We, the kids from East 8th Street, were playing softball against the kids from East 9th Street when the scuffle broke out. They were on our territory, an empty lot on our block, when things veered out of control. And Artie was in the middle of it. He, and the toughest guy from the other side, got embroiled in a heated argument.
I don’t remember what the issue was, but vividly recall what happened next. The other guy came charging at Artie full tilt, with his arms flailing. I was sure Artie would panic, but he didn’t. He just stood there cool as a cucumber. Then just before his adversary arrived, he stuck out a straight left jab.
His foe, who was too committed to stop, ran directly into it with his nose. Utterly startled, he staggered backward, only be become further enraged. At this, he charged at Artie with renewed vigor. But Artie had things figured out, and up came that straight left arm once again.
This time the 9th Street kid plowed into it with his nose even more energetically. In fact, so forceful was the contact that his nose began to bleed. At this, his friends restrained him from attempting a third assault. The fight was now over and Artie had won a glorious victory.
This incident taught me a lesson; one I carry to this day. Actually, I often tell this story to my students at Kennesaw State University. The moral is this: If you want to be a winner, keep your wits about you. If you are able to stay cool, you have a better chance of figuring out what is necessary than someone who has gone berserk.
Now Michele Bachmann boasts that she is a fighter. There is nothing wrong with this. The question, however, is how well you fight. What battles do you choose to enter, and how effectively do you execute your game plan? If all you do is fight, you too may wind up with a bloody nose.
Mitt Romney, fortunately, continues to demonstrate that he knows how to fight. He did so once again at the Bloomberg-sponsored debate. Perhaps the most telling sequence occurred when the participants were allowed to ask each other questions. Not surprisingly, as the frontrunner, Romney received most of these queries.
But he handled them like a seasoned professional. Instead of dithering around as did a few of his colleagues, he responded on point. Unfailingly articulate, he usually made a good case for his position. While some listeners might disagree with his conclusions, he reasons were always cogent.
He even handled his frontrunner status well. Commentators had speculated that because Herman Cain has been nipping at his heels in the polls, he might decide to unload on him. But Romney did no such thing. Instead he treated Cain with the respect he deserves and allowed others to act as attack dogs.
Nor did he attempt to further damage Rick Perry. In this case, he allowed Perry to undo himself. The Texas governor has demonstrated that he does not think well on his feet (or in this case, on the seat of his pants); hence Mitt allowed him to do so one more time.
And so when it came time for him to ask a question, he directed a softball toward Bachmann. Evidently having decided that she is no longer a threat, he was gracious enough to allow her to look good.
All this adds up to being cool under fire. What is more, this is of enormous importance. When we seek a president, we test him or her. Almost anyone can say the right things. What we want to know is can they stand up under pressure? Like Artie, Romney has shown that he can. The man is obviously able to think clearly even when under attack.
We must never forget that a candidate who cannot explain him or herself is going to be eaten alive by Barack Obama. So will one who must rely on prepackaged sound bites. Worse still, such a person will be flustered in office.
Let’s not let that happen.
Melvyn L. Fein Ph.D. is a professor of Sociology at Kennesaw State University.