Sales

Nobody wants to write about this particular culprit in this financial mess.

I thought about it when talking with a college senior.  He is about to graduate.  He is filled with confidence.  In his first jobs he says he will take any kind of experience that will prepare him for great things to come.  Anything, he says, will help round him out to conquer the world.

With four little words I turned his steel backbone to jelly.  “Why not try sales?” 

He truly turned white.  “I couldn’t do sales.  I just couldn’t.”

I explained how valuable sales experience is.  It forces you to face your own shortcomings.  It teaches you volumes about human nature. It teaches you the arts of persuasion.  And you can use the tools of persuasion in most occupations, from politics to law to managing armies and managing companies.  I explained how one of the top surgeons in the world is also one of the most effective persuaders I have ever met.  

“Couldn’t do it,” he confessed.



Unfortunately, neither could George Bush.  Or Nancy Pelosi.  Neither could persuade members to come together on sensible legislation to deal with this crisis.  (I am writing this on Monday - after the bailout bill has gone down in flames.)

This is a major failure of Bush’s presidency.  Yes, he did persuade Congress on the Iraq invasion.  And on tax cuts.  He failed to rally any support for his Social Security ideas.  Or for school vouchers.  Or for a number of solid ideas he presented.

He tried a number of times to get congress to reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  Congress gave him the back of its hand. 

He has tried to push through the big bailout package.  If anything ever emerges from Congress it won’t look much like what the President proposed.

Meanwhile, Madam Pelosi failed just as dismally to persuade politicians to agree on a package.

Once upon a time we had LBJ.  He could persuade the bark off a tree and the tree would thank him.  He did it with threats.  He knew lots of secrets and he made no secret he would leak a few if necessary.  He kept track of every favor and turned them into bargaining chips.  He cajoled.  He charmed. He twitsted arms.  He swapped horses, cows, donkeys.  And through these tactics he got what he wanted.

Ronald Reagan used similar tactics and one more.  When congress guys dug in their heels, he skirted them.  He appealed directly to the voters.  He persuaded voters to turn the heat up with letters and phone calls, telegrams and faxes to their senators and representatives. He got what he wanted, even from the Democrats.

George Bush has been a dud in this respect.  And this has come home to haunt us all.  If he had mastered the art of persuasion he might have averted this mess.  He might have got politicians to reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac before they pulled us into the swamp.

He could have twisted lots of arms in this.  A slew of pols have taken lots of bribes (I’m sorry, campaign contributions) to turn a blind eye to the Fannie and Freddie shenanigans.  He could have threatened to speak to the nation about this bribe-taking. 

Last week - at the peak of the mess - the President made a statement.  This was his third since sending the big proposal to congress.  Did it sound persuasive?  Did it clang alarm bells across the nation?  Did it spur millions to email their representatives?

Nah.  Because it sounded like an announcement in church of next Saturday’s turkey supper.  It sounded worse.  I thought he was going to fall asleep delivering it.  If it had been for the turkey supper the committee would be eating leftovers for a month.

We don’t have to ask who popped the question between Laura and George.  He’s lucky she knew something about persuasion.

From Tom ... as in Morgan.                  

For more columns and for Tom’s radio shows (and to write to Tom): tomasinmorgan.com.

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