Tag Archives: Michele Bachmann

The Three Necessary Ingredients to Getting Things Done as President

A good friend of mine just wrote me, mentioned that she was a Herman Cain supporter, and asked my opinion on the Republican presidential nomination race so far.  In short order, I made this little schema for picking a president.

People are rightly obsessed with finding a presidential candidate who can “get things done” in Washington.  I know I am.  I believe that the ability to get things done is more important than the positions one holds on policy issues or having amazing character.  If you can’t implement and make stuff happen, who cares if we agree?  So, instead of picking the best person or the one most right on the issues, we should pick the best player at the game called “politics.”

First, we need someone who knows the system in Washington.  This runs against the grain for many who want a Washington outsider, thinking that outsiders are not “corrupted” by DC cooties.  In truth, you want someone who knows the system very well and can work the system very well.    Part of why Obama struggled as much as he did the first term, and perhaps why Clinton might have done better, is because Obama was not an experienced Washington insider, wasn’t really all that experienced at national politics generally, and had never been an executive (having executive experience, like that of a governor, helps too, though it is best combined with DC background).  So, I would rank Republican presidential candidates as follows with 10 being the best:

Newt Gingrich, 9, vast DC experience, former speaker of the House, has been around forever, he knows government and can work the system.

Jon Huntsman, 8, has no DC experience as a politican, but he has plenty of DC experience as a civil servant, a former governor, and seemed to be a successful one.

Mitt Romney, 7, no DC experience, but he was a governor, and is generally government savvy (I think).

Rick Perry, 6, governor, does not seem savvy like Romney.

Michelle Bachman, 3, has DC experience, but only in the House and no executive experience.

Hermain Cain, 1 or 2, no political experience.  It doesn’t matter if you agree with his 999 plan, or really anything he says.  He would likely be unable to implement it.

Secondly, most people long for their President to be a “real” guy and not some sleazy politician.  But the fact of the matter is that only sleaziness, or what some might call sleaziness, gets things done in politics.  We need a presidential candidate who is politician enough to not alienate themselves from their constituents and to hold different groups together.  This means, quite simply, being good at being a politician, at keeping a majority of people mostly happy with you.  This is why Herman Cain would be an awful president (I think), just like Michelle Bachman, or Rick Perry would be.  They say too many dumb things, which will erode public support (and in all three of their cases already has).  This would be a big blow to them especially, because if you are not good at working the system in Washington, you can make up for it by maintaining popularity.  But these politicans are not politician enough to maintain this sort of support over the long term.  Being a politican is hard, maintaining popular support is harder still, and that is why support has been swinging so wildly from Bachman to Perry to Cain and now to Gingrich.  Of course, I say dumb things all the time, as we all do, and we can give people the benefit of the doubt, but even a fervent Herman Cain supporter who loves how “real” he is has to admit that it is unlikely that he can remain self-controlled, prudent, on-message, a clever communicator, committed and also non-committal enough…politician enough to maintain popular support.  So, here is a cursory ranking based on political skills:

Mitt Romney, 9, super disciplined, has hardly had much of a gaffe, stays on message; he’s a smart robot, has experience being a politician.

Jon Huntsman, 7, has experience being a politician, and in fact just as much as Romney, though not as a frontrunner presidential contender for two election cycles, so he is still a little bit of an unknown.

Gingrich, 6, political experience but is also a gaffe machine.

Rick Perry, 5.

Michelle Bachman and Herman Cain, 2 or 3, woefully undisciplined.  Could unlikely maintain support over the long haul.

Third, successful presidents cannot be beholden to uncompromising constituents.  This means that the more idealogical your base, the less likely you are to be able to get things done.  That is simplistic, of course, but holds true generally.  In order to get things done, the President, like any politician, has to be positioned in such a way that he can compromise with his opposition, and even his own party, without fear of  losing his own supporters.  In a republic, leaders cannot get anything done unless they can compromise with others.  So the following ranking is merely based on how moderate the candidate’s base is likely to be:

Jon Huntsman, 9; he would be a 10, but he has been having to pretend to be more conservative than he really is to have even a smidgen of a chance in New Hampshire.

Mitt Romney, 7; I’m not sure where to put him really.  I can’t really predict how conservative he would be in the White House.

Newt Gingrich, 6.

Rick Perry, 5.

Herman Cain, 4.

Michelle Bachman, 3.

