D.G. MARTIN: Some Good Advice for Obama From a North Carolina Expert
Don't get the reputation for being a loser!
This advice came from my mentor, the late Jay Robinson. If he were still alive today, I bet he would tell President Obama the same thing.
Back then, 15 or so years ago, Robinson was training me to succeed him as chief liaison to the legislature for the University of North Carolina (System). I was working on "little matters," and he was overseeing the big ones. I was trying hard to stop an effort by some important legislators to restrict one of the university's programs that had offended them. I thought Robinson would be proud of my enthusiastic advocacy for the university's position.
"We are not going to win this one," Robinson observed. He asked me if I really wanted to ride it hard all the way down to defeat. If legislators saw me lose too many times, even in good causes, they would start thinking of me as a loser.
"And when you get tagged as a loser," he said, "it handicaps your efforts to round up legislators' support for the really important stuff."
He advised me to be careful about pressing our "friends" too hard to support us on relatively minor matters that we were bound to lose. Why? Because, he said, we do not want our friends to be losers. You need to protect your friends and keep them strong, so that they can -- and will want to -- help the university when it counts.
Then he told me something else. Some of those people who are opposing the university on this minor matter might be persuaded to help on the next major one. "But if you get in there and make them too mad on this one, you might put them in a mind to punish you again."
But some matters, I said to Robinson, are so important and fundamental that we have to push even when we know we might lose.
Robinson agreed, but said, "Not often! But when it is critical, you pull out all the stops and fight hard to keep from losing."
"But if you find you are going to lose," he continued, "you have to figure out some way to look like a winner, even as you lose."
"How do you do that?" I asked.
"Well, first, you try to get something out of it. Sometimes there is an opening to get a good thing or two out of a bad package. Get that and brag about it. Work hard. Don't pull the rug out from those that are helping you, and thank them over and over again And keep cool. Don't whine. And do not get personal with those who beat you. Don't give them the satisfaction."
Then Robinson told me something that is a hard lesson -- one that Obama is learning on his own this summer: Some legislators just will not like you and others just do not like the university. Whatever the issue involved, they want you to lose. They want to bring you and the university down and stomp on you any time they can. They want to make you a loser so they will have an easier time beating you next time. Don't take it personally.
What are Robinson's lessons for Obama in the health-care reform effort?
Don't get involved in fights about the "minor" matters unless you are sure you can win.
Remember that some opponents are fighting for no other reason than to make a loser out of you.
So don't let them tag you as a loser.
Win if you can, but if you can't win, lose like a winner. Show strong, get what you can, and gather strength for the next battle.
D.G. Martin is the host of UNC-TV's "North Carolina Bookwatch," which airs Sundays at 5 p.m. This Sunday's (Aug. 30) guest is Marianne Gingher, author of "Adventures in Pen Land."
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