U Penn’s president is probably about to announce her resignation, and Harvard’s doesn’t look too secure either, after what everyone’s calling their “disastrous” congressional testimony. What’d they do wrong?
Same thing that sank Dukakis: Lack of emotion when emotion is clearly called for. A reporter asked Dukakis, a death penalty opponent, about whether he thought his wife being raped and murdered would affect his thinking on the penalty.
“No, I don’t, and I think you know that I’ve opposed the death penalty during all of my life.” Perhaps there is validity in the criticism many directed toward [the questioner,] accusing him of injecting an unfair scenario into a policy discussion. Regardless, all I know is that when I heard Dukasis’ words, my brain red flagged, and my heart sank. For the candidate, in his response, came across as robotic, uncaring, and devoid of emotion. That night Dukakis’ poll numbers dropped from 49% to 42%.
On that fateful evening the candidate spoke only with his brain, and he completely disregarded his heart. This catastrophe would have been avoided had he said something like: “Barnard, I would want to murder, to torture, to rip from limb to limb anyone who even dared to hurt my wife or child. But, you see, with all of my heart, I want laws to protect me from the worst of me.”
The presidents need not have said something so vehement; but they needed to communicate their fundamental humanity, their capacity as sensitive human beings to be appalled by the cruelty of (in this instance) anti-semitism, and for whatever reason they didn’t go there. They waxed bureaucratic. Terrible mistake.