Maureen Dowd recently wrote in her NYTimes column of President Obama: “why is salesmanship so beneath us?”
She described the President’s alleged reluctance to engage in the niceties of old-fashioned retail politics. He’s loath to give rides to fellow politicians in the presidential limo. When he plays golf at the weekends, it’s with junior aides not those he needs to do business with.
She even suggests he’s lazy about writing thank you notes to major donors and celebrities who give benefit concerts, oblivious to the fact that, “folks like to frame notes signed by the president and hang them on the wall.”
Last month, the Wall Street Journal published a piece on Mitt Romney’s difficulty with what it called the “hard sell”. It quoted him saying he wouldn’t use his campaign as “a way to personalize me like I’m a piece of meat”.
Standing before a crowd, he said, he doesn’t think “What can I do here to portray myself in a way that would be appealing to the public? I think they’re looking for someone who can make things better in America. They’re not looking for someone to run another version of ‘This is your Life.’”
His oldest son Tagg said: “People today look for celebrity, but Dad is being his authentic self. If this is an American Idol election of who can ham it up with the judges the best, it’s an election Dad’s not going to win. But if voters want someone who won’t just feel their pain but do something about it, Dad should be their president.”
His wife Ann said: “Mitt just doesn’t care about all the fluff.”
If these accounts are correct, you have two presidential candidates with very unusual views of what it takes to win the presidency. One who thinks that schmoozing, and old-school political manners, don’t matter and another who thinks that voting for a president is a cold, impersonal calculation, like choosing an accountant.
Neither wishes to be thought of as a salesman. Both should admit the obvious. Selling is not a choice when you enter politics. It is how you convey your worth to voters who have a choice. Why you and not the other person? Why do you deserve the responsibilities and perks of the job you’re chasing?
Selling your way to the Presidency, or while in the job, is not some sleazy act. It’s your job. Tell us who you are. Explain yourself. You want to be the head of state not merely our accountant-in-chief. You want the right to send men and women to war. In return for that responsibility, you owe it to the electorate to tell them everything they want to know. To butter them up and make them feel part of the show. To write them notes, shake their hands and reveal something of yourself. A campaign is not the prelude to a one off transaction. It is the start of a meaningful relationship.
I once heard someone describe election day as a one day, everything must go sale. You don’t get to discount again the day after to clear what’s left of your inventory. I’m sure the closer we get to November 6th, any lingering squeamishness about closing the deal will vanish.