Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Perry Factor

For the better part of the last two decades I have made a somewhat successful living as a salesman, selling everything from computers, appliances, TVs, home theater systems, and now office and industrial equipment. You could say I’ve sold just about everything except insurance and cars – some things I simply won’t do!
My first real sales job was for a company called P.C. Richard & Son. For those of you who don’t live in the New York metro area, P.C. Richard is one of the oldest and most successful privately-held retail establishments in the country, going all the way back to 1909. It was there I learned the most important thing that every successful salesperson knows: customers don’t buy features, they buy benefits. No matter how impressive an item might be, if the benefits of it aren’t apparent to the customer, he or she will never buy it. Period!

It is up to the salesperson to make the case to the customers why the item under consideration is the perfect choice. The way one goes about that is not to hit them over the head with a host of meaningless and confusing specifications, most of which fly over their heads or end up going in one ear and out the other. Instead you keep it simple, short and sweet; that way the customers don’t get confused and end up leaving the store empty handed.

No matter where I have worked – and believe me I’ve had more than my fair share of jobs over the years – when I have employed this simple technique I prospered; when I didn’t I suffered the penalty. As a former colleague of mine once said, this isn’t rocket science. There’s a reason some make it and some don’t.

All of which brings us to the new kid on the presidential block: Rick Perry. Let’s, for the moment, put aside all the baggage the guy brings with him – and he has enough to do his own Samsonite commercial – and look, objectively, at what he brings to the table.

For one thing, he isn’t crazy like his other Tea Party compatriot, Michele Bachmann. Why is this important? No matter how far to the right the Republican Party has drifted over the last decade, a majority of the party faithful simply don’t view her as electable in a general election. That has been the principal reason why Mitt Romney, though despised by conservatives, has been the GOP frontrunner pretty much since the day he got into the race. When all is said and done, enough of them would’ve held their noses and swallowed the snake oil Romney was peddling if it meant the defeat of emperor Obama. Don’t tell me there are no pragmatists on the Right.

Well now they don’t have to choose between insanity and compromise. Now they can have it all in one package. Rick Perry is the Tea Party’s wet dream. Forget all the Bush comparisons; Dubya isn’t fit to hold his boots. The real comparison is nowhere near the Lone Star State. Try about 1500 miles to the west. That’s right, folks, California. It was there, a little over thirty years ago, that a B-movie actor and former governor of the largest state in the country swept into power on the heals of an economic upheaval that frustrated and angered many of the electorate.

Ronald Reagan had many talents – acting apparently wasn’t one of them – chief among them was his ability to talk to and not at the voters. There’s a reason he’s referred to as the Great Communicator. He connected on a visceral level with people in a way few politicians have been able to approach, much less equal. No matter how you may have felt about his administration of the country – and we could write volumes about it, believe me – the man was a marvel to behold. He had both Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale for lunch and didn’t once blink. In fact he was fearless in his defiance and conviction. Right or wrong – and for the record he was more wrong than right – he never backed down, especially around his opponents, whom he usually wiped the floor with. Reagan was a real cowboy in the traditional sense of the word.

Don’t look now, but Rick Perry is shaping up to be the next Gipper. He may not be nearly as polished as his mentor – I doubt Reagan would’ve been stupid enough to say what Perry said about Ben Bernanke – but in every way imaginable, he embodies the very essence of the 40th President: arrogant, self assured and determined to win at all costs.

But Perry also has something else in common with Reagan: he can break down the most complicated and arcane subject matter into a very basic and easily digestible language that the common folk can follow, and do it all without that bat-shit crazy stare of Bachmann or the phoniness of Romney. Like Reagan, Perry, love him or hate him, is the real deal, genuine and very electable.

He is the ideal salesman, perfectly capable of closing the sale with an electorate that is frightened and fed up with what has been going on in Washington.  He is seizing upon the contempt many voters, both conservative and, yes, independent, have for a political process they view as corrupt and inaccessible. Perry can tap into the blind rage of the wing nuts on the Right, as well as hit a raw nerve among more moderate voters – the same moderates who end up deciding general elections, mind you – and do it without missing a beat or breaking a sweat. In salesman's terms, he could sell an ice cube to an Eskimo. By comparison, Obama looks like that ice cube, melting in the warmth of an approaching Spring.

Now, of course, there is all that baggage that Perry has that I mentioned earlier and begged to be put aside for the moment. Yes, all of it will come out as we get closer to the Republican convention next year. Not only will Perry survive the scrutiny, I predict the majority of voters will not even care one bit. We tend to forget the outrageous statements made by Reagan during both his campaigns; yes the Gipper was hardly a stranger when it came to huff and mouth disease. Some of his gaffs were classics. Not only did he beat Jimmy Carter handily, his win over Walter Mondale still stands as one of the most lopsided reelections in presidential history. So much for paying for your mistakes.

But, Peter, this isn’t 1980, or even ’84. You’re right, it’s not. It’s worse. Barack Obama, unlike Carter in 1980, and even Reagan in ‘84, is presiding over the worst economy since FDR. Fair or not, he is going to be judged on how well it is performing come next year. If he cannot make the case to the electorate that he is deserving of another four years, he is finished. Period, end of story! Rick Perry would like nothing more than to be the man who sticks the fork in his vulnerable carcass. Yes, he is an ideologue and a demigod, as well as an arrogant and obnoxious ass, but, know this much, his fingerprints are nowhere to be found on this economy. In that lone respect, he will have a huge advantage over his likely opponent come next fall. He gets to say virtually anything he likes while the President tries to defend a negative. Good luck with that.

Small wonder the White House was all hyped up over the prospects of facing either Romney or Bachmann in the general. Imagine their good fortune. They had one of two choices: the used-car salesman from Massachusetts or the crazy lady from Waterloo, Iowa. Well, Rick Perry has just thrown a huge monkey wrench into their planning, and now it’s back to the old drawing board.

This is going to be a difficult pill for progressives to swallow, but they may find themselves pulling for the likes of the Mittster. Hedging one’s bet may seem a defeatist attitude, I know, but in the event that Obama does go down to defeat next year – increasingly likely given the recent polling – better a Romney administration than a Perry one.

They’re all the same, you say? Sure they are. Just like Howard Baker was the same as Reagan, or a 2000 John McCain was the same as Bush. In this very relativistic world we live in there is such a thing as the lesser of two evils. I’ll take a measure of comfort with the RINO from Massachusetts, who at least worked with Democrats, over the cowboy from Texas who believes in doling out his own peculiar form of political justice, not to mention has some rather unique stances on the Constitution.

But then we are getting ahead of ourselves, aren’t we? Surely a majority of voters will be able to see Perry for who and what he is and reelect Obama, right? Perhaps. Maybe. After all, enough voters in Delaware and Arizona woke up in time to help prevent the GOP from taking the Senate. I guess I’m just not as optimistic as some in the supposed intelligence and discernment of the electorate. Too many times they’ve fallen for the smoke and mirrors of candidates who promised the moon only to crash upon takeoff. You see, Reagan and Bush tripled and doubled the debt respectively, and yet both were reelected to second terms.  To this day, Reagan is revered as almost saint-like among his admirers. 

So much for having faith in the masses.

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