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January 23, 2012

Good Candidate vs. Good Executive

This is one of the best things I've read this election season:

A would-be president has to be the C.E.O. of his or her campaign, with a flair for fund-raising, an eye for talent, and a keen sense of when to micromanage and when to delegate. This is the arm-twisting, organization-building, endorsement-corralling side of presidential politics, and not surprisingly it tends to favor insiders and deal-makers and old Washington hands.

But successful insiders and deal-makers are rarely comfortable with the more public, rhetorical, self-advertising side of politics. The great manager is unlikely to be a great persuader, capable of seducing undecided voters with his empathy, or inspiring them with what George H. W. Bush (who lacked it) called “the vision thing.” He’s also unlikely to be a great demagogue, capable of demonizing his enemies and convincing his supporters that they stand at Armageddon and battle for the Lord. The manager can play these roles, but there will always be a hint of irony, a touch of phoniness, a sense that he’d much rather get back to the inside game.

Nor do the gifts of persuasion necessarily overlap with the gifts of demagoguery. Quite the reverse: The politician who’s good at reaching out to the unconverted is usually mistrusted by his own base, and the politician whose us-versus-them rhetoric inspires devotion among ideologues rarely finds it easy to pivot to a more transcendent, unifying style. If Jon Huntsman had a little more Sarah Palin in him, for instance, or Palin a bit more Huntsman, one of them might have been the 2012 Republican nominee. But their respective gifts are rarely shared in a single personality.

Discuss amongst your ownselves.

Posted by Cassandra at January 23, 2012 05:49 PM

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I bought that argument in 1996 when Steve Forbes was floating it. In the years since, though, I've begun to question the assumption we make that business relationships are good models for other relationships.

For example, back in October we discussed my critique of John Locke's theory of the social contract. I think one of the flaws in the model arises from Locke's assumption that contract theory is applicable to social relationships outside of business. What was really going on wasn't a contract of informed individuals, but rather a process entirely divorced from that: the winning of a space by a comitatus of warriors, who then dictate the terms of the 'contract' -- really a treaty -- to others. Renegotiation of the 'social contract' thus more often resembles violence than not, because it's the suspension of a treaty that was setting the terms for a cessation of violence.

A President who deals with China or Russia needs to have that view, which is a warrior's view rather than a businessman's. There's a danger involved in taking contract theory as your model.

By the same token, we've talked about how the dangers of viewing marriage as a contract, rather than the creation of a kinship bond supporting blood relationships. A lot of the reforms that have been so damaging to marriage make perfect sense if you start from the assumption that marriage is a contract between two people, rather than a blood tie involving generations and whole families (including the future ones, the support of whom is a major part of the point of the institution).

So, in general, I'm suspicious of the idea that corporate affairs offer good models for other kinds of affairs. They probably do offer some organizational skills that transfer, but they also offer some misconceptions about how to think about the world that can lead to dangerous results.

Now, that said, we don't have any candidate in the race who comes out of the worldview I would prefer (would that General Mattis had run!). It's therefore kind of a moot point this year; but in general, and for the future, I think it's important.

Posted by: Grim at January 24, 2012 12:23 PM

I really wish Romney and Gingrich weren't acting like each other were the enemy. The two of them ought to be teaming up. A Romney/Gingrich ticket would have gone a long way to mitigate each other's shortcomings.

It ain't called The Stupid Party for nothin'.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at January 24, 2012 02:56 PM

Would it be Romney / Gingrich


Gingrich/ Romney?
Who's at the top of the ticket?

Who's on first? Third Base!

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at January 25, 2012 03:44 PM

Romney/Gingrich would be the better option.

Going back to the "Hero" thread: I'm not convinced that people are looking for a hero. I think they're looking for an ally.

Someone who will work towards the same goals even if they have no authority to enforce those goals. It is the poor leader who only has as much power as his authority. They aren't expecting a POTUS to grab a sword and slash the budget in half and stand over it He-Man style. But they do expect him to use what influence he has, even if it isn't much, to try to move the budget that direction. They are looking to support someone that supports them.

And Romney, for whatever reason, is seen as someone who will accept the support of conservatives but isn't willing to reciprocate. That's a problem optically. People don't like to feel like tools.

