Help! I'm Crushing It in Iowa But Drinking Alone: Read My Lips

A request for advice from someone who doesn't really want it.

"But -- wait. I do Homer, too."

Photographer: Gage Skidmore via Flickr. Used with permission under license by Creative Commons. (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode)

Dear Carolyn: I'm no fan of the Washington Post, a charter member of the mainstream media, but you do seem to know about these things, so here goes.

I'm a 44-year-old man with an Ivy League pedigree, a high-profile job, an opportunity for an enormous promotion and a growing fan club in Iowa. I'm a great family man, super-smart, a lethal debater. I tell good stories, do awesome "Simpsons" impressions, and my book made the New York Times bestseller list after I complained. Problem is, people seem to loathe me. I've been called "grating and pompous" and a "jackass." Nobody even wants to have a beer with me.

I'm not sure I really care. But just out of curiosity, what would be your worthless liberal journalist advice?

- Reigniting the Promise of America

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Dear Reigniting:

Whoa, take a breath there, tiger. I've known you for all of six sentences and already you're getting on my nerves.

You clearly aren't lacking in confidence and self-regard. Your professional and family successes suggest you have many other good qualities as well. You may still have time to turn things around before you cross into Mel Gibson, Donald Sterling or even John Edwards territory.

Let's start with this malarkey about not caring about being liked. Who doesn't want to be liked? Unless you're that Arctic meteorologist who lives and works all alone, I bet you'd do your job better if people could stand being around you. Try this: The next time you're in a big crowd, think of yourself as only the second-smartest person in the room, and see how that goes. That's called a baby step.

If someone sat down for a beer with you, would they have to endure a lecture on the relative benefits of ale versus stout? I thought so.

It seems as if you turn people off almost immediately. Is it possible you remind them of some repellent figure, like Joseph McCarthy, or a Power Rangers villain, or the farmer-turned-conman from "Green Acres"? Just wondering.

Is yours one of those workplaces where seniority is respected? If so, did you show up on day one as if you owned the place? New ideas are fine, but so is showing a bit of deference. You might want to identify a highly regarded elder, someone whose lifelong service is undeniable, and make a public show of respect. Unless, of course, you've already burned that bridge right down to its pilings.

Let's talk about those impressions you do.

Impressions are tricky, because while you may believe yours are brilliant, others may find them so obnoxious that they wish they could claw their skin from their faces until you're done, but of course you're not done and you keep going and going and going and oh god is he ever ever ever going to stop.

The key is to break them out sparingly -- only when people ask, and only in the right settings, like a social gathering after many rounds of drinks. Don't ever do them into a camera, or at a breakfast table with people clearly wishing they could dig into their fruit salad but now have no option but to pretend to laugh. Seriously, my skin is crawling just thinking about it.

Since it sounds like you're in a pretty important profession, I'll end by referring you to the story of Ronald Reagan, another pretty successful guy. He got done a lot of what he wanted to, but also put some effort into being a likeable guy. Some may even argue that in his case, being likeable and being successful went hand in hand. A few jelly beans go a long way.

Good luck with that promotion. If you get it, will there be a party of some sort?

*****

After decades of grumbling about how "horse-race journalism" has trivialized presidential elections, a different racing metaphor is surging at the polls.

The early winner of the 2016 presidential-election jargon contest is the word "lane."

As you've been told many times by now, the Republican free-for-all is expected to narrow, eventually, to one candidate in the "establishment lane" and one in the "conservative lane," though the wording can vary. Fivethirtyeight.com refers to the non-establishment lane as the "insurgent lane." The Jeb Bush campaign talks, quite self-servingly, of a "regular Republican, positive conservative lane" and a "grievance lane," according to Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times.

But why stop at just two lanes? Isn't this an American highway?

In September, Steve Deace wrote in USA Today that the Republican primary "has been narrowed down to three lanes -- outsider, "conservative base" and establishment -- with Marco Rubio and Scott Walker needing "to choose which lane they wish to run in or risk voters passing them by."

Politico reported in October that Ted Cruz and his team "have divided the 2016 primary into four clear lanes: a moderate-establishment lane, in which he would not compete; a tea party lane, which he needed to dominate; an evangelical lane, where he had strong potential but little initial traction; and a libertarian lane, which began as the turf of Rand Paul."

Nobody's mentioning the breakdown lane, where Bobby Jindal is helping Walker tend to four flat tires. They only recently were passed by George Pataki and Lindsey Graham, each driving 40 in a 65-mph zone yet inexplicably bypassing each exit.

Bush is on cruise control in the center lane, obeying the speed limit and listening to adult contemporary.

Rubio is in the turning lane, his signal on, still deciding which way to go.

The left lane, of course, is HOV (Hillary-occupied vehicle) only.

And up there? That's Donald Trump in his helicopter, laughing.

(Read My Lips is a column dedicated to the proposition that men and women in a position of power, or the pursuit of it, will say or do things for which they will be sorry.)

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