Posts Tagged ‘politics

24
Mar
08

Glossing Over History

Watching the HBO miniseries John Adams, I’m struck by how we whitewash history in classrooms and conversation. We are perhaps most shortsighted in our view of the historical figures that have risen to mythic proportions. Often we’re left thinking of these people as two-dimensional characters that reside only on our rapidly devaluing dollars. These individuals, for all their great achievements, were still human, and thus, in my mind, more appealing.

I fear our willingness to overlook the very humanity of the individuals we admire, in favor of their great exploits, puts us at risk of chasing away the very people we need to lead in society. Consider the men and women who seek public office. While many are true representatives of their communities, others still hold their seats because equally or more qualified candidates refuse to submit to the nonsense that passes as a modern-day election.

Within the business community, the most able are sometimes passed over for the ones with the smoothest tongues. The company scandals—Enron and Worldcom—were brought about because these companies were led by people more interested in appearing successful versus actually being successful. I’ve thought about this reality when compared to what we see in modern day politics. We want our political figures to speak of change, but we’re rarely interested in true change. We want our leaders to say something of value, but we punish them for honest speaking.

This past week saw the political world caught up in the words of Barack Obama’s pastor, Jeremiah Wright. Attention then fell on Obama as he responded to critics who questioned his membership in Wright’s congregation with a speech many believe made history. For others, it still wasn’t enough. Once again, instead of focusing on the individual’s credentials, we allowed the media to drive the conversation towards requiring Obama to take responsibility for the words of someone else. Do we really believe that Obama’s pastor choice defines whether he is qualified to be president? Aren’t there other questions that would be better qualifiers?

Ultimately, history’s allure lies in our ability to assign responsibility with supposedly perfect hindsight. We can define the heroes, loathe the villains, and laugh at the jesters. Living in the moment requires more patience, but our fast-paced lives don’t allow for the consideration we give to those in the past. And for many, yesterday or last week IS history, but we’re unwilling to recognize how our humanity makes it difficult for living figures to reach mythic proportions without falling off the pedestal.

01
Feb
08

The Sexiest Story in Politics

I’ve been watching with interest the different themes that are coming out in the presidential campaign reports. For example, does it feel sometimes like the media still considers the Democratic nomination up for grabs, but considers the Republican nomination all but won by John McCain?

  • The Arizona senator has pulled ahead of his main Republican rival Mitt Romney, as Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama battled in a tight race for the Democratic nomination. Republican Rudy Giuliani and Democrat John Edwards dropped out of the race on Wednesday. (link)
  • The record sum is a powerful demonstration of Mr Obama’s ability to stay in the race against his rival Hillary Clinton all the way to the nominating convention in August if necessary. Such a long and expensive race is becoming an ever likelier scenario in the Democratic race. In contrast, the contest for the Republican nomination, led by Arizona senator John McCain, looks more likely to be decided next week on Super Tuesday, when 22 states hold primaries. (link)

Consider the following numbers:

  • Clinton currently has 256 Democratic delegates or 51% of the available delegates
  • Obama currently has 181 Democratic delegates or 36% of the available delegates
  • McCain currently has 93 Republican delegates or 47% of the available delegates
  • Romney currently has 59 Republican delegates or 30% of the available delegates

That’s a difference of 15% between Clinton and Obama and 17% between McCain and Romney, a small margin of difference in both races, so how do we account for the different tone? Frankly, the Democratic race is more exciting and historical. Regardless of the candidate chosen, the Democratic party will be responsible for nominating the first woman or first African American for president. What’s the Republican party offering in return? Two wealthy white guys. Hmm, where have we seen that before?

Whether McCain or Romney is the better presidential candidate isn’t the point. Rather, the point is that they are representatives of a status quo. Say what you like about Hillary Clinton (I’m not a fan), but she has accomplished something that no other woman has to date: she is a viable national candidate for this country’s highest office. I appreciate that McCain suffered terribly as a prisoner of war, but he isn’t the first candidate for office who honorably served his country. Similar comparisons can be made between Obama and Romney.

