The night before the election, the Manhattan Institute held a dinner at which the great playwright David Mamet was honored. You may have seen a movie made from Mamet’s most famous play “Glengarry Glen Ross.” It’s about an avaricious group of real estate salesmen, the most successful of whom had a saying which became the play’s theme: “Always be closing.” That is, with every breath you take as a salesman, you have to be working to close the sale.
After his speech, I got Mamet to sign a playbill from the Broadway revival of his play, and sure enough, above his signature he wrote: “Always be closing.”
Maybe it was just the timing of my brief meeting with Mamet, but that saying stuck in my head today while meditating on the failure of the Romney campaign. Mitt wasn’t always closing. Sometimes he appeared more concerned with maintaining his own stature (different from maintaining your dignity) than he was about making the sale, as if the sale wasn’t worth getting himself dirty for. That’s not a winning attitude.
You may think it’s crass to talk about making a sale in an election. It should be all about high ideals and character. Well yes, but there’s nothing wrong with being a salesman, either…unless you’re a dishonest one. You can always be closing while always being honest, even if not all salesmen are.
But you can’t sell what you don’t have. And while Ronald Reagan burned inside with an enthusiasm for the core values of this nation, Mitt’s fires weren’t strong enough to light the nation…or at least more than half of it. In order to make the sale, you have to care more about what you’re selling than you do about yourself. And while it’s difficult sometimes to believe that President Obama cares about anything more than his own image, he certainly sells his message with the passion of a true believer.
Now, true believers can be dangerous. Che Guevara was a true believer, who murdered his own countrymen. But the American public can usually sniff out the fanatical true believers from those who are passionately in love with American ideals. Reagan’s genuine passion for America was always right there. Mitt’s passion wasn’t always as easy to find.
Perhaps that’s because, despite certain hardships, Mitt was never really raised without a safety net. I realize that he worked hard to make it, but his rise to the top wasn’t the same kind of hard-scrapple rise from the bottom that Ronald Reagan lived through.
That kind of background thickens your skin and deepens your appreciation for what you have. It helped Reagan face off against a Communist onslaught when he was head of the actors’ union in Hollywood. It helped him battle ‘60s radicals when he was governor. And of course, it helped him battle for supremacy among staid country club Republicans, who thought he was too “radically conservative” for the Republican Party.
Reagan never ran away from a fight because he was worried about losing his cool…“I paid for this microphone!” He was always closing. And unlike other politicians (and unlike the salesmen in “Glengarry Glen Ross”) Reagan believed in what he was selling…to his core. He lived it. He sold it. We bought it. And we were all better off for it.
Right now we have a salesman as president who is so good at selling that we buy it, even though we’re worse off for it. There’s got to be someone out there who can make a close on policies and values that are actually good for us and for the nation long term.
Clearly we didn’t find him this time.