Once you have established who would be most unable to get things done, then you can cross them off your list (Herman Cain, Rick Perry, and Michelle Bachman are likely gone).  As for me, if I do not dismiss those individuals most unlikely to get things done, then I would have to seriously reflect on whether or not I care about my issues in the first place.  Too often, people are narcissistic and vote for the person most like them instead of the person most able to do good.  So, in order to be moral, let’s lose the likely losers.

I would probably then look at the top three, assuming they are all roughly comparable, which in this case they are (Huntsman, Romney, and possibly Newt, though he might have too much baggage), and pick the one who best represents your values, opinions, etc.

So who do I like these days?  My opinion has stayed the same.  If I was a Republican, which I am somedays but usually not, I would be a Jon Huntsman fan.

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Outliers (2008), Guns, Germs and Steel (1999), and Michele Bachmann–Part 1 of 2

In the last few years, no book has affected my perception of the world and my own role in it more than Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.  The book makes many points, but here I want to talk about just one.  Gladwell makes a compelling case that enormously successful people, the statistical outliers, are not off the charts because they themselves have amazing innate abilities.  Rather, the enormously and naturally talented are a dime a dozen, and those talented people who work very hard their whole lives are also common.  So what distinguishes the wildly successful?  Luck.  Those who make it really big (as opposed to usual, laudable, but still small-time success) usually benefited from a special set of circumstances over which they had no control.

Consider this, if you took the richest people ever (material gain being not a definition of success, but certainly a type of it), adjust for inflation, and make a top 100 list, you would find that at least 25% would have been born inside the United States in the past 200 years.  However, if success was based on individual talents, then that number should be much less (Here’s some of my own math: looking on the web, it looks like between 90-110 billion people have lived on the earth, so lets say 100 billion.  I think, to be very generous, there have not been more than 1 billion people who lived in the United Sates over the past 200 years, so I am guessing that, if wild success was due to innate ability, the number of Americans on the top 100 list should be under 1%).   Moreover, of these two dozen born in the US, about a dozen were born in one four year period; Rockefeller (1839), Carnegie (1835), and JP Morgan (1837), and the other dozen in another four year period; Steve Jobs (1955) and Bill Gates (1955).

This is already a strange coincidence, but it just gets stranger the closer you look.  The individual stories of these men tell a tale in which they were extraordinarily well-situated to catch each coming wave, the first being the American industrial revolution, the second being the personal computer revolution.  Of course, you had to be intelligent, talented, hard-working, and ambitious, but you also had to both not yet have a family to support, so you could afford (and have the time) to take risky business ventures, and also be old and experienced enough to see the wave coming.

Experience, it turns out, is absolutely key.  Gladwell popularized the 10,000 hours rule, which states that predictable success in any field takes about 10,000 hours of practice.  This holds true for premier violinists and computer programmers.  Bill Gates, it turns out, by the time he was 18, had more computer programming experience than anyone in the world his age.  Among other fortunate coincidences, he happened to have grown up  where there was an exchange program at a local college with one of the only computers that existed at the time.

Gladwell gave many more examples that left me with an overall impression of “wow, this changes everything.”  I saw it everywhere.  For example, no matter how brilliant and devoted a statesman is today, he or she cannot be a Founding Father.  If there would have been no American Revolution, John Adams would have just been a Boston laywer, and a struggling one at that.

As I reflected on this, I felt a weight fall off my shoulders.  I never wanted to be the richest man ever, but I suppose I want success.  I want to change the world–to make my mark.  Also, when I read the biographies of people like John Adams, I relate to them alot, I see myself in them, as many people do, and I realize that I could do something like what they did too.  But great accomplishment is just as outside of my control as it was theirs.  In my writing, in my nonprofit work, all I can do is my best, which, quite simply, might not be enough for wild success.  My best can likely secure success, but only of the more tame variety without some brilliant coincidence of fortune.  In fact, even the smaller amount of success that my abilities can most likely secure me is not really what I deserve.

For those of you who have read recent drafts of Therefore Joy, you will know that I view individual humans as incredibly affected by each other.  If so, we take part in each others joys and triumphs.  In other words, my work-ethic is not entirely self-created, and so the blessings that my work-ethic bestows on me, to be fair, must be partially distributed to, for instance, my third grade teacher, my mother, my childhood friend.  This is impossible of course, so we do not do it, but if we could we should.

Ultimately, the recognition of the prime role that fortune/providence/destiny/God plays in all this has allowed me to pursue my dreams even harder.  I realized that I cannot fail if I keep trying.  I became convinced that the most I can do is always continue to “give success a chance” for me that means that I will keep writing, trying to get my manuscript out there, keep working on poverty issues, and stop stressing about results.  Many of you may know this already, but I am just catching up:  Stress kills people. Humble work is freeing.

