Everyone’s a Politician

Hating politicians is as much the national pastime as baseball, as traditional as Rice’s losing football games. (I went there I know.)

What really chafes us, bigtime, about politicians is the way they exaggerate the good and deny the bad. Their spokespersons seem even worse, spinning so furiously that the end of the world becomes a minor retrenchment.

Just once, we think, wouldn’t it be nice if a politician looked us in the eye and said “I goofed, I was wrong, I made a mistake, bigtime.” I’m not holding my breath for that day either, and here’s why.

Denial, prevarication, and trying to brazen things out are all too human. A great example was seen on this beat Thursday in the form of Priceline.com.

Priceline.com had to close two units, its name-your-own-price-for-groceries Webhouse Club and its auction service Perfect Yardsale, because they were losing too much money and couldn’t raise more.

Yet my TV screen was filled with the smiling visage of Priceline.com’s founder, Jay Walker, acting like it was all in the plan. Webhouse was always separate from Priceline.com, he said through the smile. The Perfect Yardsale was never material to the company.

Well, Jay, 200 of my fellow Atlantans are losing jobs at Perfect Yardsale, jobs many invested their hearts and souls in. At least 100 Connecticut families have complained to the state’s attorney general because they didn’t get promised deals on gas. A lot of investors bought your spiel, Jay, and they feel burned. An apology might have been more in order.

Stock analysts are no better. The folks on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” like to show footage of penguins jumping in (or out) of water because these folks tend to upgrade stocks after they go up, and downgrade them after they go down, acting like they knew it all the time. Needless to say, the penguins are now out in force on Priceline.com. Where were they when the stock was more than $100 per share?

This behavior is not unique to the people in our business, of course. The other day, my nine-year-old son, John, was playing across the street. He admits he threw some rocks up in the air but denies they punctured the windshield of my neighbor’s car.

I didn’t see what happened, but some responsibility is called for. John’s buying a new windshield, out of his own allowance, even if it takes him all year. Don’t you wish we could do that with Jay Walker?

Just remember these stories the next time you see a politician exaggerate, mangle the language, or toady up to his or her running mate. Remember them the next time you hear a politician’s aides pretend the race is between God and the Devil, with the opponent starring as Beelzebub.

Remember, when the bad news hits, that the natural human instinct is to downplay it, deny it, or ignore it. Folks will appreciate it if you can overcome your instincts and give out the bad news in a plain, simple way.

They’ll appreciate it bigtime.

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