Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Anniversary Retrospective

"Blogging From the Moon" as I once said, I don't much notice the passage of the seasons.

I actually did post on the Third Anniversary of Tan Horizons, May 14th 2007, without realizing it was the Third Anniversary.

Full of lukewarm coffee, I'm reading through my entries over the last three years. Fairly entertaining. I'm struck by how rarely I hit my stride these past years since working the graveyard shift. The fact that I don't have home internet this year is another millstone.

To help celebrate I'm going to throw out an old chestnut from the draft pile. I started writing this almost two years ago, December 5 2005. I never got around to coherently completing it. It's called Lock Up The War Room.
The clearest legacy of the Clinton Presidency is the War Room, a
General-Staff approach to electioneering. Just as the Prussians revolutionized
warfare with kriegspiel, continual exercises and experimental
models of transport, supply and tactics leading to the development of a
coherent, comprehensive war plan, so the War Room ran continual focus group
tests, surveys and polls, and regular press releases for disparaging the
opposition and floating policy trial balloons, for the control of Image and
creation of a successfully popular Message.

The development of satellite cable, national talk radio, and the Internet
made a conscious approach to the totality of campaigning necessary. The War Room
approach benefits candidates by offering maximum exploitation of the running
political commentary of the 21st century.

The pace and product of the War Room also fulfills the business needs and
professional focus of the 21st century media. As a perpetual broadcaster of
news, the media enjoys the fresh material for discussion the War Room provides.

The focus of the material also perfectly suits the media. Ideally, the
Washington press corps can intelligently cover every federal responsibility;
practically, they are not competent to understand most policy debates, let alone
explain them. The War Room's reduction of every policy to a poll result permits
the media to cover war, civil engineering, Social Security, industrial
emissions, or appropriations limits in the same way: in terms of public opinion,
institutional activity, or shifts in the social hierarchy of power-- areas where
the Washington press corps presumes expertise. The failure of the New Orleans
levees is an example; the reports of the engineers as to why the levees
collapsed is not given the attention paid to Congressional hearings, personnel
shifts in federal agencies, and poll results as to whether federal or local
leaders are more trusted.

Note the ease with which political analysts move from War Room to media
punditry. Dick Morris is performing the same role for his syndicate, as he did
for the President. The product his ruminations as columnist is identical to his
advice as counselor.

The Clintonian War Room seemed so successful that it was retained beyond
the 1992 election, as a tool for enacting the incoming President's legislative
agenda. In this role, despite partisan monopoly on the institutions of federal
government, the War Room failed miserably. It did continue to help the President
maintain high approval ratings. President Clinton preferred such high ratings to
enactment of an ideological platform, and the War Room retained its prominence.
Increasingly, it determined not only how and when to propose policy, but
increasingly, which policy to propose.

The War Room--so well adapted to modern media, and linked to a two-term
Presidency, has been retained by the GOP in its hour of power. Thus it is no
accident that the GOP, which shares the popular mandate and institutional
control that President Clinton enjoyed in 1993, fails to translate these
strengths into a successful legislative agenda. They have adopted a strategic
tool that is almost completely unsuitable for that purpose.

The War Room fails to advance legislation because it fails to appreciate
the personal qualities of salesmanship, intuitive empathy, and leadership. The
War Room's chief myth is that superior organization is to compensate for a lack
of such qualities or to minimize their impact on public opinion. It tends
towards reaction rather than direction of public opinion.

Salesmanship is the art of promoting an emotional connection between the
customer and the promoter, so that a business commitment is forged. Successful
business cringes from the old “it sells itself” approach. Ignoring emotional
appeal, and relying on the customer to perform intellectual analysis of the
values of the product compared to its cost, loses customers who could have been
persuaded into a sale.

No person ignorant of the basic need for emotional appeal is going to get
anywhere close to a War Room. Yet, we see candidates urged to “conserve
resources” and avoid “wasting money” on audiences that the experts judge to be
lost causes. Any California Republican can see the lean harvest reaped by such
an approach.

Another attribute undervalued by the War Room is intuitive empathy. Lord
Salisbury, the British Prime Minister, once marveled at Queen Victoria’s
“extraordinary” ability to know what her subjects expected of her
governments—which he found remarkable, as she had no practical experience of her
subjects to guide her. No human being can possess perfect empathy, but it’s
significant how deeply it’s appreciated and prized. In all fields of human
endeavor—from politics, romance, scholarship, sports coaching—nothing strikes so
deep an emotional chord as the unsolicited, sincere affirmation of our inner
values by someone else.

The problem is maintaining that sincerity while trying to regulate and
systematically generate that spark of empathy on a broad level, on an consistent
basis. It’s nearly impossible, and is the reason people want legal protection
against telemarketers calling them at all.

Am I arguing in circles? Politicians must bond emotionally with voters but
not strive to do so? Am I demanding the impossible?

No.

The bubble of 21st century celebrity hype must be exploded, and politics
needs to regain the distinction between being liked, and being respected. It
must remember that Americans place different demands on Larry King and on the
Senators he interviews. It must recall the value of leadership.

Margaret Thatcher defined leadership as the “absence of consensus”. This is
often misunderstood as arbitrary, unilateral reasoning. Margaret Thatcher knew
better. Leadership is not about reserving all debate or effort into one central
authority figure; leadership reserves the power to decide.

The American republic was set up to give the nation indirect control of
decisions. The voters have always understood that they will not directly control
the great issues of their lives. We have developed a method by which they can be
resolved peaceably through proxies. In return for


And there it rested. I see I also saved a couple of links for use in the final essay. One's to a Dick Armey op-ed calling for the sort of leadership I still long for. The other is to a Washington Post piece by Jonathan Rauch that I found horribly despicable at the time; it called for Bush to bail on Iraq in 2005 to avoid a midterm defeat, based on poll numbers.

We all know which way my former party has decided to jump. It's still falling.

We're starting to hear that the war in Iraq is "politically unsustainable". I hear that as if a heat wave is coming through: nothing you can do about it but hunker down. There's very little salesmanship left in U.S. politics; we're each left to rationalize our own reasons for nervous twitches towards one party line or the other.

I'd feel much, much better about the 2008 race if somebody were even talking about working towards building a bridge between the Presidential and Congressional races. That isn't on the table, for some reason. As I blogged before the 2006 election, Republicans will talk about anything but the use of power, if they win.

The final, inalienable freedom: the freedom to fail. We're building a heathen culture around that one. I'm reminded of the guy who sued the transit authority for being electrocuted while urinating on the tracks. Nobody could tell him anything, and everybody else is responsible for the consequences.

However, a positive note, as I blogged before: all political issues are people problems. Get different people, solve the problem.

Happy Third. Excelsior!

No comments: