Emotive Vitality is the Greatest Weapon in a Politician's Warchest

To get anything done, we all need to be politicians. Though it has a negative connotation outside Washington (behind the watercooler one co-worker says to another, "she’s such a politician"), the reality is that all leaders and do-ers need to employ certain D.C. tactics.

This is one reason I follow national politics pretty closely and enjoy tracking the larger than life personalities who control the corridors of power.

So…I enjoyed David Brooks’ column today (TimesSelect only). He was singing the praises of Sen. Joe Biden. In here are lessons for any executive and devotees of Emotional Intelligence.

They are senatorial arias of immense emotional range. At times he will ascend to heights of rage and contempt; at other times he will wander like Lear through the desolation of undesirable policies.

At one moment, he will lean in toward the witness like a late-night drinking buddy and share some intimate truth. At the next moment – and this is when he is at his best – he will play the beaten warrior, battered but unbowed. In this twilight mood, his voice grows husky and his shoulders slump. He knows that some nominee or bill is about to roll over him, but like the last Spartan at Thermopylae, he registers his noble objection before succumbing manfully to the inexorable will of fate.

Then he flashes his jarring grin, which says that we are all friends despite the circumstances of our disagreement.

Biden’s emotive vitality is his greatest weapon in the war all successful politicians must wage, the war against the public self. As the great Meg Greenfield once observed, prominent Washingtonians have two identities: their genuine self – the soft, complicated person they once were – and the public self, the broadly drawn pastiche of positions, poses, party affiliations, life-story clichés and ethnic ties that are presented to voters every few years.

The challenge of political life is to prevent the genuine self from being extinguished by the public image.

There is no environment more perilous for that genuine self than the United States Senate. Consider how senators live every day. They are surrounded by clouds of deferential, ear-whispering aides whose own attitudes towards their bosses are a mixture of fervent love and Oedipal contempt. They are buffeted by swarms of reporters who are obsequious in person and then condescending in print.

They are puffed by endless praise and bruised by endless criticism. They begin their day before dawn, with every minute scheduled by their worker bee helpers. They go to offices with power walls adorned with plaques, prizes, football helmets and other offerings that have been left to them in the way ritual sacrifices were once left on the altar of a tribal god or chieftain…..

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