Friday, September 30, 2011

The Lessons of "Hardball"

1. It's not who you know, it's who you get to know.

2. All politics is local.

3. It's better to receive than to give.

My favorite story from this chapter is when Tip O/Neill was still in college and ran for the Cambridge City Council. On the day of the election, he ran into a neighbor who said she was going to vote for him even though he hadn't asked her to. O'Neill was flabbergasted, saying "I've lived across the street from you for 18 years, I shovel your walk in the winter and mow your grass in the summer. I didn't think I had to ask you for your vote." The neighbor responded, "Tom I want you to know something: people like to be asked." The lesson here is that people don't mind being used; what they mind is being taken for granted.

Matthews quotes the sage advice from the sage himself, Ben Franklin: "If you want to make a friend, let someone do you a favor."

4. Dance with the one that brung ya

5. Keep your enemies in front of you

6. Don't get mad, don't get even, get ahead

7. Leave no shot unanswered.

The big example here is the inept campaign of Michael Dukakis in 1988. He let Bush paint him as a liberal who was out of touch with mainstream America, and refused to respond to the scurrilous attacks.

Four years later Bill Clinton took the exact opposite approach. His campaign had a "war room" whose job it was to immediately respond to any attacks. The results were spectacular. Clinton had way more negatives (draft-dodging, womanizing, etc.) than Dukakis ever had, but he was able to neutralize them with his skillful responses.

There is a principle of evidence in the law called "admission by silence". When someone says something negative about you in your presence and you remain silent, this can be taken as an admission that what was said about you is true. In other words, "leave no shot unanswered.

8. Only talk when it improves the silence

9. Always concede on principle

This one seems counter-intuitive, but Matthews explains it with detailed examples. He quotes Edward Bulwer-Lytton as saying, "Yield to a man's tastes, and he will yield to your interests". Reagan's support of the MX missile is given as the major example. Reagan deftly acknowledged all the flaws in his proposal, and thereby got Congress and the country to go along with a plan that had seemed dead.

An example some of us may be more familiar with is Reagan's support of the Contras in Nicaragua. After the hard sell failed miserably in the spring of 1986, he went to the soft-sell. He acknowledged the concerns, and said he shared them. These included: the sorry history of the U.S. in the region, the brutality by the rebels, the need to end the Somoza connection, and that his critics were patriotic. Matthews concludes by observing that the smart politicians focus on the objective, and not on the principle.

10. Hang a lantern on your problem

The idea here is that it is always better to be the bearer of your own bad news. One example is after the first debate in the 1984 presidential campaign, Reagan seemed to be showing his age in that debate and talk abounded of his poor performance. He squelched all of it with one great line in the second debate; when asked about his age, he said, "I will not make my age an issue in this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience." Mathews says that with this one line, the election was over.

Mathews says the principle holds in one-on-one settings as well. For example, if you've done something your boss isn't going to like, tell him youself before he has to find it out from third parties.

Teddy Kennedy ran into a line in a debate during his 1962 Massachusetts race for the Senate, when his
opponent claimed Teddy had "never worked a day in his life". The next morning, or so the story goes, Kennedy met an old worker at the factory gates who asked, "Hey Kennedy, are you the one they said last night never worked a day in his life?" When told he was, the old guy said "Well let me tell you something young man, you haven't missed a thing." Kennedy told this story repeatedly and won handily.

Some people may forget that Bill Clinton's first foray into natinal politics was an unmitigated disasster, when he droned on and on at the 1988 Democratic Convention. The only applause he got was when he said "In conclusion". Clinton hung a lantern on his problem by wangling an appearance the following week on the Tonight Show, where he played the saxaphone and poked fun at himself. Now he is remembered as a two-term president, not the boring orator of 1988.

11. Spin

12. The press is the enemy

13. The reputation of power

The idea here is that leaders in a democracy rarely have any real power. Rather, they have to create the illusion that they have power. Mathews discusses a number of techniques politicians use to do this: play your strengths, lowballing, sandbagging, creating new commandments, passing the buck, and Inchon landings.

14. Positioning

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