Like many of you, I have been known to suffer from l’esprit de l’escalier: an ability to think of the perfect response only after I’ve left the situation.
And, like many of you, I often berate myself for this; telling myself, “You work in communication! You should be able to think on your feet!”
Which is why I found it so heartening to hear Mr. Comey’s response to Senators Feinstein and Rubio when he was asked why he didn’t have greater presence of mind when he was asked to meet alone with the President.
To refresh your memory, here’s the Feinstein exchange:
FEINSTEIN: Now, here’s the question: You’re big. You’re strong. I know the Oval Office, and I know what happens to people when they walk in. There is a certain amount of intimidation. But why didn’t you stop and say, “Mr. President, this is wrong. I cannot discuss this with you”?
COMEY: It’s a great question. Maybe if I were stronger, I would have. I was so stunned by the conversation that I just…
COMEY: … took it in. And the only thing I could think to say, because I was playing in my mind, because I could (ph) remember every word he said — I was playing in my mind, what should my response be? And that’s why I very carefully chose the words.
And, look, I — I’ve seen the tweet about tapes. Lordy, I hope there are tapes. I — I remember saying, “I agree he’s a good guy,” as a way of saying, “I’m not agreeing with what you just asked me to do.”
Again, maybe other people would be stronger in that circumstance but that — that was — that’s how I conducted myself. I — I hope I’ll never have another opportunity. Maybe if I did it again, I would do it better.
And here is the Rubio exchange:
RUBIO: At the time, did you say anything to the president about — that is not an appropriate request, or did you tell the White House counsel, that is not an appropriate request, someone needs to go tell the president that he can’t do these things?
COMEY: I didn’t, no.
RUBIO: OK. Why?
COMEY: I don’t know. I think the — as I said earlier, I think the circumstances were such that it was — I was a bit stunned, and didn’t have the presence of mind.
And I don’t know — you know, I don’t want to make you — sound like I’m Captain Courageous. I don’t know whether, even if I had the presence of mind, I would have said to the president, “Sir, that’s wrong.” I don’t know whether I would have.
COMEY: But in the moment, it — it didn’t — it didn’t come to my mind. What came to my mind is, be careful what you say. And so I said, “I agree Flynn is a good guy.”
So the next time you are inclined to beat yourself up about not being able to think on your feet, remember it happens to everyone—and next time you’ll have a chance to do better.