Short-tempered... Prickly... Overly sensitive... Thin-skinned... A bit of candid self-knowledge is a good thing. Those adjectives apply to weaknesses that I see in myself, but then again, I have no need for power either. I have no desire to dominate other people. Weaknesses that might make someone like me hard to live or work with are magnified in their potential impact for people who wish to hold the power associated with political office.
I could never run for a public office, even if my idiosyncratic views had much of a following. I wouldn't last two seconds in that game. I'd go ballistic.... One of the things that I like about Obama so much is his even demeanor and the sense that he doesn't need to be president in order to feel complete as a human being. In the debate in Las Vegas this week, he was asked to characterize his strengths and weaknesses, and he gave real, honest answers, unlike the other candidates, who came up with those phony, job-interview kinds of weaknesses along the lines of "I care too much and too passionately about what I believe in."
The stress of this campaign is already starting to wear on these candidates and their staffs as illustrated in a couple of events yesterday. Does a public display of temper hurt or help a campaign? As always, I guess it depends on who you ask.
Man, these guys are starting to look old and tired...
Mitt Under the Staple Gun
In South Carolina yesterday, Mitt Romney put in an appearance at a Staples in Columbia with a press availability period thrown in. As he claimed before the microphones that there were no Washington lobbyists running his campaign, he got called on it by AP reporter Glen Johnson, who piped up with what I thought was a fair objection, asking Mitt about the presence and influence of (Dutko Worldwide) lobbyist Ron Kaufman. Mitt immediately became testy and defensive, and the exchange got ugly as they parsed the difference between "running" a campaign and "being an advisor" to a campaign. In the aftermath, I've noticed that a lot of people thought Johnson was out of line in this encounter, and perhaps he was, such as when he interrupted rather brusquely and openly laughed at Romney's lies, but I'll just point out that it's not his job to be a candidate's buddy and to let him say whatever he wants without being challenged. Besides, as the tape shows, Mitt sought Johnson out himself after the event was wrapped up, aggressively approaching him with "Glen, Glen... Did you listen to what I said?" Then Romney's aide Eric Fehrnstrom got into it, chastising Johnson for being "unprofessional" and admonishing him not to "get aggressive with the candidate." Grrrruff!
What Happens in Vegas... Goes Worldwide
Bill Clinton's chummy smile turns quickly into pique in Nevada, as he gets asked by a reporter about the suit filed by the Nevada State Teachers Union challenging a judge's decision to let the Culinary Workers Union members caucus on-site at work on Saturday. In this case, I don't blame him too much for getting miffed. Taking into account the political loyalties associated with each union (Teachers for Clinton, Culinary for Obama), I don't blame him for considering the question provocative, but he doesn't fight quite fair either, presenting strongly-stated suppositions as facts and accusing the reporter of "holding a position" in his familiar, lawyerly fashion.
Bill really seems on edge in this primary season, which has led some people to wonder whether he is hurting or helping Hillary's campaign, as in this New York Times piece, Bill Clinton, Stumping and Simmering. He seems to want desperately to either get back into the White House or onto the Supreme Court (as rumor has it, if Hillary is elected). You can't help but wonder, looking at the raw emotions displayed by the Clintons recently, if the success of this campaign has everything to do with keeping their marriage together. From the NYT article...
Mr. Clinton’s temper has been an issue for him as long as he has been in public life. But it has played an unusual role during the current campaign, his face turning red in public nearly every week, often making headlines as he defends his wife and injects himself, whether or not intentionally, into her race in sometimes distracting ways.
Some Clinton advisers say the campaign is trying to rein him in somewhat, so that his outbursts become less of a factor to reporters, but his flashes of anger only seem to be growing. Last week, for instance, a clearly agitated Mr. Clinton told Dartmouth students that it was a “fairy tale” for Mr. Obama to contend that he had been consistently against the war in Iraq. And in December he said that voters supporting Mr. Obama were willing to “roll the dice” on the presidency.
“The bottom line is, his outbursts don’t help the campaign,” said James A. Thurber of American University, an analyst of the presidency and Congress. “They become an issue, and it can grow into a real problem. I think the campaign is worried about him right now.”
“Bubbling just below the surface is a deep resentment on his part against the press about the way he feels she is portrayed against Barack,” said David R. Gergen, a Harvard professor of public service who has been an adviser to presidents of both parties, including Mr. Clinton. “He is a bit like Mount Vesuvius: he’ll just erupt, but then it’s over, because the good thing about his temper is that he doesn’t bear grudges.”
Aides and advisers to both Clintons say he tends to explode in anger more often and more fiercely than his wife, whose temper is usually described as that of a slow-burn and clipped-tone variety.
His so-called “purple fits” and “earthquakes” have been a constant to those who have worked with him. Some have dealt with it by avoiding him, others by simply responding with silence. One senior White House aide, George Stephanopoulos, who was often a target of Mr. Clinton’s fury, has written of taking an antidepressant because the vicissitudes of the job were so intense.
Mr. Clinton has reflected on his temper over the years, perhaps most revealingly in his autobiography. At one point in it, he recalls a day in junior high school when he hit a boy who had been taunting him. It was a moment from which he came to draw lessons.
“I was a little disturbed by my anger, the currents of which would prove deeper and stronger in the years ahead,” Mr. Clinton wrote. “Because of the way Daddy behaved when he was angry and drunk, I associated anger with being out of control and I was determined not to lose control. Doing so could unleash the deeper, constant anger I kept locked away because I didn’t know where it came from.”