Presidents catch more votes with honey than vinegar
By Lynne Agress
Aug 21, 2019 | 6:00 AM
The crowd at President Trump's rally in Greenville, N.C., on Wednesday chanted, "Send her back," when he mentioned Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who was born in Somalia.
In “The Power of Nice,” the best-selling book on negotiating successfully, Baltimore lawyer and master negotiator Ron Shapiro stresses that it’s not only what you say, but how you say it — the tone — that counts. Clearly, the president of the United States sets the country’s tone.
President George W. Bush made some awful decisions while in the White House. He started two unnecessary wars, gave tax cuts to the wealthy and devised a complicated and expensive drug plan. But today, and even during his presidency, very few people disliked him. He basically was and is a nice man — a gentleman.
And let’s not forget First Lady Laura Bush, who worked tirelessly to put together a yearly book fair, inviting famous writers, so average people could interact with them. When her husband left office, Ms. Bush, a former librarian, started a foundation for books for public libraries, raising millions of dollars. President Bush himself was said to be an avid reader, and Laura Bush’s efforts certainly contributed to her husband’s popularity. It was often said that he was someone you’d like to have a beer with.
When I think of nice gestures by politicians, I remember President Obama’s beer summit. Shortly after Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates was falsely arrested at his home in Boston, President Obama invited both the professor and the officer for a friendly beer in the White House. Of course, it was a political move — albeit a nice, friendly political move — to appeal to his base. Contrast it with President Trump’s political rallies to appeal to his base; at those, people shout “lock her up” and “send her back.”
But let’s face it: Mr. Trump isn’t the only angry man in politics today. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ ideas may differ from President Trump’s in some ways but not so much in others, especially health care. While Mr. Trump wants to take away health care from millions by repealing the Affordable Care Act, Mr. Sanders wants Medicare for All, which would take away thousands of employee-based health insurance plans, plans with which many people who have them are totally satisfied.
Both Messrs. Trump and Sanders rant and rave — two angry men — which is why former Vice President Joe Biden stands out. Indeed, he seemed the only gentle person on the Democratic debate stage recently. When Mr. Biden’s time was up, he stopped talking, not like most of the others, who repeatedly had to be reprimanded by the moderators.
Indeed, New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio, without being asked to reply to a question or a rebuttal, simply began speaking as the moderator kept reminding him that it was not his turn.
But politics, in some cases, also brings out angry women. For example, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, considered the “wonkiest” of the Democratic candidates, has some good plans, albeit not the “Medicare for All” one, but shouting and finger pointing is not effective. Sen. Kamala Harris’ attacks on Joe Biden in the first debate were hardly endearing. Sen. Tulsi Gabbard called Ms. Harris out in the second debate on her marijuana flip-flops.
Sadly, however, when the Democratic candidates attack each other, they are not contributing to a win in the main election. As Ron Shapiro says, “in the world of negotiation, by playing the ‘I win-you lose game’ with each other, the Democrats may lead themselves and their party to the ultimate ‘lose-lose.’”
With our allies all but gone with this administration and dictators becoming more emboldened each day, we desperately need a president who is knowledgeable and experienced, but who also is kind and nice — who is happy to listen to and learn from experts and from allies. We need a person who will not hurl threats at foes but who is calm and sensible.
Thus, it is time to move from the angry “Art of the Deal” to “The Power of Nice,” for being nice really is powerful.
Lynne Agress, who teaches in the Odyssey Program of Johns Hopkins, is president of BWB-Business Writing at Its Best Inc. and author of “The Feminine Irony” and “Working With Words in Business and Legal Writing.” Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.