Professional courtesy in politics?
But then again—why not?
When I was growing up in Missouri in the 70s, I was raised to respect the Office of the President regardless of who the voting public had selected to occupy the Oval Office. And though my parents always had a preference of one candidate over another, I don’t recall ever being “taught” that Candidate “A” was extraordinary and Candidate “B” was evil as seems to often be the case these days.
“Evil” was an adjective typically reserved for the likes of J.R. Ewing or the person who shot J.R.
Absurdly late spoiler alert: the person who pulled the trigger was Kristen Shepard played by Mary Crosby.
Furthermore, as my own political conscience was being shaped, I was allowed to think for myself as opposed to following some sort of family-ordained political agenda.
As an adult, I lived in the Washington, DC area for 25 years and never met anyone even remotely famous—in politics or otherwise.
I did get to peek inside the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile at a Lansdowne, Virginia gas station once, but that was the high point of my exposure to fame.
And though my relatively short time as a resident of Naples, Florida has afforded me face time with some of my favorite public figures including authors Nicholas Sparks and Augusten Burroughs, jewelry-designer David Yurman, and comedienne Loni Love, I certainly never expected to find myself on a “double bill” with a Presidential candidate.
But that’s essentially what happened on Sunday, January 29, 2012 at The Sugden Theatre in Naples:
12:30 Mitt Romney, Candidate, Office of the President of the United States
2:00 Randall Kenneth Jones, Actor, Moonlight & Magnolias
Truth be told, Governor Romney may have attracted the larger crowd, but I would still like to think I kicked ass in the roles of Gone with the Wind Producer David O. Selznick and “Scarlett O’Hara” at the matinee later that afternoon.
I don’t find it necessary or appropriate to share my personal political views here as the concept of professional courtesy in politics is not limited to a specific party affiliation. Because despite my opinions, I was, first and foremost, a representative of my community and our theatre during Governor Romney’s visit—a situation which, in my mind at least, demanded I conduct myself with an even higher-than-normal degree of courtesy and respect.
As Romney addressed his passionate supporters, I remained behind the scenes to complete my pre-show ritual of reviewing my lines prior to my upcoming matinee performance.
Sorry Mitt, I had a job to do too.
However, in this extraordinary case, the potential leader of the Free World was speaking just 50 yards away from my backstage perch. An atypical situation which caused some of Ron Hutchinson’s clever dialogue to resonate in ways they never had before:
“Because to stay in business, you have to give them what they want, not what’s good for them.” David O. Selznick, Moonlight & Magnolias by Ron Hutchinson
Gotta love irony.
Of course, during each debate season, though “X” number of candidates theoretically represent the same party platform, the only “platform” I seem to notice is the one that Candidate “A” wants to shove Candidate “B” off of to get ahead in the polls. As representatives of the same basic belief system, shouldn’t we expect to see candidates agree more often?
Okay Republicans, don’t get your panties in a twist, the Democrats did the exact same thing four years ago.
Like it or not, all our political leaders are role models—so is it too much to ask for a little more role modeling and a little less posturing?
Fast forward an hour later and, as Candidate Romney was preparing to leave the theatre, I happened to notice a pile of umbrellas on the cusp of becoming a not-so-distant memory to members of Romney campaign.
Yeah, like it’s going to rain in sunny Southwest Florida but better safe than sorry, I suppose.
Of course, as a humorist and a professional-courtesy pundit on RediscoverCourtesy.org, I’ll be the first to admit I was desperate for a Mitt anecdote worthy of publication. Nonetheless, I certainly didn’t expect to find myself standing face-to-face with a Presidential Candidate just two minutes later—especially with an arm load of over-sized umbrellas giving me the appearance of one of those New York City street vendors who opportunistically appear during each thunderstorm.
Though several members of Romney’s entourage passed right by me (and the aforementioned monster umbrellas) as they exited the building, I was ultimately forced to choose between having extraneous umbrella cargo in the rear of “Anderson Mini Cooper” or approaching Governor Romney himself. As I already had more umbrellas than I needed and these didn’t belong to me, I chose the latter.
I confess I have occasionally wondered what I would say to a prominent political figure given the opportunity—but I truly didn’t see this one coming:
“Excuse me Governor Romney; do you want your umbrellas?”
By this time, the occupants of the back hallway were limited to me, Romney, my colleagues Holly and Shelley, and a campaign aide. Though he was certainly not “on stage” any more and there was no requirement I should expect any degree of courtesy and/or appreciation, Mitt Romney proved to be quite gracious and even expressed, what appeared to be, a genuine interest in our theatre and production.
Not one to miss an opportunity to try to be witty, I shared that, though our matinee was sold out, I could probably score him a ticket if he wanted to stay.
After all, just once it would have been nice for a political candidate to have to listen to me speak for two hours as opposed to the other way around.
Obviously in on the joke, Romney smiled and politely declined. A quickly executed cell-phone-generated photo op later and Romney, along with his stunning collection of umbrellas, had left the building.
Of course, I have heard it said that people are more likely to be courteous if they want something from you. Whether it was his desire for my vote or the comfort of knowing he would have an umbrella in the unlikely event of a hurricane hitting Miami later that day, Governor Romney was, at that moment, a perfect example of a courteous professional.
That evening, after posting my Mitt pics on Facebook, I discovered I needed a virtual umbrella to protect me from a deluge of comments coming at me from both sides of the political fence.
Yes, Facebook Friend “X,” we all noticed Mitt has pit stains—it’s kind of hot here in Florida.
Of course, never one to let any metaphor go unexploited—and keeping in mind that an umbrella is ultimately meant to protect its user—I couldn’t help but think: wouldn’t it be nice if there was some sort of Political Conduct Umbrella Act to protect us from negative political ads, rhetoric, shameless self-promotion, half-truths, and even the overt lies that seem to accompany political campaigns?
Though I am a firm believer in Freedom of Speech, what would it take to establish even an emblematic umbrella—one sturdy enough to shield us from all the mudslinging we’ll likely witness in the months ahead?
Because here’s the real deal: when it comes down to it, many of us don’t really care what you think about your opponent. We only care if you can think for yourself.
Marketing guru, business humorist, professional-courtesy advocate, branded-content writer, creative-development consultant, and entertaining motivational speaker Randall Kenneth Jones is the creator of RediscoverCourtesy.org and the president of MindZoo, a marketing communications firm in Naples, Florida.