I’m Nice? No, I’m Polite. There’s a Difference.

The title of this post comes from an incident over 16 years ago.  During a rather intense discussion over an issue, one of the mailing list members sent a huge file in response to something, crashing almost everyone’s mailbox.  Yes, that was back in the days when no one had “unlimited space,” and you paid for your Internet time by the minute.   My reply to her was … scathing … to put it mildly.  I wasn’t the only one, but mine apparently hit hard.  Her response to me was “You used to be such a nice young man!”  My reply to that was “No, I was polite.  There’s a difference.”   In person I’m rather quiet and soft-spoken.  I’m polite to people.   I’m able to have a reasoned argument without yelling or getting angry, and  I’ll let things slide, or just go along, if it isn’t that important to me.  All of which tends to cause people to think I’m “nice.”  More correctly, to take it to mean that I’m a pushover, and easy to take advantage of.  Which is why it comes as a surprise to them to find out that no, I’m not nice, particularly if they’ve pissed me off.  Then it’s a different ball game.

It doesn’t necessarily  mean that I’m going to blow up and go into a screaming rant.  I can – and have – done that, but it’s not my usual method.  Instead, what sends chills up the spine of the people who know me is when I get quiet, and … reasonable.  It’s not a nice reasonable.  I have one of those memories which squirrels away stray facts and incidents.  Even worse, I’ve been a researcher for decades, which means I know how to look for information and organize it.  When I’m really irritated, I combine those two.  I start getting busy looking into things, and “connecting the dots.”    Then I will publicly smile, and  calmly, reasonably proceed to smack the living crap out of whomever has pissed me off.  To make it even worse for them, I’ll have warned them in advance that I’m going to do it.  It’s my way of giving them a “last chance to back off.”

So, this post is trying to explain myself?  No, it’s for another reason.  Last night I got to watch a master do the same thing.  The President went before the American people and explained the debt ceiling issue, and its consequences.   He  calmly, reasonably, devastated the Republicans:

Understand –- raising the debt ceiling does not allow Congress to spend more money. It simply gives our country the ability to pay the bills that Congress has already racked up. In the past, raising the debt ceiling was routine. Since the 1950s, Congress has always passed it, and every President has signed it. President Reagan did it 18 times. George W. Bush did it seven times. And we have to do it by next Tuesday, August 2nd, or else we won’t be able to pay all of our bills.

Unfortunately, for the past several weeks, Republican House members have essentially said that the only way they’ll vote to prevent America’s first-ever default is if the rest of us agree to their deep, spending cuts-only approach.

If that happens, and we default, we would not have enough money to pay all of our bills -– bills that include monthly Social Security checks, veterans’ benefits, and the government contracts we’ve signed with thousands of businesses.

He warned them he was going to do it, too.  Last night, right after the speech, the Congressional web sites, e-mail system, and phone lines had serious issues with the volume of e-mail and phone calls that appeared.   John Boehner was heard to complain that “I didn’t sign up for going mano-a-mano with the President of the United States.”    The media is starting to swing onto them as well.   You see, they made a mistake.  The President is not nice.  He’s polite.  They took that for being “weak,” a “pushover.”  They just found out the difference between “polite” and “nice,”  and they can’t even say they weren’t warned.

16 Comments

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16 responses to “I’m Nice? No, I’m Polite. There’s a Difference.

  1. overseasgranny

    Ah, Norbrook, even too many Democrats think the President is being nice when he is just being polite, a rather common mistake of the PL. I would love to have been on the wall when he and Rahm had discussions.

    • overseasgranny

      That should have been a fly on the wall, but come to think about it flies were not too safe around the President either.

      • True, he did kill a fly in cold blood and laugh about it. :D The PL wants a liberal version of Bush – swaggering around and bragging. That’s not who the President is, and I have never mistaken his reasonableness for being “spineless.”

  2. This was a great diary Norbrook. I have always admired PBO’s ability to stay deadly calm and then smash them with logic, facts and his facility with words. His speech last night was a stellar example of that.

    I’ve been trying myself to emulate that behavior because I tend to scream, rage and cry when I get really angry. Then I lose all credibility, although people do pay attention if a plate of spare ribs whizzes past their heads!

    PBO is no push over and I will say I would never, ever, want him personally angry with me.

    BTW, Bonehead’s and other’s servers are so down and even fax#’s are offline. I have taken to faxing their local headquarters. I can sometimes be ‘cold’ when I am angry too.

