I’ve encountered a couple dozen political naturals in my life. Their ability to win friends and influence people is a kind of superpower, a species of genius, which can be used to divide people or unite them. Although some of them can probably do both, most of the political naturals I’ve met seem especially good at bringing people together or tearing them apart.
Eugene Genovese’s divisiveness was the stuff of legend. Every group he joined split apart before long. Every department he joined was divided into warring camps by the time he left it. He destroyed marriages, life-long friendships, and much else. Like all ideologues, he loved ideas more than people. The same cannot be said of Kimberley Manning, a friend of mine who launched a political career earlier on this year. She’s a uniter who loves people more than ideas.
Watching Kim work a room is breathtaking to behold. She genuinely likes people; and they like her back, even when they disagree with her. Unlike the mendacious people-pleasers who seem to be ubiquitous in political life, Kim knows how to find common ground with people without telling them what they want to hear—a great and rare art. To be able to charm enemies and win over critics without losing friends: this is the hallmark of her political genius.
—John Faithful Hamer
p.s. Barack Obama is a uniter too. The speech he gave at the University of Illinois the other day makes this crystal clear: “Sometimes I get into arguments with progressive friends about what the current political movement requires. There are well-meaning folks passionate about social justice, who think things have gotten so bad, the lines have been so starkly drawn, that we have to fight fire with fire, we have to do the same things to the Republicans that they do to us, adopt their tactics, say whatever works, make up stuff about the other side. I don’t agree with that. It’s not because I’m soft. It’s not because I’m interested in promoting an empty bipartisanship. I don’t agree with it because eroding our civic institutions and our civic trust and making people angrier and yelling at each other and making people cynical about government, that always works better for those who don’t believe in the power of collective action.
You don’t need an effective government or a robust press or reasoned debate to work when all you’re concerned about is maintaining power. In fact, the more cynical people are about government and the angrier and more dispirited they are about the prospects for change, the more likely the powerful are able to maintain their power. But we believe that in order to move this country forward, to actually solve problems and make people’s lives better, we need a well-functioning government, we need our civic institutions to work. We need cooperation among people of different political persuasions. And to make that work, we have to restore our faith in democracy. We have to bring people together, not tear them apart. . . .
And we won’t win people over by calling them names, or dismissing entire chunks of the country as racist, or sexist, or homophobic. When I say bring people together, I mean all of our people. You know, this whole notion that has sprung up recently about Democrats need to choose between trying to appeal to the white working class voters, or voters of color, and women and LGBT Americans, that’s nonsense. I don’t buy that. I got votes from every demographic. We won by reaching out to everybody and competing everywhere and by fighting for every vote. . . .
And we can’t do that if we immediately disregard what others have to say from the start because they’re not like us, because . . . they’re white or they’re black or they’re men or women, or they’re gay or they’re straight; if we think that somehow there’s no way they can understand how I’m feeling, and therefore don’t have any standing to speak on certain matters because we’re only defined by certain characteristics.
That doesn’t work if you want a healthy democracy. We can’t do that if we traffic in absolutes when it comes to policy. You know, to make democracy work we have to be able to get inside the reality of people who are different, have different experiences, come from different backgrounds. We have to engage them even when it is frustrating; we have to listen to them even when we don’t like what they have to say; we have to hope that we can change their minds and we have to remain open to them changing ours.”—Barack Obama, University of Illinois Speech (September 7, 2018)