Friday, February 6, 2015

Pander Bear

Looking at this election season on the Republican side, I am surprised by how few people see something that is so blindingly obvious to me that it might as well be in the beam of a 1,000,000 candlepower spotlight. Then I remember that my professional background enables me to recognize something that may not be so obvious to others. Let me explain.

For the past 20 years, I have been an insurance agent. It is primarily a financial services job, but it is also by its nature a sales job, so for the past 20 years or so I've seen hundreds and hundreds of would-be salesmen and women troop in and out of jobs with the various agencies where I've worked.

When I started in this industry, my mentor told me “You can be a salesman chasing a commission check, and you'll burn out in a couple of years and wind up hawking used cars off a lot down in Dundalk, or you can be a financial professional focused on your client's needs and have a rewarding lifelong career and oh yea, make a lot of money”. You know what? He was right. But still, through the years, the salesmen, always the salesmen. They troop in and troop out, toiling in the salt mines for a day, a week, a year, but rarely for longer than that. Some of them are nice guys. Some of them are trustworthy. All of them, however, have their focus on what the client can do for them, usually money wise, and all of them utilize some variation of the pander. There's a very fine line between pandering and sincerity that I have gotten very, very good at spotting because it often makes the difference between a successful agent and a mediocre or poor one.

This is the job: A client contacts you, either cold through the phone book or the internet or through a referral. You talk to them on the phone for a few minutes, getting an handle on their individual situation and their needs. If you think you can help them, you make an appointment to meet with them at their home or office. You show up at the appointment, meet them for the very first time, spend 30, 60 or 90 minutes (sometimes more, but not often) establishing what their needs are and going over various solutions to those needs. Once you've established that, you do paperwork and then they write you a check, sometimes for thousands of dollars. Then you leave and the real job begins, because they are now your client and it's up to you to make sure what you sold them really does meet their needs and to handle their future insurance, investment and other financial requirements.

That time that you spend in their house, that 30-60 minutes, that's the golden hour. In that time you go from being an almost complete stranger to being trusted with sums of money. It's not easy. If you're skilled (and I am) and you're sincere (I'm that too, people fascinate me), it's amazing what happens. Last night I was down in Baltimore City, sitting with a 27 year old black woman and her mother, discussing health insurance for her and her son. I'd been there about half an hour and we're all three doubled over, laughing hysterically discussing how different plans would cover her “itchy vagina” (really). 45 minutes earlier neither of them had laid eyes on me in their life. Not only were they pleased with what we came up with, the mother got her son on the phone and demanded that he make an appointment with me next week as well. As I said, it's a skill.

But suppose you don't have that skill? Suppose you're nervous about being a white guy from the suburbs down in the city at night meeting a couple of black women? Suppose you don't feel comfortable in your job, or your products or your abilities? What then? How do you convince people to trust you enough to write you a check before you leave?

Then you pander. You fake sincerity. You laugh too loud, emote wrong, emphasize the wrong thing. “Wow, what a great couch! That's fantastic! I've never seen a couch like that!”. You prevaricate. You sound like Damone from Fast Times at Ridgemont High giving Mark Ratner dating tips. You bluster, you bullshit, you use your personality to overwhelm. You lie. YOU SELL.

Since I train new agents how to successfully do the job, I've learned to notice all of these things over the years. When I view the three top Republican candidates for president through the lens of my job as a professional trainer, it's easy to pick up the pander.

Trump is easy. Bold, brash, bowling you over with the force of his personality. He makes you want to believe him. Trump! Fuck yea! In a 4 week election cycle, he would have been unstoppable. Trump's problem is that since his schtick is telling you what you want to hear, over time he contradicts himself. The longer the campaign goes on, the thinner his act wears and the more obvious it becomes to anyone who is actually listening to him that he'll say anything that he thinks will benefit him at that moment, then say the opposite an hour later. He has no ethics. I wouldn't even hire him for the type of work I do. He's strictly used car salesman, not long-term relationship sales.

Rubio is a little different. Good looking, reasonably well spoken, seemingly sincere. Rubio's problem is that he doesn't really believe in what he's selling. His solutions are ultimately facile. He doesn't want to discuss in detail, so he misdirects. An example(paraphrasing things Rubio has said. These are not his direct words, this is just an example of HOW he does it):

Amnesty? No, he's not for amnesty now, because there are several more important things that we have to do first, for example ISIS is now a much greater threat. We have to secure the border to protect ourselves from terrorists. Wouldn't you agree that terrorists are a much greater threat? You would? Good, here's what I'm going to do about them.

Now, terrorists may or may not be a threat, but notice what happened there. He disavowed amnesty...or did he? He actually didn't. He said there were things to do first. He didn't say that amnesty wouldn't come later. He misdirected to border security as it pertains to ISIS. An important topic, to be sure, but not the one at hand. He's trying to “close the sale” (get your vote) without pinning down specifics. I strongly suspect that that is because he doesn't want to commit himself. If history is any judge, once he gets the vote he'll then be free to do whatever he wants, and what he wants (or what the money behind him wants), is amnesty. Just so you don't realize that NOW.

I originally thought Cruz was the worst of the lot. When this campaign started, he struck me as nothing so much as a revival tent preacher or a televangelist. Now those are some skeevy people who exist solely to con people (with one or two very rare exceptions). What I came to realize, however, is that Ted Cruz' problem is that he is sincere in what he is saying, but in trying too hard to convey that genuine sincerity through his vocal inflections he wound up emulating a universally reviled class of people who are past masters of using vocal intonations to project fake sincerity. Thankfully he's gotten a lot better, he must have had some vocal coaching in the last year. He's not perfect yet, but if it hadn't have been so pronounced before I'd have a harder time picking up on the remnants of it now. As to whether he actually means what he says, well, I found this clip to be telling:

That is the opposite of pandering. Leaving aside the policy arguments of ethanol, Cruz didn't back away from or misdirect the question. He confronted it head on, acknowledged it, and then countered it. You may or may not agree with his counter-argument, but he isn't running away from his position.

It's actually rather nice to see a politician act like he believes in what he says.


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