The Democratic candidates are just different. At the moment, they are the party of firsts. I believe that’s why we hear the different tone in reports and even in the enthusiasm levels of candidate supporters. Regardless of the arguments about whether the media is liberal, just think about the stories being told. Honestly, which one is more interesting, more sexy?

The Republican party missed an opportunity to tell its own amazing story this election. Imagine if the Republicans had their own viable minority or female candidate. What would the race look like then?

Comments?

 

 

08
Jan
08

Candidates of Change

Massive ChangeI suspect very few of you watched the debate Saturday evening, giving that it was a Saturday night and playing opposite a football game. Regardless of your politics, one big idea stuck out that applies to everyone, and not just politicians. It’s the idea of change.

A good chunk of both debates involved the candidates, particularly the Republicans, arguing with each other about who is best equipped to bring about change. According to Gov. Mitt Romney, during Saturday’s debate:

“…this is a time when America wants change. Washington is broken. That was the message coming out of Iowa. I’ve heard it across the country. Washington is broken. Not just the White House, not just Congress—Washington can’t get the job done on immigration, on lowering taxes, on fixing schools, on getting health care, on overcoming radical jihad. They want change.” (link)

In case your wondering, we want change. I shouldn’t poke too much at Romney, but I think he’s missing an important point. When it comes to change, actions speak louder than words, and his actions are making it easier for people to wonder about his rhetoric on change. Then, as candidate Giuliani points out:

“…change is a concept. Is it change for good or change for bad?”(link)

In the real world, I believe many people abhor change, otherwise, I can’t believe they’d continue to vote for the same people that make a mess of things in Washington, D.C., but perhaps that more of a lesser of two evils issue. Any time I hear a political candidate, or anyone for that matter, tout themselves as standing at the forefront of change, I cringe a bit. For me, change is one of those things that you either do or you don’t, so why waste time talking about it?

True Changers

For example, while I have mixed emotions about Apple as a company, they continue to produce products that change things. The business world seems more comfortable with true change than the political world. I would place very few politicians in the category of being true change leaders. Historically, we know who the great changers in politics were—the Founding Fathers, Lincoln, Roosevelt (both of them)—and it’s highly doubtful we’ll see their like again given how we currently elect officials.

I not sure when or where I heard it, but I do remember being told that it takes three weeks to form a habit, but at least twice that to break one, if you ever do. That’s why I find rhetoric focusing on change so interesting. As change is described, both in politics and everyday life, I have my doubts that society could truly withstand it if all described changes were enacted. I think there would be a large number of mental breakdowns if suddenly everything changed, but that doesn’t keep politicians or CEOs from touting the value of change.

Respect for Change

I’m not opposed to change, but I would prefer that it be spoken about honestly instead of thrown about casually in a stump speech. For all that we talk about it frequently, I think we overlook how important and big change can be, and its impact on our lives. Just consider some of the “minor” changes that happen in our lives.

For good or bad, starting a new job is a huge change that can be mentally draining—meeting new people, learning new systems, creating new routines to name a few. The same thing happens when you move to a new place. It doesn’t matter if it’s better than the old one. You’re still living through a change that requires adjustments. Now, just imagine people’s reactions if they suddenly woke up and had a government that truly changed every time there’s an election. I wonder if the country could continue to run.

My recommendation? Take the talk about change lightly and focus on the people who are actually doing something different. And maybe consider having more respect for the power of true change, because I believe the good kind is an endangered species.

Comments?

(Image courtesy of 416style. Some rights reserved.)

03
Jan
08

Show Me the Wisdom

Newsweek Candidate CoversToday marks the official start of what I’ve termed Insanity ’08, otherwise known as a presidential election year. In the past I’ve commented on and pointed out how little the candidates say (notable exceptions being Ron Paul and Mike Gravel) that communicates something of value.

I’ve watched with disgust as this group of people has tried to use fear, back biting, double talking, and celebrities to convince a nation one of them should run it. I’ve heard very little about actual qualifications, but then those kind of comments don’t translate into sound bites very well. Unlike a traditional job interview, the candidates are kept behind podiums and seen on camera, with only a minority of the potential bosses ever seeing them in person, let alone meeting them or having a real conversation.

Plato pointed out that, “The measure of a wise man is what he does with power.” (link) That’s become my new measurement for whether I’ll vote for someone or not. I’ll even modernize Plato a bit and apply the same measurement to women. It seems only fair. You can also apply the measurement to other people not in politics that you have to make decisions about.

Look at the latest kerfluffle at Facebook with them shutting down Robert Scoble’s account. Please tell me what wisdom they’re showing in messing with arguably one of the largest entities in social media? I suspect the young phenoms running the show are a bit short on wisdom even if their wallets are fat. Might there not be a better way instead of sending Scoble a cookie cutter email to deal with the situation? I think this action, combined with all the other nonsense that’s gone on at Facebook, will send me packing from the service for good.

The less-than-wise are everywhere—politics, business, your personal life. Don’t settle for mumbo jumbo that tells you nothing. Demand the facts, and demand a real interaction that adds value. Don’t let people tell you you’re asking for too much. Push back. You might be pleasantly surprised at the results.

Comments?

(Image courtesy of Metal-Armz. Some rights reserved.)

31
Oct
07

Reporting A Scandal: When Everyone Knows

I came across a post today that related a story about a supposed scandal brewing concerning a presidential candidate. I don’t care about the scandal. I’ve mentioned before that personal antics are of no interest to me. However, the language used to describe the situation is interesting:

So I was down in DC this past weekend and happened to run into a well-connected media person, who told me flatly, unequivocally that “everyone knows” The LA Times was sitting on a story, all wrapped up and ready to go about what is a potentially devastating sexual scandal involving a leading Presidential candidate. “Everyone knows” meaning everyone in the DC mainstream media political reporting world. “Sitting on it” because the paper couldn’t decide the complex ethics of whether and when to run it. The way I heard it they’d had it for a while but don’t know what to do. The person who told me (not an LAT person) knows I write and didn’t say “don’t write about this”. (link)

These phrases stuck out to me: “everyone knows,” “sitting on,” and “complex ethics.” Everyone knows? If everyone knows, then how complex can the ethics can be? And when you add “sitting on” to “everyone knows,” the contradictions just keep piling up.

Maybe this kind of thinking has played a role in why we’re paying less attention to the MSM and  more attention to people who are invested in ideas bigger than “everyone knows.”

Comments?

11
Oct
07

The Sound of Music

Apparently I need to go for a long drive more often. During a car trip to Salt Lake for business, my mind was whipping out different ideas for posts. However, now that I’m sitting in front of a computer, I’m a bit perplexed about where to start. Perhaps it’s best to start with the catalyst.

Growing up, and I can’t remember if I’ve shared this before, I always wanted to play the cello. There’s two reasons: first, I loved the rich sound, and second, I watched Airwolf. The protagonist played the cello on a deck at a lake in the middle of nowhere. Yes, random, but it seemed like the cool thing to do. Fast forward to this morning and I’m listening to American Performance.

The first hour of the show highlighted the first movement from Cello Suite No. 6 in D, BWV 1012, by J.S. Bach. The cellist was Steven Isserlis. I about drove off the road it was so beautiful. That’s when it clicked. Some of the boldest ideas in the world don’t require words.

While I have great respect for songwriters, there’s something so amazing about the power of music that attempts to stand on its own without words. In a way, the words give you an entrance point to a song. A lack of words requires something of the listener, and we don’t always have the patience to work through what the music requires. This same habit carries over into our everyday conversations. We’re so busy looking for that entrance that we fail to hear what is really being said.
Even more frustrating to me are the people who take advantage of how little we listen. I know I beat up a lot on politicians*, but have you paid any attention to some of the statements they’ve made of late?

