Brooks and Nocera

In “Goodness and Power” Bobo burbles that Contrary to popular House-of-Cards cynicism, our leaders’ moral failings make them not only less inspiring but also less effective.  He brought up Hillary Clinton but not a single member of the Republican party.  In the comments “gemli” from Boston had this to say:  “The fact that Brooks’ description of a moral failure sounds like the book jacket blurb for Chris Christie’s biography made me realize that most of the Republican candidates would fail the morality test, not to mention a history test, and most certainly a science test. It astounds me that Mr. Brooks can write with such seeming sincerity about a concern for morals, strength of character, kindness and humility while he shills shamelessly for the Republican Forces of Darkness.”  Mr. Nocera considers “Europe’s Google Problem” and addresses the politics behind the European Union’s antitrust charges against the American Internet giant.  Here’s Bobo:

There was an interesting poll result about Hillary Clinton last week.According to a Quinnipiac poll, 60 percent of independent voters believe that she has strong leadership qualities. But when these same voters were asked if she is honest and trustworthy, the evaluations flipped. Sixty-one percent said she is not honest and trustworthy. Apparently there are a lot of Americans who believe that Hillary Clinton is dishonest and untrustworthy but also a strong leader.

Let’s set aside her specific case for a second. These poll results raise a larger question: Can you be a bad person but a strong leader?

The case for that proposition is reasonably straightforward. Politics is a tough, brutal arena. People play by the rules of the jungle. Sometimes to get anything done, a leader has to push, bully, intimidate, elide the truth. The qualities that make you a good person in private life — kindness, humility and a capacity for introspection — can be drawbacks on the public stage. Electing a president is different than finding a friend or lover. It’s better to hire a ruthless person to do a hard job.

I get that argument, but outside the make-believe world of “House of Cards,” it’s usually wrong. Voting for someone with bad private morals is like setting off on a battleship with awesome guns and a rotting hull. There’s a good chance you’re going to sink before the voyage is over.

People who are dishonest, unkind and inconsiderate have trouble attracting and retaining good people to their team. They tend to have sleazy friends. They may be personally canny, but they are almost always surrounded by sycophants and second-raters who kick up scandal and undermine the leader’s effectiveness.

Leaders who lack humility are fragile. Their pride is bloated and sensitive. People are never treating them as respectfully as they think they deserve. They become consumed with resentments. They treat politics as battle, armor up and wall themselves off to information and feedback.

You may think they are championing your cause or agenda, but when the fur is flying, they are really only interested in defending themselves. They keep an enemies list and life becomes a matter of settling scores and imagining conspiracies. They jettison any policy that might hurt their standing.

It is a paradox of politics that the people who set out obsessively to succeed in it usually end up sabotaging themselves. They treat each relationship as a transaction and don’t generate loyalty. They lose any honest internal voice. After a while they can’t accurately perceive themselves or their situation. Sooner or later their Watergate will come.

Maybe once upon a time there was an environment in which ruthless Machiavellians had room to work their dark arts, but we don’t live in Renaissance Italy. We live in a world of universal media attention. Once there is a hint of scandal of any kind, the political world goes into maximum frenzy and everything stops.

We live in a world in which power is dispersed. You can’t intimidate people by chopping your enemies to bits in the town square. Even the presidency isn’t a powerful enough office to allow a leader to rule by fear. You have to build coalitions by appealing to people’s self-interest and by luring them voluntarily to your side.

Modern politics, like private morality, is about building trust and enduring personal relationships. That means being fair, empathetic, honest and trustworthy. If you stink at establishing trust, you stink at politics.

People with good private morality are better at navigating for the long term. They genuinely love causes beyond themselves. When the news cycle distracts and the short-term passions surge, they can still steer by that distant star. They’re less likely to overreact and do something stupid.

People with astute moral sentiments have an early warning system. They don’t have to think through the dangers of tit-for-tat favor-exchanges with billionaires. They have an aesthetic revulsion against people who seem icky and situations that are distasteful, which heads off a lot of trouble.

Of course, private morality is not enough. You have to know how to react to unprincipled people who want to destroy you.

But, historically, most effective leaders — like, say, George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt and Winston Churchill — had a dual consciousness. They had an earnest, inner moral voice capable of radical self-awareness, rectitude and great compassion. They also had a pragmatic, canny outer voice. These two voices were in constant conversation, checking each other, probing for synthesis, wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove.

