What Happened To "Nice Guys Finish Last"?

05/25/2011 12:20 pm ET
  • Kathleen Reardon Professor Emerita, USC Marshall School; Author, 'The Secret Handshake' and 'Shadow Campus'

Fortunately that's not always true. But are Democrats being duped again? They're looking for the nice candidate -- a change from the bad men. Admirable, but is it smart?

If this were a race for Convivial Summer Picnic and Orienteering Chair, the Democratic "Let's not argue" would be one thing. But this is a race for President of the United States -- against a ruthless far right. Mike Huckabee says you have to be willing to shed blood and refers to running for president as a "contact sport" that isn't so much about the "dog in the fight but the fight in the dog."

We live in tough times. Paul Krugman had it right when he wrote: "Anyone who thinks that the next president can achieve real change without bitter confrontation is living in a fantasy world."

Yet, we hear that Democrats want to be charmed, to return to the ideal days of JFK and that Iowans don't like conflict. Clinton can't criticize Obama without being labeled some kind of hardened, success-grabbing woman. Obama can't get aggressive without destroying his message of hope and risking his winning charisma.

There are rough roads ahead. The Republicans may hate Hillary Clinton, but we delude ourselves if we think they're going to be nicer to Obama, Edwards or any Democrat. No way. They're going to be nasty no matter who wins the nomination. So don't we deserve to see who can take the heat and do so with some class?

This is a race for the most important, powerful position in the world. Our national security, healthcare, economy, and the future are at stake. Iowans are still making up their minds, in part because there's been "nothing dramatic or emphatic" happening there. Each candidate is playing it safe and trying to out-nice the other.

At times, harsh words are the best vessels of honesty. Intensity is not the enemy of truth and hardly ever is quietude its most encouraging companion.

Take a lesson from the "beguiling" Mike Huckabee's political rhetoric rulebook. He uses emphatic phrases like, "Not hardly," "That is categorically untrue," "Check the source," "Actually not true," and "Look, nobody is going to do that" after which he explains his view briefly and gives us a memorable proverb or bromide like "We should be glad we're a country people want to get into rather than one they can't get out of." He's loaded with these. He gets to disagree, defend and even attack without losing his cool. He doesn't run around trying to be nice without also clearly telling you what's wrong with Romney -- usually without Romney knowing what hit him.

Politics requires the ability to engage in verbal judo. That's not going to change because we're tired of bad men lying to us.

Every minute wasted on finding the nicest Democratic candidate instead of the most qualified, intelligent, politically astute one who can take political punches is another minute preparing him or her to ultimately lose.

We have a number of nice Democrats in Congress. And look how little gets done. How about a presidential nominee who is perceptive, bright, genuine, generous, devoted to the country, angry at times, tough as nails when required and someone who can meet the opposition's lying-in-wait scum trust head on? Time to put the charm offensives on hold. Besides, if you have to work hard at charm, you don't have it anyway.

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