “Travelling a year ago was a hard thing to justify. But fully vaccinated individuals who have followed the rules until now ought to be able to escape for a mental-health reprieve without the scorn of federal officials who might not even have unpacked yet from their campaign jaunts across the country.”
Parag Khanna (special to The Globe and Mail) on how if you’re searching for the American Dream, go to Canada: “After all, the “Canadian Dream” is much more attainable. Canada is a policy lab for experiments in reducing inequality. The country is far from perfect, but it ranks far higher than the U.S. in social mobility.”
Send along your political questions and we will look at getting answers to run in this newsletter. It’s not possible to answer each one personally. Questions and answers will be edited for length and clarity.
LETTER: On politics and medicine – SaltWire Network
The irrational hysteria and conspiracy theories surrounding COVID-19 vaccines are an integral part of what historian Richard Hofstader called “The paranoid style in American politics.” This phenomenon has now permeated Canadian politics as well and suggests that “My ignorance is as good as your knowledge.”
Vaccines against disease and pestilence have been viewed as major advances for humanity. But few vaccines have been subjected to the scrutiny and public vilification that COVID-19 vaccines have. Why? The statistically minute number (percentage) of negative reactions to vaccines, including COVID-19 vaccines, is rarely mentioned by their detractors; similarly, every surgical procedure has a small probability of a complication.
Over the course of the past two centuries at least 15 life-saving vaccines have been developed without a similar public outcry. Those vaccines include (selectively): smallpox (1796), typhoid fever (1896), diphtheria (1923), whooping cough (1923), polio (1952), measles (1963), mumps (1967), chicken pox (1974), meningitis (1978), and malaria (2021). Defoe’s classic, A Journal of the Plague Year (1772) gives us an idea of what the world was like without vaccines.
Why COVID-19 vaccines have created such vitriol warrants serious sociological and political study. One suspects that there is a close correlation between right-wing populism, anti-immigrant, anti-abortion politics, and anti-vax sentiment. They are all part of the same political culture that promotes this paranoia. It would be easy to dismiss anti-vaxers as “know nothings,” but they are more than that. They mirror the social divisions within our society. And their ignorance is dangerous.
Canadian constitutional law is premised on promoting “peace, order and good government.” A corollary is that the courts attempt to follow John Stuart Mill’s dictum of creating, “The greatest good for the greatest number of people,” rather than the highly individualistic American approach of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Within this context, collective rights will supersede individual rights, which may be “reasonably limited” by circumstance such as a national emergency. The Canadian Charter of Rights was never intended to promote a wild west show like our neighbours to the south.
In the interest of public health policy, it is time to defend the history of science and its many advances.
Stanley Bridge, P.E.I.
‘Heartbroken’: Politicians express shock at killing of British MP – Al Jazeera English
British Member of Parliament David Amess has died after being stabbed several times during a meeting with his constituents at a church in eastern England. He was 69.
Reports said a man walked into Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea, south Essex, on Friday while Amess was holding a surgery with locals and attacked the politician.
Police arrested a man and recovered a knife.
Politicians from across the political spectrum expressed shock and sadness over the horrific incident.
Here are some of the reactions:
Boris Johnson, UK prime minister
In a tribute to Amess, Johnson said the late MP was killed after “almost 40 years of continuous service to the people of Essex and the whole of the United Kingdom”.
He added: “The reason people are so shocked and sad is above all he was one of the kindest, nicest, most gentle people in politics.
“He also had an outstanding record of passing laws to help the most vulnerable, whether the people who are suffering from endometriosis, passing laws to end cruelty to animals, or doing a huge amount to reduce the fuel poverty suffered by people up and down the country.”
Johnson continued: “David was a man who believed passionately in this country and in its future. And we’ve lost today a fine public servant and a much-loved friend and colleague.
“Our thoughts are very much today with his wife, his children and his family.”
Dominic Raab, UK deputy prime minister
“Heartbroken that we have lost Sir David Amess MP. A great common sense politician and a formidable campaigner with a big heart, and tremendous generosity of spirit – including towards those he disagreed with. RIP my friend.”
Heartbroken that we have lost Sir David Amess MP. A great common sense politician and a formidable campaigner with a big heart, and tremendous generosity of spirit – including towards those he disagreed with. RIP my friend.
— Dominic Raab (@DominicRaab) October 15, 2021
Priti Patel, UK interior minister
“I am devastated we have lost Sir David Amess … David served the people of Southend with endless passion, energy and integrity. That he was killed while going about his constituency duties is heartbreaking beyond words. It represents a senseless attack on democracy itself.
“Questions are rightly being asked about the safety of our country’s elected representatives and I will provide updates in due course.”
