A matter of deference

RonaldReagan-1What do presidents Carter, Reagan, Bush, Bush and Obama have in common? One thing is that when facing reelection they had televised debates with their opponents which all were favored to win and which they all – in the first debate at least – lost. There is a reason for this. Presidents running for reelection face an opponent who has just triumphed in a competitive primary campaign but have mostly not had much of a challenge themselves. Indeed, they have spent four years surrounded by people who say “yes, sir” to even their most trivial and obtuse comments.

Only one sitting president has faced an opponent in a televised debate and triumphed first time out: Bill Clinton. This columnist gives the credit for that to James Carville. Carville had many strengths as a campaign strategist, but the key thing here is the strength of the candidate. Clinton licensed Carville to say what he really thought, even to the president of the United States. Carville – the ragin’ Cajun – is loud, aggressive and foul-mouthed. Most presidents, rehearsing for the debates, would be surrounded by enthusiastic sycophants, who would tell them they were brilliant. Carville was more likely to tell Clinton that he was being an asshole, had made a fool of himself, and was going to rehearse again until he got it right. Nobody speaks to Barack Obama like that and nobody, it seems, speaks to Hillary Clinton in that way either.

She is not even the sitting president, and yet she is not listening to honest unfiltered advice. We can be sure of this – very sure of it – because of her performance at her press conference about the email issue. 

The Washington Post blogger, Chris Cillizza, listed five major mistakes she made at the press conference, but missed what was arguably the most significant. She genuinely struggles to understand why the issue annoys people, but there was one outstanding error that was completely pointless and which any competent advisor would have spotted immediately.

If you are planning a press conference to announce, as point one, that you did not break the law, don’t wear an orange jumpsuit. (Okay, it was a pantsuit, but it looked like it had come straight from the set of Orange is the New Black).

Clinton has very smart advisors, many of them from her husband’s campaigns, and including James Carville. But even Carville apparently doesn’t say to her “you can’t wear that, you stupid moron, you look like you have already been convicted”.  Apparently, even Bill doesn’t speak like that to her.

Yes, it is damaging her campaign, and that is unfortunate for her, but there is a deeper issue, which is unfortunate for America’s democratic process. If no-one speaks to her like that now, how will people speak to her when she is president? Presidents get a certain degree of deference. It goes with being head of state as well as head of government. But when an unemployed candidate for president is demanding, and getting, such deference it is a matter of significant concern. In Britain, such deference is reserved for the queen. The prime minister is jeered and booed every week in the rowdy atmosphere of the House of Commons. That is how politicians ought to be treated. 

qlQuentin Langley is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Bedfordshire Business School as well as a freelance columnist published in the UK and all parts of the US. He blogs on social media and crisis communications at brandjacknews.com

%d bloggers like this: