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Campaign 2012 - All the Candidates' Wives - Going for the Soft Sell

How candidates use their wives as human(izing) shields

How is it and why is it that candidates Romney and Gingrich are now pushing their wives into the spotlight to be "up close and personal?"

Feels to me like a "bait and switch" where Romney and Gingrich are trying to soften the aggressive and "too ambitious" sides of their personalities that may be turning off more voters than turning them on.

How is it that that happened? Don't political advisors tell their candidates, "Be aggressive, be on the attack, go for the jugular. To not do so will appear weak." One of the areas that many a political candidate has difficulty parsing are the two kinds of aggression.

The first kind demonstrates too much ego, too much personal ambition, too much reactivity that can be seen as more angry, defensive and hostile than as emotionally and psychologically strong. That can be a turn off. In fact it was that side of their personalities that caused Hillary Clinton and John McCain to lose the last election as much as Barack Obama won it.

The second kind of aggression is principle and mission driven and is the kind that is rightly viewed as strong. That occurs when a person's aggression is subsumed to accomplishing a mission. And selecting the right mission is what leadership is about. When Harry Truman said, "I'd rather be right than President," he wasn't talking about personal ego. He was talking about the mission that he felt was right for the American people and then being a shepherd and guardian of it whether or not it cost him the presidency.

What does this have to do with Romney and Gingrich bringing out their wives for "show and (then) tell?" Both have done so because each of their personal and political ambitions regarding getting elected have at times eclipsed their commitment to a mission the best serves the future of America. In a sense they have shown too much "cheek" and too little of their (presumed) core values. By using their wives to promote the more values driven part of their personalities they are seeking to get a second chance to change the perceptions of Americans about what drives them... political ambition or deeply felt and committed to values.

If they do get a second chance, what they -- and any leader -- need to realize is that even though the electorate and each party have agendas, what we all need from our leaders is to have a higher -- and clear -- purpose that will enroll all of us as opposed to a "tit for tat" agenda of their own.

Leadership is more about clarity than it is about control. Why? A leader who is confused or confusing causes too much anxiety and a leader who is too controlling is revealing more insecurity and a lack of leadership.

At the end of the day, the leader we want and need is someone who clearly has:

  • the judgment to know the right thing to do
  • the integrity to do it
  • the character to stand up to those who don't do it
  • the courage to stop those who won't do it
  • the tenacity to keep doing it

Follow Mark Goulston, M.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/markgoulston

Mark Goulston, M.D., is the author of the new bestselling book Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone.

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