Rishi Sunak, UK finance minister
“The worst aspect of violence is its inhumanity. It steals joy from the world and can take from us that which we love the most. Today it took a father, a husband, and a respected colleague. All my thoughts and prayers are with Sir David’s loved ones.”
Liz Truss, UK foreign minister
“Devastated to hear the terrible news about Sir David Amess MP. He was a lovely, lovely man and a superb parliamentarian. My thoughts are with all his family and friends.”
Nicola Sturgeon, first minister of Scotland
“This is awful beyond words. My thoughts and deepest condolences are with David’s family, friends and colleagues. May he rest in peace.
“Elected representatives from across the political spectrum will be united in sadness and shock today.
“In a democracy, politicians must be accessible and open to scrutiny, but no-one deserves to have their life taken while working for and representing their constituents.”
Nadhim Zahawi, UK education minister
“Rest In Peace Sir David. You were a champion for animal welfare, the less fortunate, and the people of Southend West. You will be missed by many.”
Sajid Javid, UK health minister
“Devastated to learn of Sir David Amess’ murder. A great man, a great friend, and a great MP killed while fulfilling his democratic role. My heart goes out to Julia, his family, and all who loved him. Let us remember him and what he did with his life.”
Kwasi Kwarteng, UK business minister
“Sir David was a thoroughly decent, kind and thoughtful man. An exemplary Member of Parliament who fought for his constituents with devotion. My thoughts and prayers are with his family at this deeply tragic time.”
Simon Coveney, Irish foreign minister
“What a shocking and tragic incident. Our thoughts and sincere sympathies are with family, friends and political colleagues of Sir David Amess MP.”
Michael Gove, UK levelling up minister
“David Amess’s passing is heartbreakingly sad. Just terrible, terrible news. He was a good and gentle man, he showed charity and compassion to all, his every word and act were marked by kindness. My heart goes out to his family.”
Joao Vale de Almeida, EU ambassador to the UK
“Very shocked by the news of the death of MP Sir David Amess following a horrific attack. Our heartfelt condolences go out to his family and loved ones.”
Philip T. Reeker, US charge d’affair to the UK
“I’m deeply saddened to hear about the death of Sir David Amess MP. My thoughts go out to his family, friends and all those who worked with him during his distinguished parliamentary career.”
Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury
“Sir David Amess dedicated his life to championing causes he believed in, serving constituents and his country for almost forty years as a Member of Parliament. He was a devout Roman Catholic whose deep faith fuelled his sense of justice. We are richer for his life, and we are all the poorer for his untimely death.”
Carrie Johnson, wife of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson
“Absolutely devastating news about Sir David Amess. He was hugely kind and good. An enormous animal lover and a true gent. This is so completely unjust. Thoughts are with his wife and their children.”
Keir Starmer, opposition Labour Party
“This is a dark and shocking day. The whole country will feel it acutely, perhaps the more so because we have, heartbreakingly, been here before.
“Above all else, today I am thinking of David, of the dedicated public servant that he was and of the depth of positive impact he had for the people he represented.”
Lindsay Hoyle, speaker of the House of Commons
“This is an incident that will send shockwaves across the parliamentary community and the whole country. In the coming days we will need to discuss and examine MPs’ security and any measures to be taken, but for now, our thoughts and prayers are with David’s family, friends and colleagues.”
Brendan Cox, husband of Labour lawmaker Jo Cox who was murdered in 2016
“My thoughts and love are with David’s family. They are all that matter now. This brings everything back. The pain, the loss, but also how much love the public gave us following the loss of Jo. I hope we can do the same for David now.”
Attacking our elected representatives is an attack on democracy itself. There is no excuse, no justification. It is as cowardly as it gets.
— Brendan Cox (@MrBrendanCox) October 15, 2021
Theresa May, former Conservative UK prime minister
“Heartbreaking to hear of the death of Sir David Amess. A decent man and respected parliamentarian, killed in his own community while carrying out his public duties. A tragic day for our democracy.”
Gordon Brown, former Labour UK prime minister
“Saddened and shocked to hear about the death of Sir David Amess. My condolences to his family and friends.”
David Cameron, former Conservative UK prime minister
“This is the most devastating, horrific & tragic news. David Amess was a kind & thoroughly decent man – & he was the most committed MP you could ever hope to meet. Words cannot adequately express the horror of what has happened today. Right now, my heart goes out to David’s family.”
Tony Blair, former Labour UK prime minister
“David and I came into Parliament together in 1983. Though on opposite political sides I always found him a courteous, decent and thoroughly likeable colleague who was respected across the House. This is a terrible and sad day for our democracy.”
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