I don’t know if Hillary Clinton possesses this double-mindedness. But I do know that if candidates don’t acquire a moral compass outside of politics, they’re not going to get it in the White House, and they won’t be effective there.

So, Bobo, howzabout a similar column about The 2016 Clown Car passengers?  I expect to see pigs flying past my window before I see that…  Here’s Mr. Nocera:

Have you heard the term Gafa yet? It hasn’t caught on here in the United States — and I’m guessing it won’t — but in France, it has become so common that the newspapers hardly need to spell out its meaning. Everyone there already knows what Gafa stands for: Google-Apple-Facebook-Amazon.

In America, we tend to think of these companies as four distinct entities that compete fiercely with each other. But, in Europe, which lacks a single Internet company of comparable size and stature, they “encapsulate America’s evil Internet empire,” as Gideon Rachman put it in The Financial Times on Monday. Nine out of 10 Internet searches in Europe use Google — a more commanding percentage than in the United States — to cite but one example of their utter dominance in the countries that make up the European Union.

Not surprisingly, this dominance breeds worry in Europe, however fairly it was achieved. The French fear (as the French always do) the imposition of American culture. The Germans fear the rise of an industry more efficient— and more profitable — than their own. Industry leaders, especially in publishing, telecommunications and even autos fear that the American Internet companies will disrupt their businesses and siphon away their profits. Europeans worry about the use of their private data by American companies, a worry that was only exacerbated by the Edward Snowden spying revelations. There is a palpable sense among many politicians, regulators and businesspeople in Europe that the Continent needs to develop its own Internet platforms — or, at the least, clip the wings of the big American Internet companies while there’s still time.

I bring this up in the wake of the decision by Margrethe Vestager, the European Union’s relatively new (she took office in November) commissioner in charge of competition policy, to bring antitrust charges against Google, the culmination of a five-year investigation. The case revolves around whether Google took advantage of its dominance in search to favor its own comparison-shopping service over those of its rivals. Vestager also opened an inquiry into Google’s Android mobile operating system — and said the European Union would investigate other potential violations if need be.

Not long after announcing the charges, Vestager made a speech in Washington. “We have no grudge; we have no fight with Google,” she said. “In all our cases, we are indifferent to the nationality of the companies involved. Our responsibility is to make sure that any company with operations in the territory of the E.U. complies with our treaty rules.”

Well, maybe. But it is also true that, to an unusual degree, this investigation, especially in its latter stages, has been driven by politics. The political rhetoric around Google in Europe has been so heated that had Vestager decided not to bring a case, her political standing might have been weakened, “probably compromising her ability to pursue effectively other high-profile antitrust cases,” wrote Carlos Kirjner, an analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein & Co.

Consider, for instance, what happened last year when Google was close to settling the case with Vestager’s predecessor, Joaquín Almunia. Google had agreed to make changes that it found cumbersome and intrusive, but it wanted to get the case behind it and move on. Instead, European politicians, especially in France and Germany, and prodded by Google’s competitors, complained that Almunía was being too accommodating to the company. “The offers by Google aren’t worthless, but they’re not nearly enough,” one such politician, Günther Oettinger of Germany, told The Wall Street Journal.

At the time, Oettinger was serving as the European Union’s energy commissioner, making him one of the 28 commissioners who would have to approve any settlement. By September, he had been nominated for a new job: commissioner for digital economy and society. At a hearing before a European Parliament committee, he took credit for blowing up the Google settlement.

As the digital commissioner, Oettinger has continued to advocate for what has become the German position on Google — namely that Google’s power must be reined in. In a speech two weeks ago, he essentially said that Europe should begin regulating Internet platforms in such a way as to allow homegrown companies to overtake the American Internet giants. And on Thursday, a document leaked from his office to The Wall Street Journal that outlined just such a plan, claiming that if nothing was done, the entire economy of Europe was “at risk” because of its dependency on American Internet companies. There have even been calls in Europe to break up Google.

Europe has every right to regulate any company and any sector it wants. And it can bring antitrust charges as it sees fit. But given the rhetoric surrounding Google and the other American Internet giants, suspicion of Europe’s real motives is justified.

From here, the European charges against Google look a lot like protectionism.

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