Will Obama find Nevada Governor’s Insults Persuasive?

Will Obama find Nevada Governor’s Insults Persuasive?

Ever wanted someone’s cooperation, and instead of being persuasive, you wound up insulting them?  Hey, it happens.  And apparently this past week, it’s happened with the Governor of Nevada, Jim Gibbons (R).  

His desired outcome?  A meeting with the President when he comes to Nevada in May.  And here’s where it gets interesting.  

First, the Governor sends Obama an invitation, nicely worded, that says he hopes the President can find time to meet with himself and some business leaders about helping Nevada deal with its struggling tourist economy.  He might have it alone with that, and I’m guessing the President would have accepted the invitation.  But no, the Governor took his interest in a meeting to the press, in the form of a press release, that seems to say “You insulted us first.  Now it’s our turn to insult you!”

Here’s what it says:

“Earlier this year, the President told an audience in Elkhart, Indiana… “You can’t go take a trip to Las Vegas or go down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayer’s dime.”  That quote was seen by many as an insult to Las Vegas and as a message to companies across the Nation to stay away from Las Vegas for corporate meetings and conventions. 

It was?  Because I didn’t take it that way.  I took it as a message from the administration that using bailout money for junkets has to stop.  Nowhere do I see where it says that businesses can’t hold meetings in Las Vegas, which, by the way, is a great town for conventions and meetings!  I love speaking in Vegas!  (I have a little mental thing I do with it, when I’m preparing.  I tell myself that it has to be ‘Good enough for Vegas,’ if I want to ‘play to the world.’  Vegas has a first rate convention and meeting capability, that is almost unmatched by any other American city.  Meeting planners know this.  And I’m guessing the President knows this too. 

But the press release goes on to say:

 “I think a face-to-face meeting between the President, myself, and Nevada business leaders would do a lot to help overcome the perception that President Obama finds visiting Las Vegas somehow offensive,” Gibbons said, “If President Obama can come to Las Vegas to ask for political campaign cash, he can certainly take some time to explore helping the people who live and work here, we are 

all Americans.” 

Ouch!  He assumes that his premise is correct, and that the President and everyone else will agree with the premise.  I doubt it. Instead, it points out that Gibbons perceives the President this way, and might even be offended by his perception of him.  And it points out that not much time was paid to helping the people who live and work in Vegas by effectively engaging the President.  It’s insulting, by insinuation.

What exactly is an insult?  It’s when someone says something violent, arrogant, selfish or cold about another person or group.  If it’s real, it’s quite often a projection (meaning, it’s about the person saying it more than it is about the person receiving it).  If it’s a joke, it’s usually a funny bit of exaggeration or play on words about a known or even obvious characteristic, prejudice, bias or genuine fear of the recipient.  Insults that come from projections ironically create hurt feelings in the person being insulted, because they come across as dismissive, unfair, and even abusive.  I say ironically, because the wise person knows that the wise guy is talking about himself.

There are two contexts where insults actually have a persuasive advantage.  Both require love or friendliness as the baseline of the relationship.   First is at a roast. I’ll be blogging about how to do a roast in an upcoming post or two, but suffice it to say that if you’re insulted at a roast, you should be persuaded that people love you.  The other context is in a comedy routine.  Many a comedian has made a living insulting people, often including those in the audience.  

I was going to post an example of a comic handling a heckler from YouTube.  But I couldn’t find one tame enough

Insults are not often persuasive.  They usually have the opposite effect of polarizing a situation, pushing people away, and creating a good reason or a reasonable excuse for non-communication.  

So the question is, will the President be moved by this to pay the visit.  I’m of two minds.  He could. The Governor might be trying to shame Obama into the visit.  But he assumes Obama agrees with the interpretation given to his remarks.  Yet Obama is diplomatic, and could see this as an opportunity to shame the Governor by setting a great example of intellience and decency.  After all, the meeting industry does need help right now, and there are those in Congress (John Kerry, I’m looking at you) whose shortsightedness does seek to cripple the meeting industry even though so much of our economy actually depends on it.   

But he might just ignore it.  That’s what I’d do.  After all, if someone is taking shots at you, why would you want to dignify them by responding, or be around them if you didn’t have to?  If that’s the result his press release gets, then the Governor has done a disservice to his state and the working people in it, and to the meeting industry which really needs some help, through his lack of impulse control.  

Another bit of irony.  Had the governor tried a more playful approach, using irony for comedic effect (it’s not like he couldn’t find a comedy writer in Vegas to help him fashion it) he might have succeeded by drawing Obama in with humor and still scored some point.  But this has the feel of insult without grace.  I won’t be at all surprised if the President bypasses this surly state leader entirely.

Your comments are welcome.  

Be well,