Election2008


The exploitation of social media by the Obama campaign has reverberations across generations.  Two Republican Congressmen (Pence, Cantor) remarked on the phenomena on the Sunday following the 4 Nov election.  Paraphrasing: We must use this media to reach out to young people, get them our message, explain where we want to take this country.sharing

That sounded noble, but I found myself straining to hear something else:  “we will listen to the people.”

I never heard it.  The more I listened to representatives and spokespeople for the opposition party, the more I was struck by the absence of an eagerness to hear.  They appear eager to learn how they can reach the organized masses who turned out for the Democratic ticket, but only in terms of how they can broadcast their message to them. I don’t hear any indication that listening is part of the magic.

This difference may be profound, I don’t know.  One party speaks of principles in governing, while the other has imperatives gained from observing what people need.  The first defines leadership by sticking to proven policy principles, the second defines it as steering government through challenge and opportunity.  The first proactive, the second reactive. The first accuses the other of lacking principles, and in this election tried mightily to scare Americans into thinking that Obama in fact had hidden principles and an agenda at odds with “real” Americans.  The second accuses the first of sticking to principles that are in fact not natural laws, which got us into an ill-advised war and deregulation, and which are disconnected from the needs of the American people.

Both approaches are disastrous in the extreme.  The second leads to citizens voting themselves cash from the public till, while the first leads to oppression as minority voices are marginalized and principles trump understanding.

The seismic shift this election?  Those “proven” principles did not ensure success.  The belief that “spreading” Democracy would be welcomed by allies and weak states did not prove warranted.  The conviction that relatively unfettered markets would strive for harmony and equilibrium fell victim to the Tragedy of the Commons and basic human nature.  Finally, the Bush presidency was subject to a series of challenges for which it was demonstrably less than capable.

The Moment, for me, came during the extraordinary session where the President, the candidates, and Congressional leaders came to the same table to discuss drastic measures to address the financial crisis in October.  Mr. Obama, at ease in sessions where principles are applied to situations and learning results – sat in stark contrast with Mr. McCain, who had nothing to offer.  McCain’s presence was simply to be the symbol that would rally House Republicans. (Perhaps fatal to his candidacy, they did not stand with him.) The awkward moment:  when Mr. Obama leaned over to address his rival.  “What do you think, John?”  No response.  Mr. McCain wasn’t there to listen, to advise, or even hear.

Mr. Obama was there to aid in governing.  The application of principles with a feedback loop so that learning can occur.  “What works?” is the central question of the inquiring mind.

In organizational learning circles, this inquiry is a hallmark of some learning styles, defined as Single, Double, and Triple Loop:

Single Loop describes a condition, often referred to as a thermostat, in which an organization holds stable goals and adjusts its behaviors to achieve those goals.
Double Loop describes a condition in which new factors or experiences can change the organizational goals—and the organization adjusts its behaviors to achieve them.
Triple Loop describes a condition in which the organization manages changeable goals—changing ways and means iteratively—and builds upon them, doing so in part by changing the organization itself in response to these requirements.

[Chris Argyris, “Single-Loop and Double-Loop Models in Research on Decision-Making,” Administrative Science Quarterly 21 (1976) & A. Georges L. Romme and Arjen van Witteloostuijn, “Circular Organizing and Triple Loop Learning,” Journal of Organizational Change Management 12.5 (1999).]

The first party would do well to consider moving from Single Loop learning, and develop the ability to learn rather than present themselves as guardians of timeless governing principles.

And the second party, flush with victory, best not forget that they won on a principle of listening, inquiry, and competent yet participative government.

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The weekend blogs are abuzz over the reference to a civilian national security force mentioned by Obama this week. Godwin’s Law was invoked quickly, and the dire notion that Obama was seeking to mobilize a civilian corps that will bankrupt the nation has stirred thoughtful people who were until this morning still reeling over the revelations regarding Obama’s aunt. The venerable Drudge Report even saw fit to devote a small portion of his page to a 20-second excerpt of an Obama speech.

As someone who is helping to write national security reform, perhaps I can shed a little light. Let me quote another radical scary government guy who raised a similar terrifying notion almost a year ago:

“My message is that if we are to meet the myriad challenges around the world in the coming decades, this country must strengthen other important elements of national power both institutionally and financially, and create the capability to integrate and apply all of the elements of national power to problems and challenges abroad. In short … I am here to make the case for strengthening our capacity to use ‘soft’ power and for better integrating it with ‘hard’ power. So, we must urgently devote time, energy, and thought to how we better organize ourselves to meet the international challenges of the present and the future – the world you students will inherit and lead.”

That speaker is the current Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates. The notion of “soft” v “hard” power, or in the words of CSIS, “smart” power – have gained ground in national security policy circles as a more appropriate way to structure the components of national security. For just one example earlier this year, in Afghanistan, where we are helping to rebuild a nation, based as it is on an agrarian economy, we recently tripled the workforce deployed there from our Department of Agriculture. The number of deployed personnel rose from two to six. The idea that the military should continue to bear the entire burden of a broadened scope of national security is indefensible.

How large a burden? Secretary Gates also raised the idea that balancing our national security investment portfolio may be in order. Consider this chart regarding the 2006 national security budget (from the Preliminary Findings of the Project on National Security Reform):

Perhaps it is time to diversify our national security portfolio a bit. It may be good sport to decide Senator Obama was talking about reviving the Hitler-Jugend, but those political points miss an important truth.

Perhaps it is worth our time to also learn a bit about the changes in our approach to national security that will occur – no matter who wins on Tuesday.

Colin Powell, U.S. Army General (Ret), former Secretary of State, the man behind the eponymous Powell Doctrine…

…is black.

And today, that’s all that matters to Rush Limbaugh and some backers of McCain.  According to Politico, Limbaugh said: “‘Secretary Powell says his endorsement is not about race,'” Limbaugh wrote in an e-mail. “‘OK, fine. I am now researching his past endorsements to see if I can find all the inexperienced, very liberal, white candidates he has endorsed. I’ll let you know what I come up with.'”

For the record, using this logic, Senator Obama is also the first “inexperienced, very liberal” candidate I have endorsed.  I have no political footprint, of course, so this did not make Politico or any other news source.  But then, I imagine white guilt explains my support.

Citizen Powell spent considerable time Sunday morning explaining to the media why he was backing Obama over his old friend.  He was even asked the delicate question, and gave a sensible reply.  No matter, although Powell measured up the two teams and chose the one he felt was best suited to the times – Limbaugh tells us his vote was a given because of the color of his skin.  The content of his character no longer matters to Rush Limbaugh.

I had occasion last night to conduct a small experiment with a friendly waiter at my local ristorante.  He was ending his shift, but the friendly bartender was still on duty.  I showed her the news item regarding Powell, and her eyes lit up.  The waiter asked what I was showing and when I told him he replied:  “90% of the black vote is going to Obama, we know that.”  I called the bartender over and asked him to repeat that to her face, a few shades darker than his.  To his credit, he did, and the moment was delicious.  He is not a racist, and to her credit she was not offended.  He doesn’t believe his conclusions diminish all people of color, and she knew he wasn’t racist.  She dismissed his assumption airily – “That’s not why I’m voting for him.”

Disclaimers: I do not know Colin Powell, but I have been privileged to hear him speak in a small setting while he was in uniform; I almost knocked him down one day as I rounded a Pentagon corridor too quickly; and I used to know the owner of the auto parts store that he frequents to work on his beloved car.  I know this young waiter, and as I say, I have no reason to believe he discriminates against people on the basis of their color.  I do not know Mr. Limbaugh, and have no idea if he does.

This is what President Bush used to call, in a different context, the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” Yes, it may be correct that some people of color will vote for Obama on the basis of his heritage, and it may be true others will not for the same reason.  However, it reduces both sides to assume those votes are based entirely on race.  If it is wrong to call McCain supporters merely racist – and it is – then how can it be correct to call black Obama supporters electoral sheep?

