Leadership: What’s nice got to do with it?

Written By: - Date published: 5:03 pm, June 25th, 2008 - 18 comments
Categories: articles, International - Tags:

An interesting article in the Washington Post poses the question:

“You thought our presidential candidates were nice guys, regular guys, guys with whom you’d like to sit down and have a beer? Guess what, lots of people are now telling me: They aren’t.

But why on Earth should anyone expect them to be? In its wisdom, the American nation has devised a presidential election system that actively selects for egotistical megalomaniacs: You simply cannot enter the White House if you aren’t one…

But in order to become the candidate, each also had to make a series of utterly ruthless decisions, decisions that most nice guys would find unpalatable….

Think hard, as well, about what a presidential campaign truly demands of a candidate. To become president, you must love talking about yourself: Talk, talk, brag and talk, every day, every evening, on national television, in the company of newspaper reporters, in every spare moment, and not just for a few days or weeks but for years and years on end. If you don’t crave attention, if you don’t long for adulation, if you don’t, at some level, feel you are God’s gift to the American people, you don’t run for president at all.”

As we head to our election here I think it’s timely to look at who our leadership is – and whether we have realistic expectations of them. Helen Clark’s abilities, having been leader since the early 90s, are now almost taken for granted. Her breadth of knowledge, her decisiveness (even if you don’t agree with her at least you know where she stands) and her ability to deliver on a policy framework. We don’t expect her to be nice – but we expect her to be good at her job. Does she brag? Well perhaps not enough – in terms of selling the achievements of her government (along with her colleagues) in a language and style that are relevant to the bulk of us!

But what of Mr Key? I suspect we still see him in the “Mr Nice Guy” mode – which, as described in the opinion piece above, is a naive avoidance of the realities of politics. If Mr Key is going to lead our country, then we need to see the grit and determination that he’d apply to the top job, and get beneath the veneer of “nice”.

18 comments on “Leadership: What’s nice got to do with it?”

  1. Rex Widerstrom 1

    It is indeed disgraceful that National – and in particular John Key – can get away with an uninspired and uninspiring performance that’s ridiculously short on detail and commitment.

    But why has the serendipitous (for Mr Key) situation arisen? Because his major asset (perhaps his only asset, but let’s hope for all our sakes that’s not so) is that he’s not Helen Clark.

    And whose fault is it that the majority of the electorate so dislike the present Prime Minister that they are prepared to close their eyes, take a deep breath, and leap into the unknown?

    Why, the “decisive” Helen Clark, that’s who. I actually quite liked Muldoon and, comparing him to the “leaders” of today, I’ll often say “although I didn’t agree with him a lot of the time, at least I knew where he stood”. To hear Clark having to be defended in the same terms is telling.

    Decisiveness may well be an admirable quality for many, but not when it morphs into hubris.

  2. vto 2

    So all you Clark supporters.. what the hell is the story over her LYING about the reason for any referendum re the smacking law being unable to be conducted at the time of the election?

    It is exactly this sort of bullshit that undermines the minimal respect that is left for politicians. Dont think the public will buy her lie, they wont. Labour just went down another notch in the polls.

    [she’s not lying, a source has sent us the Ministry of Justice papers, just checking about legality of publishing them. there’s also this paper on the 1999 referenda. SP]

  3. Lukas 3

    But VTO the polls are all skewed and grossly inaccurate! Don’t you know that Labour far more support than National? What rock have you been living under man??!!

  4. dancer if you can pull off selling nasty helen as a quality you will no doubt be recruited by big tobacco.

  5. Anthony 5

    What accomplishments of the Labour government are you talking about?

    Inflationary spending and poor economic policies that have plunged the economy headfirst into a recession? Rampant violent crime? Thousands of Kiwis being struck off waiting lists for surgeries?

    Nothing to brag about here – move along people.

  6. QoT 6

    Dear Lord, I appear to have been absolutely swept away by the outspoken support and admiration professed by the above commenters for John Key, truly a man they really believe in for a laundry list of solid, quantifiable qualities.

    … Oh wait.

  7. r0b 7

    vto: So all you Clark supporters.. what the hell is the story over her LYING about the reason for any referendum re the smacking law being unable to be conducted at the time of the election?

    Hey there vto, what the hell is the story over you LYING over what Clark said?

    If the signatures are valid the refrendum will go ahead within one year as required. Re holding it at the same time as the election what Clark actually said was: “Just in terms of sheer organisation, I do not think that is possible”. Given that the date of the election is not yet known, and some possible dates are inside even the ideal minimum time to organise a referendum (let alone the actual practical time to do the job) her statement seems perfectly reasonable. Don’t worry vto, if the signatures are valid then the referendum will take place.

    Anthony: What accomplishments of the Labour government are you talking about?

