Meg Whitmanâ€™s former maid, Nicandra Diaz-Santillan, an illegal immigrant, was in the news again recently, settling for $5,500 to cover back wages owed to her. Not present at the negotiations was her former employer and the former candidate for Governor of California.
Whitman claimed that she did not know Diaz-Santillan was an illegal immigrant when she ran for governor. Four months into her campaign, she fired Diaz-Santillan without compassion, told her that she never knew her, and tried to keep the whole affair secret. When it came out, Whitman shifted the blame onto the housekeeper. She even said in one interview that the woman should be deported.
Now Whitman may think the housekeeper incident is to blame for her loss in the governorâ€™s race. However, had Whitman gone about it the right way, she could have come across as compassionate, and the whole affair might have worked in her favor.Â (See my post of October 5, 2010 â€œ Meg Whitmanâ€™s Housekeeper.â€)
The California governorâ€™s race shows how important it is to appear compassionate. Whitman spent close to $150M on her campaign. By comparison, Jerry Brownâ€™s funds were puny. Whitmanâ€™s ads attacked Brown, as expected, but ads that were meant to extol Whitman were cold and clinical, often appearing more like Powerpoint presentations. Brownâ€™s ads substantiated this by depicting Whitman as a heartless CEO, in it only for herself. More importantly, when Brown appeared at the end of his ads, he came over as passionate and caring.
The same situation appeared in the other big California race, the one for Barbara Boxerâ€™s senate seat, a race that the GOP thought they could win with a high profile candidate. Carli Fiorinaâ€™s ad campaign was based around attacks on Barbara Boxer, but Boxerâ€™s campaign took a similar approach to Brownâ€™s, showing Fiorina as a non-caring CEO out for herself only, in contrast to a caring Boxer. Since the voters knew Boxer as a long serving senator and did not know the newcomer Fiorina, the attacks on Boxer largely failed, while the depiction of Fiorina as cold and heartless stuck.Â As the election neared, the Fiorina ads took a cue from Jerry Brownâ€™s campaign and tried to show Fiorina as personable and passionate, but by then it was too late.
We donâ€™t just want capable leaders; we want leaders that feel. The unpopularity of the former speaker of the house and present minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, is because she shows no compassion. By contrast, the new speaker John Boehner may be less capable, but he has shown genuine emotion on national TV, and that will work for us.
I think one reason for President Bill Clintonâ€™s popularity was that people knew he cared. When he said, â€œI feel your pain,â€ people believed him. Even now, I still think he genuinely did.
What about Clintonâ€™s successors, George W. Bush and Barack Obama? I am prepared to say that both Bush cared and Obama cares. With Bush, this did not always come across. The most notable time when it did not was during the Katrina disaster. There is no question that that damaged Bushâ€™s standing. Now with Obama, when a large part of the country is hurting, the sense of compassion is not seen to be there. His words are always fine and appropriate, and he may be able fix the problem and get the economy moving again, albeit slowly, but what we need to see is that our predicament hurts him too.