    • I have a temper as well, and while I’m not a “screamer” by nature, I can be very loud. Generally that’s my “mildly irritated” state, and it’s over pretty quickly. It’s when I get really angry that I start getting quiet, and … busy. Which is usually when most of my friends will tell you “you should start running.” :lol:

      This is very much the Republicans, along the PL and media, continuing to misread PBO. He has given them opportunity to get it right – even offering a “face saving” way to do it – and they have taken it as “weakness.” All of them forgot that the President has the ability to go completely around them, right past all their spin and filters, and take it directly to the public. He warned them he could – and would – do it, but they didn’t take the warning. So last night, he did just that. No media filters, no political spin, just him. Yes, there was a lot of that after the fact, but it was just scrambling to try to minimize what people had heard for themselves. The public may not have been paying much attention before, but now they are. That’s not a good thing for the Teapublicans. ;)

  3. majii

    This needs to be spread to every site that the firebaggers, frustrati crew, the PL, and the rw nuts visit. Maybe it would help them to understand that being polite to someone/others doesn’t mean one is “nice,” “weak,” or that one will “sellout” one’s position on an issue to one’s opponent(s.) Your post reminds me of one I read on another blog a couple weeks ago, Norbrook, that spoke of Americans’ addiction to bluster as a sign of a president’s effectiveness as a leader. If those whom I mentioned previously would compare PBO’s quiet willingness to tackle difficult issues to the republicans’ refusal to do so after filling the airwaves with their rhetoric, they would easily see that “republican bravado” serves no purpose/role when the time comes to actually help resolve the nation’s problems in substantive ways, and that it is not a primary characteristic of leaders who are most effective in performing the duties associated with their jobs. Thanks!

    • The most deadly people I’ve ever known in my life were all very polite, easygoing people. By deadly, I mean men who had been combat snipers, special forces, or were black belts in one of the martial arts. People you do not mess with. The ones who talked the toughest, who went out of their way to brag about themselves? Not even close.

  4. You got that right. Your comment made me think of “Lamar” an ex-Marine who taught me in a women’s self defense class. I think he probably knew 455 ways to maim or kill and taught us about 25 of them. He told us our first best weapons were are voices and our feet, to run and scream if we could. After that we should shut up and just do our worst to save ourselves.

    He was a great guy. I really liked him.

    • The difference between the braggers and the quiet ones is that the quiet ones know what they can do, and don’t feel the need to “prove it” to themselves. They have confidence in their abilities, and aren’t threatened by others being competent. That’s what I see in PBO. He’s smart, he knows it, but he’s also aware that he doesn’t know everything and is willing to tap those who do have expertise in an area when he needs it – he lets others do what they’re good at.

  5. I appreciate this Norbrook, my mother was Japanese and she brought us up to believe that strength is the ability to weather life’s storms in a calm and reasonable manner. (I won’t claim I’m always able to do that). Her temperament was similar to the President’s and she was one of the most courageous people I’ve known.

  6. Excellent explanation of how POTUS operates. Did you notice that he also uses colloquial English which is very easy to connect with:

    pay the bills that Congress has already racked up

    This is not like Bush who dropped his ending g’s to sound like reg’lar folk … this is a guy who uses the same unpretentious words that we do.

    • Oh yes. I noticed that quite early on. He took what could be made a very complex situation and broke it down into a set of terms and examples that are easily understandable. This was another brilliant part:

      Most Americans, regardless of political party, don’t understand how we can ask a senior citizen to pay more for her Medicare before we ask a corporate jet owner or the oil companies to give up tax breaks that other companies don’t get. How can we ask a student to pay more for college before we ask hedge fund managers to stop paying taxes at a lower rate than their secretaries? How can we slash funding for education and clean energy before we ask people like me to give up tax breaks we don’t need and didn’t ask for?

      That’s not right. It’s not fair.

      I have heard this sentiment from a number of Republican voters in this area. It’s simple, clear examples, and yes, it’s something that resonated strongly with people across the spectrum. “It’s not fair.” The public gets it. They get that you can’t do it with spending cuts alone, and they’re already not happy with the “big money” people shirking. Hence, when the President asked them to call their reps and express their opinion, they did just that. Much to the dismay of many of the Republicans. :lol:

  7. Nathan Katungi

    Norbrook, you are one of the best at going to the heart of the matter. This is really a magnificent commentary. My father was like you. He was always polite and respectful of people, but he never suffered fools lightly. He particularly taught us not to confuse people who speak loudly and obnoxiously with strong people.

    I truly appreciate and learn a great deal from your articles and commentaries. I wish you, and TPV’s Deaniac, were given more widespread public exposure to represent committed and pragmatic progressives who are focused on reality and not on manufactured outrages.

    • Thank you. :) Personally, I think Deaniac would make a wonderful replacement for Glenn Greenwald over at Slate, since Deaniac is a much better writer than I am – and definitely better than Glenn – and … sane. :lol: I’m happy in my own little corner of the Internet, so I’m just going to keep on keeping on. :)