Buried under an enormous mound of labored hipster diction and dubious claims, Maureen Dowd’s column this morning contains a solid insight:
At a fund-raising concert in San Francisco Monday night, the president mocked Romney’s star turn, saying “what was being presented wasn’t leadership; that’s salesmanship.”
It is that distaste for salesmanship that caused Obama not to sell or even explain health care and economic policies; and it is that distaste that caused him not to sell himself and his policies at the debate. His latest fund-raising plea is marked “URGENT.” But in refusing to muster his will and energy, and urgently sell his vision, he underscores his own lapses in leadership and undermines arguments for four more years.
I can tolerate and forgive errors and, make no mistake, the last four years have been full of things I consider errors. Delaying withdrawal from Iraq according to the timetable of the SOFA. The surge in Afghanistan. The timing and structure of the stimulus package. The timing and structure of the healthcare reform bill. The attention devoted to healthcare reform. The structure of the GM bailout. The list is practically endless.
I find it much harder either to tolerate or forgive the inability or unwillingness to sell any of these things to the American people. It’s not enough that your most ardent followers will support anything you propose because you’ve proposed it. They comprise too small a proportion of the population.
Salesmanship is hard. It’s not just making one pitch and then hoping for best. It’s making the pitch, strategizing, constructing a campaign, following through, and sticking with it until the sale is closed.
You need to sell what you want to do to the American people. Salesmanship is in fact the essence of a particular and important form of leadership. There are three kinds of leadership: when a parade naturally forms behind you, when you convince people to follow you in a parade, and when you figure out which way the parade is going and get out in front of it. Charisma, salesmanship, and demagoguery. We need less charisma and demagoguery and more salesmanship.