Nowhere is image more important than in the political arena. Succeeding in politics relies on mastering photo ops, coming up with memorable soundbites and appearing genuine, likable and charismatic. Obama is by far the best in those “skills” that I’ve ever seen. He is handsome, eloquent, well-spoken and appears likable.

Logical arguments and critical thinking doesn’t often come into play in politics since the attention span of the voter has forced media outlets to summarize a politician’s views in as little space/airtime as possible.

As a result of this framework, the successful politician needs to be conscious of these limitations and sell his ideas to generate the political capital (breathing room, if you will) to take on more ambitious tasks. In order to sell a major change, one has to have earned the “capital”, little bit by little bit.

Increasing value to constituents is a two step process
1) Perform a deed which increases real or implied value.
2) Communicate said value.

Today’s first day of a new presidency was a sharp contrast from the “salesmanship” we’ve seen in the past.

After Bush won a squeaker over Kerry in 2004, he held a press conference where he uttered the following:

You asked, do I feel free. Let me put it to you this way: I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it. It is my style. – George W. Bush

The link is here. It is a cached version. It appears as thought the White House was trying to bury it.

As you can see, Bush failed miserably on both counts. He didn’t do anything remotely like #1 and even if he had, he failed spectacularly on #2.

By contrast, look at Obama’s first day. Three (potentially inconsequential) changes which speak volumes about winning back trust.

  1. Freezing pay for those over 100k in his administration.
  2. Ban on gifts by lobbyists to those serving in his administration
  3. Make it easier to for public to get documents and information from the government

He also threw in this juicy soundbite “We are here as public servants, and public service is a privilege, it’s not about advancing yourself or your corporate clients.”

These changes aren’t groundbreaking and they don’t fundamentally change any real problems, however, it is obvious that he is well-versed in salesmanship and winning trust from his constituents.

Rather than railing on Obama and Bush for hailing from faulty ideologies as I would have done in my younger days, I now try to learn what I can from both of them and move along. There is no sense getting upset about national politics since most people are already wed to their opinion and you have little, if anything to gain by engaging someone who isn’t openly interested in having a debate.

These lessons from Obama and Bush show us a contrast in exercising power. One flaunted it and impressed no one, while the other seems to be using it judiciously.

Regard your good name as the richest jewel you can possibly be possessed of — for credit is like fire; when once you have kindled it you may easily preserve it, but if you once extinguish it, you will find it an arduous task to rekindle it again. The way to gain a good reputation is to endeavor to be what you desire to appear. – Socrates

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One Response to “Our President, Our Salesman”

  1. Bob WoodNo Gravatar on January 23rd, 2009 7:19 pm

    I read your blog and would like to invite you to a forum.
    We’ve been attempting to recruit a diverse group of people to share and debate various issues.
    Hope to see you there.

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