When you reduce Mr. Powell’s endorsement as based on pigment alone, you deny his humanity and call him a liar.  The man has provided his rationale, and he deserves – like anyone, and more than most – to be trusted as a man of his word.

My niece asked me this last night.  My short answer was:  I have grandchildren.  She asked for the long answer, and here’s what I told her.

1) My work on national security reform this year has convinced me that significant changes are necessary to secure the nation’s freedoms and prosperity. From civil-military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan to understanding the security implications of international finance – we currently fail to integrate the elements of national power to realize security goals effectively.  We lack a national strategy, and worse: We lack the ability to create strategy.  As a result, we find ourselves reacting instead of planning.  Because only the military plan and prepare for deployment, we send them in first.  We are currently ‘nation-building’ in Afghanistan, an enormous agricultural economy, and guess how many employees from the Department of Agriculture are in country?  Well, recently the workforce there tripled, so the situation is improving.  Yes, we finally have six people in country to assist Afghan farmers recover and plant something other than poppy fields, up from two.  It’s just not expected as part of their job, because we don’t prepare the rest of the government to assist the military in our obligations.

An Obama presidency will be elected on a mandate of change, and will be more open to the need to consider a new approach to national security.  McCain is an honored Cold Warrior, but so far does not speak in ways that indicate he understands the nuance and complexity of international issues (he was precipitous in his assessment of the Georgia situation).

2) McCain’s response to the fiscal crisis was scattered, and amounted to “fire the SEC chairman.”  First of all, the President lacks the authority to fire the head of the SEC.  Second of all, there is no indication of wrongdoing – he has accused a public servant of ‘betraying the public,’ the worst thing you can say, and there is no truth to it.  Worse, the problems are mainly systemic, not just due to individual greed.  To wield the “accountability” stick without ideas for reform to the regulatory frameworks (which were called outdated by Secretary Paulson) indicates a lack of understanding regarding What Needs to be Done.  He may have come around by now, but he’s not demonstrating to me that he’s ready to lead on ‘day one.’

3) Sarah Palin.  Her selection is an indictment of McCain’s judgment.  I’m sorry, she has a compelling personal narrative, and has endured possibly some unfair reporting – but she is profoundly unprepared for the office.  Worse, she believes she is prepared.  She is, to quote a conservative columnist, ‘out of her league.’  Read this column from National Review – an extremely conservative publication.  (http://tinyurl.com/4t6zgw) Others are weighing in as well (http://tinyurl.com/3p53v6) The argument that only elites are against her implies that we don’t want ‘elites’ in office.  When did elite become a bad word?  We like elite doctors, and elite lawyers when they’re on our side – why do we want “regular folk” to manage the helm of government?  Yes, Katie Couric can be a left-wing shrew.  But she asked fairly simple questions – and Gov. Palin failed to convince me she can even think straight. (http://tinyurl.com/54jfka)  McCain is a five-time cancer survivor would be the oldest first-term president if elected.  Actuarial tables don’t lie – Gov. Palin could find herself behind the Resolute desk in the Oval Office.  That visual, to me, is terrifying.  She’s worse than Dan Quayle, because she believes she needs to show confidence and is possibly blind to her own lack of preparedness and understanding.

4) There is no reason to vote for Sen. McCain.  I miss him, I supported him in 2000, but I miss him now.  Increasingly, I’m coming to realize that the ‘maverick’ who was always nipping at Republican heels, keeping them honest, isn’t necessarily the right man to man the helm.  Being a POW makes you a hero, it does not make you a national security expert.  Being in the Senate for 30 years does not make you an outsider.  He’s given me no positive reason to vote for him, he has no plan other than to extend the tax cuts.  His campaign is based on little more than exploiting fears about Sen. Obama’s age and tired narratives about tax-and-spend Democrats.

I can think of more, but those are enough for me.  A year ago, I hoped for this matchup, because I felt I could live with either choice, and we would finally have two leaders vying for the position.  I no longer feel McCain is a good choice for the presidency, and support Sen. Barack Obama for president.

Love,
UncJB