Romney, however, is the only one left that has ever actually run anything. He's the only one who has any experience in selecting the people and building a team that can actually get shit done. Obama's failing is that he thinks his job is to be the Pontificator-in-chief and not the manager of a massive bureaucracy. Romney has done that and been at least somewhat effective at it. That is a massively important skillset.

He needs someone to cover that reciprocity weakness. If he really wants conservates to go to bat for him, he really needs someone in his admin who is willing to return the favor and go to bat for them. Gingrich could have filled that role.

Gingrich, however, would suffer the same problems as Obama, just to a lesser extent. Gingrich is at least familiar with the sausage making. He has no skills at it yet, because he's never done it, but at least he is aware of what has to be done. Romney, in a largely ceremonial position, would largely be hamstrung in helping out.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at January 25, 2012 06:13 PM

The real irony here is that Romney slashed the budget (and balanced the budget) in a majority progressive state.

Yet somehow that's viewed as not conservative?

Wow. Yu-Ain, I think you and I pretty much agree on Romney. I just think that point gets overlooked way too much.

I also think people are spending waaaaaay too much time parsing words when they could be looking at what this candidate actually DID while in office....and in the private sector... and on the Olympic committee.

When a track record like that is considered "boring" or worse, labeled "hollow" (the term du jour on the right), I really have to wonder if the electorate have half the sense the Good Lord gave a grapefruit?

A guy who has actually done what we need him to do... cut spending in an environment where the majority *want* big government... excites the bejeezus out of me.

But then I'm a substance over style gal.


Posted by: Cassandra at January 25, 2012 06:49 PM

Yes, but Cassandra I bet you are substantially stylish, in your own particular way.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at January 25, 2012 08:12 PM

That sounds like an actual argument for Romney. Like to hear more of it -- preferably from him, of course. Just so I understand that he understands that's why he's running; so I know it's not for some other reason.

Posted by: Grim at January 25, 2012 11:30 PM

Grim, Romney *has* made that argument. He has made it repeatedly and has done so for a long time.

It's why I have been supporting him.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 26, 2012 07:21 AM

Yu-Ain, I think you and I pretty much agree on Romney

Yes and No. We are at the same conclusion, yes. But I think our enthusiasm levels are drastically different. I come to Romney from a "Jesus. These are our choices?" resignation.

YAG's Big Issues: 1: Budget, 2: Obamacare, 100,000: Everything Else.

Santorum: Moral Crusader. While I may agree with him on the social issues, Sex and Violence on TV, Gay Marriage, and Prayer in schools just aren't on my Care-meter this election.

Paul: Would veto a tax decrease because it would mean he would first have to accept the premise that such a thing may be taxed at all. The guy has cut off his nose to spite his face so many times I'm surprised he still has a head.

Gingrich: "We've seen what 3 years of an ideological bombast with no executive experience gets us and it ain't pretty." - Myself on a previous thread.

Romney: Well, at least he's got experience. *sigh*

Yes, Romney has "slashed" a budget +1.
Yes, Romney balanced a budget +1
He did it partially by raising revenue -1
It wasn't income taxes +1
It was corporate taxes -1
and gov't fees 0
one of those constituents whose fees were raised were gun owners (who tend to be mighty vocal) -1
RomneyCare: +1 for consistency, -10 because given his defense of it I'm afraid he might try to "fix" Obamacare and not scrap it, burn it, and piss on its ashes. He does say he opposed the Mandate, but he's made noises in the past about supporting national healthcare. I'm opposed to national healthcare with or without the mandate so anti-mandate isn't good enough for me.

Romney is a wash on my two big issues, his advantage is experience. That puts him in the lead, but I can't really say I'm a fan at this point.

Practically speaking it doesn't much matter. The primaries will likely be all but over before NC votes anyway and I'll support a syphilitic camel over Obama.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at January 26, 2012 02:42 PM

I'm not sure "enthusiastic" describes my feeling for Romney but then I don't remember being enthusiastic about any candidate we've put up in my lifetime. They're all a mixed bag. All of them.