(See how this relates to Guns, Germs, & Steel and Michelle Bachmann in part two.)


Jon Huntsman

Huntsman was a Mormon missionary to Taiwan, where he learned fluent Mandarin and Taiwanese, so obviously he’s going to be of interest to me (I just found out that Bill Clinton also likes him).  After dropping out of high school to play keys in a band with his friends, he got his GED and went to the University of Pennsylvania where he got a BA in international politics, and he served as staff assistant in the Reagan administration.  Under Bush 1 he was Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce focused on trade development in east asia and pacific regions, and then US Ambassador to Singapore.  Under Bush 2 he was the Deputy United States Trade rep.  He also worked in Daddy’s business, the Huntsman Corporation, which allows him to laud his business acumen, but it is also a liability, as he is the son of a billionaire (though first generation) and, like any big business, the corporation seemed to have been involved in some shady things at times.  Governor of Utah from 2005-2009, he won reelection with 77.7% of the vote and had approval ratings in the 80s and 90s.  However, this is Utah we are talking about.  Finally, Obama asked him to be US Ambassador to China, the post he resigned in 2011 to run for president.

His time working for Obama will also be an asset and a liability (see his note to Obama), but I think it will be more of an asset.  For one, in a general election, Obama can’t overly attack Huntsman’s competence or integrity, since he, after all, picked him to be his ambassador to an extremely important nation.  Also, the liability of working for Obama is only a big deal for the crazy wing of the Republican party (the 50% of the party who thought Obama was not born in the US) who aren’t going to be excited about his reasonable and calm demeanor in the first place.  He also is happy to answer when asked why he worked for Obama that he “served his country and would choose to do so again.”  He seems entirely unwilling to cater to the Tea Party element and that is why, of all the Republicans, I like him the most (though I’m still not a rabid fan).  In sum, he has substantial executive experience, kicks everyone’s butts at foreign policy (though a desire to distance himself from Obama is what I fear has affected his statements on Libya), wants to be the candidate of reasonableness and respect, and I love that he recently told Iowans that he’s not going to campaign there because he thinks ethanol subsidies don’t make sense.

So that is why I hope he does not get the nomination.  Though I would love to see some respectful and intelligent Huntsman/Obama debates, I don’t think he can beat Obama in 2012, though he or Romney would be the most likely to, and I don’t want the Republicans to nominate another moderate like John Mccain and lose.  Then the crazies in the Republican party will gain even more legitimacy in their narrative that we need even more ideologically entrenched politicos.

Instead, we need their standard bearer to win.  So, I declare, go Michele Bachman!  If she gets the nomination she’ll get creamed in the general.  Subsequently, that wing of the party will be demoralized and weakened.  Moreover, she is not articulate enough to create long term party transformation, as Goldwater did in the 1964 election in which he lost spectacularly but articulated a call to conservative principles that have lasted more than a generation.  Realistically, her nomination and loss will advance the American cause more than anything I see on the horizon at the moment (which is not saying as much as it sounds).  The national debate will become a little more thoughtful as the Republicans are forced to get a little less ideological.  Bachman, it seems to me, is just good medicine.  It might make you feel a bit nauseous going down, but ultimately it’s for the best.

Finally, what I am saying depends on Obama being quite likely to win.  Some of you have expressed disagreement.  I invite you to articulate how Obama could lose in 2012.  My two biggest reasons are as follows: I think Americans have gotten more negative in how they express opinions.  Therefore, lower than expected approval numbers do not necessarily translate into higher than expected approval numbers for somebody else.  In other words, everyone gets seen more as a cheap hack.  Our political economy is suffering a period of deflation. : )  Also, though Obama’s approval numbers stay hovering in the high 40s, I suspect (I have no evidence) those who are approving of him are centrist democrats and indpendents.  Those disapproving are mostly conservatives, but plenty of liberal democrats are as well.  In other words, the man is hogging the center, which means the only way for the Republicans to expand would be to beat Obama in the center or grab some liberal Democrats.  They could do the latter by being consistent with a libertarian platform by, for example, legalizing drugs.  That’ll get a few liberal democrats singing, but I don’t think it would work.  So, like always, it’s a fight for the center.  Ultimately however, what will likely tip the scale in the center is the state of the economy, which, though improving slowly, is improving.

In personal news, I’m starting to write again.  I miss Alicia.  Eric is in training.  I am housesitting at a friend’s.  Family will be visiting soon.