    Well now I might be accused of repeating myself, but then you did ask, so: Unemployment down to 30 year lows, crime down, numbers on benefits down, economy growing, Working for Families, superannuation increases, minimum wage raised every year, four weeks leave, 20 hours free early childhood education, fair rents, interest free loans for students, poverty / childhood poverty rates down, suicide rates down, cheaper doctors vists, modern apprenticeships, and employment law which stopped the widening wage gap with Australia. An independent and sane foreign policy. Planning for the long term future via Cullen Fund and KiwiSaver. Strengthening the economy by paying off massive amounts of 70’s and 80’s debt (so reducing previously crippling annual interest charges), a booming rural economy, and with state owned assets (Air NZ, KiwiBank, Railways, breaking up the Telecom monopoly, back to ACC).

    And not least we have a strong economy well placed to survive the current international financial crisis.

  8. higherstandard 8

    So r0b if Labour are responsible the booming rural and strong economy will they also be responsible for the recession we are heading into ?

  9. vto 9

    Well said HS, but you mean I’m sure the recession we went into a few months ago. About time Bollard got himself up to speed with what’s going on out here. He wasn’t last year when he unnecessarily raised rates too late and I fear he is behind the 8-ball again now.

    rOb, she lied because she said “Just in terms of sheer organisation, I do not think that is possible’ when the truth is it is because she does not want it interferring politically with the election. rOb, it is a lie and everyone knows it (but dont fret, I wouldn’t expect any different from any other pollie).

    Also the fact that ‘organisation’ as an excuse is bullshit too. Complete snap elections getheld in less time than that. It would save taxpayers about $10million apparently too (the cost of politicians ay – makes me want to be somewhat more vehement in my language).

    Oh well, it simply solidifies the election decision that is already made in many peoples minds. Clark’s mojo disappeared last year and I think it has completely evaporated now …

  10. lprent 10

    hs: The usual thing. I expect the best a government do is to ensure that they don’t screw up like the Nat’s did in ’91 and cause recession. Other than that, they can alleviate externally caused recessions by being fiscally prudent, and to ensure that the conditions are in place to take advantage of good times globally. I’d say that the Labour governments over the last 9 years have done that admirably.

    John Key and the Nat’s don’t look like they have that same clarity of vision. They took more than 4 years to even look like an opposition. Even now they look like an opposition, and not a government. I mean what in the hell are they planning to do if they take the treasury benches? Stand around saying it is all Labour’s fault while they deepen the recession? They are pathetic really.

    captcha: and Meanwhile
    Yeah – Labour keeps governing the country while the Nat’s carp about nothing.

  11. r0b 11

    So r0b if Labour are responsible the booming rural and strong economy will they also be responsible for the recession we are heading into ?

    The recession is largely a result of the international financial crisis and oil prices, not something the Govt of NZ has any control over. Before you then claim that well in that case Labour aren’t responsible for the good times either, please take a look here: http://www.thestandard.org.nz/?p=2162

    rOb, she lied because she said “Just in terms of sheer organisation, I do not think that is possible’ when the truth is it is because she does not want it interferring politically with the election.

    Well the second is probably true as well, but that doesn’t mean the first is untrue. This petition hasn’t even been validated yet, a process which takes months. It failed last time (due to bogus signatures), there’s nothing to say it won’t fail this time too. So it’s very unwise to promise to tag it to the election date.

  12. Skeptic 12

    Yes, that’s right, lprent. The 1991 recession was caused wholly by the National Party. It had nothing to do with Labour going into the election at the end of October, 1990, claiming a budget surplus, knowing full well that the Bank of New Zealand was on the brink of collapse, and that the true picture was a billion-plus budget deficit. Oh, and who was deputy prime minister at the time? None other than your beloved Helen Elizabeth Clark.

    The 1991 recession had nothing to do with cumulative years of massive budget deficits, and spiralling debt, which at the time made New Zealand one of the most heavily indebted nations in the developed world. It had nothing to do with spiralling unemployment, which got really hot under Helen Clark’s watch, but National turned around during its years in power. It had nothing to do with the fact that despite instituting important macroeconomic reforms, Labour didn’t have the courage to deal with labour market reform.

    The Bolger-Shipley government turned a near basket-case economy it inherited into one of the highest performing in the OECD by 1999. This was despite major external economic shocks, including droughts and the Asian Crisis.

    Conversely, Labour inherited a strong, growing economy with low inflation, falling unemployment, low inflation, real productivity growth, low interest rates, rising incomes, low government debt, and growing fiscal surpluses. Labour has seen no major economic shocks until the 2008 credit crunch. And what will Labour’s economic legacy be?

    Yes, you guessed it. The government surplus is gone. Unemployment is rising again. Inflation is the highest it has been in 20 years. Interest rates are the highest they have been since the early 1990s. Incomes are static. Productivity growth has been close to zero for some time. Investor and consumer confidence are at historic lows.

    This is when good economic management actually counts Lynne. It’s not when international conditions are bright and everybody wants to buy your goods and services. It’s when there’s a downtown. Helen Clark and Michael Cullen are failing.

    I don’t doubt that an international banker (John Key) and a former senior treasury analyst and Minister of Finance (Bill English) can make a much better fist of our economic fortunes than a political science lecturer who doesn’t understand business people, and a history lecturer who calls anybody who’s made any money a “rich prick” can.

  13. higherstandard 13

    So r0b let me get this right

    National are responsible for the recession in the 1990s however Labour are responsible for the boom from 2000 – 2007 but Labour aren’t responsible for the recession we’re in (or about to enter). Gosh not too partisan there are we.

    The Prime Ministers position on the referendum is pure politics she knows that if she says Yes to the referendum National will pop out of the woodwork and say that they will be bound by the will of the people whereas Labour will have to defer somewhat to the Greens, it is a no win situation. It’s all a case of poppycock politics.

    On a more important and sane note good to see Nelson Mandela commenting strongly on Zimbabwe

  14. vto 14

    rOb, I think we all pull our hair out at times due to the antics and dishonesty of politicians. I dont think we can blame them personally too much (sort of) because they simply reflect part of the human character in responding to the political structure that is in place.

    Re Key’s attributes as described on here – I think we will not really know until he is (if) prime minister. I recall Clark being quite unliked prior to election (her poll as prime minister was utterly dismal and certainly way lower than Key) and her skills and abilities only really becoming apparent to the wider community post election.

    I suspect the same will be the case with Key, just based on how the nats are going about things, the discipline, the ruthless look in his eye at times, etc, etc. You dont get to make tens of millions in such a short space of time without some ruthlessness, leadership skills and simple human-judgment nous.

    In fact labour pre-1999 and the nats at the moment are strikingly similar.

    Re the recession – these things are cyclical and tend to occur irrespective of the govt, provided they don’t get silly. Labour did not cause the recent rise, just as they did not cause this recent slowdown. I don’t even know why this matter is even debated, it is so obvious.

    2c and back to work..

  15. lprent 15

    vto: Family Fist look about as organized as a anti-EFA demo. How many invalid’s is the sampling going to show this time? Do you know that they have the correct amount? Or does it have to go around for another iteration?

    I’d guess that the electoral commission and Helen are looking at that level of uncertainty. The requirement is that a referendum is held with in year from my understanding of when a valid petition is presented. We haven’t seen one yet. If Family Fist wanted it in this election then they should have finished it earlier! Lazy buggers.

    Rather than deal with uncertainty, it can go on the next watch. I have no problems with irrelevancies being kept away from the serious business of voting.

    captcha: stand GRIZZLIES
    Yeah and get better organized damnit!

  16. vto 16

    Good post Mr Skeptic

  17. lprent 17

    Skeptic: I see you are your usual self this morning.
    They didn’t cause the recession. They made it deeper and longer in NZ than it should have been because their policies were inept, badly thought out and incompetently run.

    They went into the election as labour-lite “me-too” without a real idea in their collective-heads. So they had no real ideas and got captured by internal factions.

    Doesn’t look like the Nat’s have learned much… But of course that is why they are conservatives.

    Rushing to work…..

  18. Matthew Pilott 18

    vto, there’s virtually no extra cost in having a referendum apart from a general election. That much was obvious, don’t you think, don’t let yourself be sucked into these silly sound bites.

    Skeptic, your partisan views of Labour’s ‘legacy’ are just that. The foreign debt has been paid off, so we’re much better positioned to weather this current storm – one which needen’t be exacerbated by the type of economic ineptitude displayed by National in the past. Interest rates are high, but given the mortgage was about 23% back in the 90s I don’t think you’ve got much of a leg to stand on.

    Given the cost pressures driving up inflation, we’ve been extremely well managed and 15%+ interest would not be impossible, but I doubt you’ll see that. You’ll just assume that it’s all Labour’s fault that things are ‘bad’, because you don’t have the ability to see how much worse they’d be without Labour’s sound financial stewardship. At least Bill English is honest enough to admit that, as he’s been doing over the last year.

    Higher Standard – I’ve been loving Key’s response to the referendum business. He’s quoted in the paper as saying he wouldn’t treat it as binding, but will base his reaction upon how the law is really working, not based upon the complaints of some fundamentalist nut-bars.

    On that, I’d say good on him. It’s only because his slippery mitts are all over the S59 repeal too, but it just goes to show how much shit he’s shovelling elsewhere. You know he’d be spinning the same type of bullshit here if he wasn’t central to the enactment of the repeal. He’d be saying National would treat the referendum as binding, without a doubt. Except he’d say it along the lines of “National will listen to the poeple on this issue”, and the usual suckers would get…suckered, while he committed to nothing.

    Quite telling, when he’s somewhat constrained by his actions. A whole lot of people will be very disappointed by him if he becomes PM.

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