“We’re a country that depends on exports. And we’re also an entrepreneurial country. We’re a country that should think about all these people that are coming out of poverty in China and India and elsewhere — we should think of them as new customers. We should be thinking about, what can we sell to them: energy independence, health care? There’s so much we can sell to them. Let’s get back our entrepreneurial spirit, rather than having our head down.”—Rudy Giuliani

On how Republicans can win back confidence on the economy: “I think we need to tell the American people the truth. Congress’ approval rating now is about 11 percent. I don’t think anybody believes anything coming out of Washington anymore. I think we need to tell them the truth that our security is on the line, that our economy is on the line, the our prosperity is on the line. We’re going to have to do some things differently.”—Fred Thompson

Yikes! And these are the front runners on the Republican side. I suspect the Democrats aren’t doing much better.

Sometimes, I wish our oh-so-public figures would figure out that less is more. Tell me something worth hearing and cut the crap that doesn’t matter. However, they’ve learned that flooding the airwaves with a bunch of extra noise covers up a lot of the questions that a more discerning audience might think to ask otherwise. We’ve once again allowed ourselves to be confused about the difference between quantity and quality.

Comments?

*For those worried about fair treatment, never fear, I have plenty of future opportunities to highlight the Democrats’ word choices.

03
Oct
07

The Comfort of Continuity

Yesterday, I ran into someone I see about once a year. I’ve known this person for probably close to 20 years. Even though he’s only a few years older than I, without fail, every time he see me, he remarks on how I haven’t changed at all. The whole exchange made me wonder, how many people actually believe that individuals, and even institutions, don’t change over time?

For many things, we appreciate continuity, the sense of something lasting. We search for a lodestone to hold onto. We want our friends to be our friends forever. We want our families to stay together and be happy. We want to go to the same doctor, dentist, and hair dresser. We take comfort in certain things staying the same. It makes it easier to deal with the other parts of life that are always changing.

In the Voting Booth

Politicians get that. I suspect we see so many images of “times gone past” and hear stirring declarations of “how the world should be” because we want to believe in the American ideal, the American dream of a better life. So we continue to vote the same back-slapping, pork-spending, favor-granting politicians into office, because the candidates who tell the truth, that choices must be made, don’t support our need for comfortable continuity. Sometimes, continuity requires sacrifice.

Winston Churchill understood that, and in his speech after the fall of France, he made it clear that Britain had two choices:

What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us.

Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.

Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’ (link)

I’d be curious to know from everyone reading this post, will you vote for the individuals currently representing you in Congress, based on their record? I ask because I know some elected officials do try to represent the interests of their constituents, regardless of party, but are pushed back because of the difficulty in dealing with the majority.

At the Checkout Stand

A similar thing happens in business, too. We’re encouraged to show brand loyalty, we’re led to believe that the purchase of a particular product will somehow enhance our lives. The story also implies that if we stop purchasing a particular brand, we’ve broken the continuity, that somehow, an essential part of ourselves will be missing.

Apple does a particularly good job of telling this story. In spite of closing the iPhone to all but minor development via the Safari browser, people still stood in line. Now, the creative individuals who hacked their iPhone are faced with an update that will turn their phones into bricks. But people, like Wil Shipley, still love Apple, even as they struggle with the closed system.

Sure, Apple’s still doing a ton of innovating. I love Leopard. I love iPhone (x19). I love my iPods (x6). And I love the engineers at Apple and all my friends throughout the company.

But Apple has to always remember that simply making money CANNOT be its point of existence. The point of any company should be to make customers want to give it money, NOT to get money from customers. It’s a subtle distinction that is the difference between good and evil.

Does Continuity Have Room for Change?

Back to the original story…I know that the core characteristics that make up me haven’t changed a great deal in the last 20 years. However, the little bits and pieces that actually round me out have change extensively. Those pieces are the ones we skip over when we latch onto this idea of continuity.

We make a blanket statement that something or someone hasn’t changed or is exactly the same, and we miss the little tells that would indicate otherwise. And we assume, that this apparent lack of change is a “good” thing. The earlier assessment that someone or something hasn’t changed leads us to believe we know enough to make our judgment.

But aren’t we kidding ourselves? Do we really want to go to a doctor, for example, that isn’t familiar with the latest procedures and treatments? Continuity’s danger isn’t our desire for that which we know, it’s our willingness to be blind to the little things that can and do change, even as the core remains the same.

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