I don't want a candidate who makes me feel giddy or articulates my rage. I want one who knows how to make the budgetary trains run on time.

I had assumed Romney didn't have a prayer once ObamaCare passed and had written him off. I still don't think the base will accept him, and I believe they're wrong on that score. And I think he's done astonishingly well in this overheated political environment.

I agree with your general assessment, with the BIG exception that I am highly skeptical of people who will never have to actually do the job trying to dictate to people who have, just how it should be done.

If I have learned anything in life, it's that ignorance is bliss and criticism is way too easy, especially from a position of ignorance and inexperience (which describes all of us including me). I am equally skeptical that ObamaCare will be repealed. I don't think the Republicans are going to do as well in the Congressional elections as the base thinks they will, and that matters. And if we get a Rethug in the White House, the country will make darned sure that Dems control Congress in short order.

The pendulum just isn't going to swing wildly to the right or left, and if by chance it does history suggests it won't stay there for long.

And we're not going to reverse 75+ years of steady growth of the federal government in 4 years. Given the momentum, we'll be damned lucky to put a good sized dent in it. I think Romney has the best chance of doing that, and personally he could be having sex with aardvarks and I would be inclined to yawn and move on.

Wrt Gingrich, what you said but with the added point that betting the country's future on his many and varied rewriting of history or his penchant for taking credit for the entire Reagan revolution strikes me as being a tad bit overoptimistic.

Especially since it seems he had no high opinion of Reagan at the time :p

Posted by: Cassandra at January 26, 2012 02:58 PM

Well, "level of enthusiasm" is a relative term. I'm used to having to hold my nose in the general election. But it really sucks having to do it in a primary.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at January 26, 2012 10:45 PM

I must be a far more cautious decision maker than I thought I was. I have never, ever been excited even about a primary candidate. Ever.

My trust level just is not that high. I tend to discount the words and pay attention to what a person does, and there's no way I have time to focus on that until the field narrows down. In my mind, up to that point it's all sound and fury and not much of significance to focus on.

Maybe that's why I don't get all the angst going on right now in the Republican party.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 27, 2012 07:26 AM

Well, the angst is a different question. I just wish I could vote *for* someone and not have to vote *against* the other guy(s).

The angst, I think, is because Romney (rightly or wrongly) is perceived as a big spending supporter of national healthcare who would be running against a big spending supporter of national healthcare. Gingrich, for all his faults (and they are legion) is perceived as providing a contrast.

Gingrich supporters are hopping mad at the idea of the conservative standard bearing being an "almost Democrat" and the Republican establishment is hopping mad at the thought of being lead by a guy who thinks of his own teammates as "cannibals".

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at January 27, 2012 09:25 AM

I'm out of the primary game already, but Gingrich REALLY put his foot in as far as I'm concerned by trying to frame the illegal immigration issue as "throwing grandmothers out of the country." What a jackwagon.

Posted by: MikeD at January 27, 2012 01:09 PM

I just wish I could vote *for* someone and not have to vote *against* the other guy(s).

See, I never think of it that way. I go in assuming that I won't agree with any of them on everything, so I go through a process very similar to your "top X issues" one.

My top issues for a President are:

1. Foreign Policy/Defense positions.
2. Ability to execute/previous experience & record in similar job
3. Ability to work with both parties (leadership)
4. Willingness to veto legislation (political courage)

The economy is very far down my list because Presidents don't generally have much effect on the economy.

I know I'm almost never going to get all my wish list so it's simply a matter of going with the candidate who rates the highest in the things I care about. I don't think of it as 'voting against' but more as selecting the closest match (realizing that 'closest' isn't the same thing as close).

Posted by: Cassandra at January 27, 2012 02:00 PM

(realizing that 'closest' isn't the same thing as close).

And there's my disappointment. I'd really wish there was someone that is at least close.

I mean "Well, he ain't as bad as the other bastards" may be true, but it isn't much of a sales pitch.

If NC is close in the General I'll vote for whomever is the GOP nominee, but if it's a shoe-in either way, I'm seriously considering voting third party. I'd really like to send a message that we can do better than this, but I'm not willing to screw myself in order to do it.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at January 27, 2012 04:26 PM