Barack Obama and Joe Biden might have performed better in their debates had they spent more time in the private sector. Both men are career politicians who say they understand “working Americans.”
Yet neither displayed the civility and common courtesy important to most people in the American workplace. Imagine if you interrupted, rolled your eyes and laughed at a co-worker the way Joe Biden interrupted Paul Ryan?
Or if you reacted to a colleague or customer with the dismissive tone and sour look of President Obama, who at times in his debate with Mitt Romney seemed more like a sullen teenager than a head of state? To say such behavior would not be well received would be an understatement.
No business could survive for long if employees treated customers—or each other—with the kind of disdain that both Democratic candidates showed their opponents.
Politicians like Barack Obama and Joe Biden think the private sector is about “grubby profits.” But free market self-interest also teaches manners. My co-author Steve Forbes and I point out in our book, "Freedom Manifesto: Why Free Markets Are Moral And Big Government Isn’t," that few people fully appreciate how our free enterprise society not only promotes, but instills in individuals, values like trust and cooperation.
Politicians like President Obama may bash “greedy” corporations. But corporations are teams—the very largest are actually communities— where people with widely varying backgrounds and beliefs learn to put aside their differences and work together.
How many of us have had to work with someone we don’t like? It can be tough but you learn to do it. President Obama, in contrast, made little effort to conceal his personal disdain for Mitt Romney, looking down and scowling each time he spoke.
Politicians and activists think the corporate world is about “glass ceilings” and “harassment.” But for most people, day-to-day life is about pulling together to achieve a common goal—whether that may be putting out a publication or reaching a sales target. This requires minimizing big emotions and drama. People develop a certain workplace personality. The sitcom, “The Office,” does a good job lampooning this demeanor, which can seem comically understated to some outsiders. But such restraint is part of the civility that enables people to unite and get things done.
One reason why Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan’s debate performances were so successful is because both men showed the familiar reassuring composure you find in the workplace. Romney came across as an in-command CEO and effective leader, laying out his plan energetically and in impressive detail. Paul Ryan gave concise, bullet-point responses that you’d hear in a business meeting. He was far easier to follow than Joe Biden who, many observed, was filibustering rather than debating.
Biden’s contentiousness also said something about the activist mindset of many supporters of Big Government. In "Freedom Manifesto," we point out that the bigger government gets, the greater the tendency towards divisive, grievance politics that inflame resentments and undermine trust.
Big Government creates a highly political environment where interest groups—young and old, rich and poor—compete for government resources and political favors. Rewards go all too often to those who scream the loudest. Biden’s constant interruptions of Paul Ryan are not so far afield from the tactics of far left activists like Occupy Wall Street. Both are better at loudly expressing indignation than making a cogent argument.
In other words, the differences seen in the debates were not simply those of style but of values.Americans are sensing this, which is why they are turning off to the Obama campaign.
It should have surprised no one when, after President Obama’s failed performance, his campaign responded by ramping up the divisive rhetoric, accusing Mitt Romney of being a “liar” and unleashing an overly aggressive Joe Biden on Paul Ryan.
Yet cooperation-minded Americans appear to be rejecting this emphasis on divisiveness. More than one poll showed that viewers thought Ryan won the vice presidential debate.
Romney, meanwhile, has widened a narrow lead since last Thursday according to Rasmussen and Gallup. Noted former Obama supporters like the writer Buzz Bissinger have cited the president’s stridency and inability to compromise as their reason for switching allegiances.
The Obama campaign is responding to declining polls by promising to “make adjustments.” In the second debate Tuesday night the president is expected to become more aggressive and go on the attack.
The question is whether Americans, accustomed to problem solving and cooperation in their professional lives, really want a president who only offers more blame and recriminations. Or are they looking for a leader who, as the actress Stacey Dash put it so well, sees “the need for us to be united and move forward” and has a plan for America.
Elizabeth Ames is a communications executive and co-author with Steve Forbes of "Freedom Manifesto: Why Free Markets Are Moral and Big Government Isn't." (Crown Business).