“Nice guys finish last,” said Leo Durocher, Brooklyn Dodgers manager, whom no one has ever called a nice guy. Apparently Durocher was talking about the New York Giants manager Mel Ott, whose friendliness “Leo the Lip” was responsible for the miserable record of the Giants in 1946. But does it really decrease the chance of success being nice – decent, generous, kind -? Does it do that in politics?
You don’t often think of the connection between politics and friendliness. Disraeli, Gladstone, Churchill, Lincoln, both Roosevelts, Truman – you can say a lot of things about anyone, but kindness isn’t the first word that comes to mind. Some may even see kindness as a nuisance to politics. Adlai Stevenson could never give up his humility while pursuing the president’s power.
Would anyone cast a vote for political office, from president to dog catcher, because a candidate was nice? Maybe not. However, in last year’s presidential election, many Americans voted against it
less because of his politics than because they thought he was a braggart, a tyrant, a fool – all things a nice guy is not. Had Mr. Trump been less crazy, would he have tried to establish himself as a more personable personality, would he start his second term as president? Hard to know, but showing a nice thing or two would certainly not have detracted from his chances.
How many of our recent presidents or presidential candidates qualified as nice? Ronald Reagan was less nice than charming, which is not the same thing; Charm is about external attractiveness, friendliness is about inner thoughtfulness. George HW Bush, who tried to sell himself as a Texan, never lost the WASP on the east coast, which seemed more dignified than nice. Bill Clinton’s claim to kindness was dashed by reports of his sexual forays. Barack Obama came out nice; He seemed like a good father and a devoted husband. But it could also be bitter when challenged. Hillary Clinton may have lost the presidency by making too much of her lack of friendliness. How many votes, one wonders, did she lose in calling Mr. Trump’s supporters “deplorable”?
The only American president I’ve met in person for half an hour is George W. Bush. It took place in the Oval Office in 2003 when I and 10 others received the National Humanities Medal. I was not interested in the war in Iraq, but when I saw Mr. Bush handing out medals and taking photos with recipients, I thought especially and genuinely concerned about the grandchildren some of them had brought for the occasion: ” That’s a nice man. ” When the editor of the Partisan Review, Edith Kurzweil, received her medal, she said to him, “I never thought I would be in this room.” To which Mr. Bush replied, “I didn’t believe I would either would.” Nice guy.
During the campaign against Mr. Trump, the Democrats tried to sell Joe Biden as a nice man. The word “empathy”, which is used far too often, often came into play. Empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, was reportedly acquired by Mr Biden through the losses of his wife, young daughter and, more recently, son Beau. No one could deny the severity of these losses, which made Mr. Biden a man worthy of our compassion. But that they made him deeply empathetic is controversial. No one who remembers Mr. Biden’s bullying of Anita Hill at the Clarence Thomas hearings, or the quickness of his being turned down in a debate or pressured by a journalist, can keep thinking about him as a nice man for long.
A few years ago the writer Saul Bellow introduced me to the term “contrast enhancer”. A contrast enhancer is someone who seems nice, or at least nice enough, next to someone who clearly isn’t. Next to Mr. Trump, Mr. Biden looks like Mister Rogers, and Mr. Obama has gained even more contrast next to Mr. Trump, which somehow makes Mr. Obama, a man with no impressive foreign policy achievements, a statesman.
The moral of the story is, if you can’t be nice, at least try not to be unnecessary of what the presidency could cost you. Nice guys don’t always finish last.
Mr. Epstein is the most recent author of “Gallimaufry: A Collection of Articles, Reviews, Bits”.
Democrats define bipartisanism as Pelosi Schumer approves, and then rams a $ 1.9 trillion budget resolution through the Senate and House of Representatives. Images: AFP / Getty Images Composite: Mark Kelly
Copyright © 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All rights reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8