Friday, April 4, 2008

Its Trench Warfare Now

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on April 3rd in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

Last week I discussed the CEO management style Mrs. Clinton has displayed over the course of the last year while running her Presidential campaign into the ditch. While not all of the problems Clinton has experienced on the campaign trail were of her own making, when you are telling voters you are the most experienced and capable Democratic candidate running for President then the buck stops with you regardless.
As President you can’t blame those you have appointed to positions of power in your administration for failing to get the job done. You have to casually admit you made a mistake appointing them by unceremoniously cutting them loose as quickly as possible, and simultaneously naming a successor who has a reputation for possessing whatever qualities that their predecessor lacked. There is no room for sentiment or personal loyalty when it comes to running a business enterprise or the US government. You have a much greater responsibility to US citizens and that responsibility is more important than one’s sense of personal loyalty to any one person, no matter how long they have been with you.
President Bush has repeatedly put his personal feelings of loyalty ahead of the interests of the US and its citizens by stubbornly resisting calls to replace long time aides who were failing in their jobs such as Alberto Gonzalez and Donald Rumsfeld. My concern is that Hillary Clinton has, from the outset of her presidential campaign, shown the same propensity as Bush for putting a higher premium on loyalty than competence or experience as a pre-requisite for working for her in her presidential campaign.
Thus far Clinton’s poor campaign management skills and inability to make hard choices have only had consequences that have affected her Democratic presidential nomination prospects. But install that same management philosophy and indecisiveness in the White House and it will be the American people who will suffer the consequences not just Clinton and her staffers. Is this the type of President I want answering the phone at 3am? A President who isn’t decisive and can’t bring herself to make tough choices?
When I saw Clinton’s 3am phone call advertisement questioning Obama’s ability to respond to some kind of middle of the night emergency, I got scared at the sight of her answering the call. While I understand her campaign’s use of this TV attack ad tactic in an attempt to cast doubt on Obama’s fitness to serve as Commander in Chief, the reality of such crises is that decisions on how to respond to them are made in much more unexciting ways. Even former Clinton National Security advisor and Hillary Clinton supporter David Rothkopf says that “It's a bit of a specious issue, somehow implying you need better judgment in the middle of the night.”
In fact US government historians and former national security advisers from both parties say that all serious presidential decisions have been made over the course of days or weeks and never in the middle of the night. Regardless, Senator Clinton’s decision to not even bother reading the CIA’s National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) prior to voting to authorize the Iraq war calls into question her ability to make better judgments as the US Commander in Chief in the middle of the day, much less in the middle of the night.
Aside from the fact that Senator Obama has shown better judgment than Senator Clinton on the Iraq war, Obama has also shown himself to be a much stronger and more decisive CEO than Clinton in terms of how he has managed his presidential campaign. The Obama presidential campaign staff is not composed of a bunch of people who all get along and agree on everything particularly as regards campaign strategy and tactics.
There were a number of Obama’s campaign advisers who were suggesting he change his campaign strategy and or tactics during the course of the last year while Obama continued to languish 20 plus percentage points behind Hillary Clinton in both national and early voting states’ polls. They wanted Obama to attack Clinton and among other things try to shed some light on the Clintons’ many questionable financial dealings since they left the White House in 2001.
Questions such as: How much money was Bill Clinton earning from speeches, (compared to what other former presidents made from speeches) on the basis of the presumption that he and Hillary would be returning to their White House perch after the 2008 elections? What were the names of the donors who had “donated” over $500 million to the Clinton Presidential Library and could they have been doing so to curry favor with the “next” Clinton administration? Why won’t the Clintons release their post-2000 tax returns until after they have been nominated as the Democratic candidate? What is in these tax returns that they don’t want Democratic voters to see until “after” they have voted?
Obama heard the voices calling for a change in strategy and considered the reasoning offered by those who proposed it. But Barack Obama decided that he was going to be consistent and continue to try and maintain a positive campaign message of bringing an end to the divisive politics that have dominated in the United States for the past forty years. He said that if he had to attack and tear his opponent down in order to win the nomination that he would be no better than that which he was fighting to change.
The Clintons have no such lofty illusions about political campaigns.. They are after all a product of the divisive anything goes politics that Obama is trying to bring an end to. Having squandered their advantages in name recognition, money and political establishment support, the Clintons have decided that they will attack Obama with a “kitchen sink” strategy in a final desperate effort to win the nomination no matter what it costs. I don’t think it will succeed but this is trench warfare now ….and the Clintons are very good at it.

Clinton shares many Bush traits

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on March 27th in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

So how is it the Clinton Presidential campaign went from leading all the national and early voting state polls by margins of 20 plus percentage points for almost a full year, (not to mention having over 200 super-delegates pledging their support before the first state primary votes are cast) to being behind in the number of primaries and delegates won, total number of all delegates and total popular vote in less than 3 months time? How do you begin your Presidential campaign with a massive war chest of Senate re-election and lobbyist campaign funds and find yourself loaning the campaign $5 million of your own $50 million personal fortune a year later because your political campaign is broke?
Now I could be wrong but I believe the answer lies in Clinton’s lack of effective Chief Executive Officer (CEO) management skills. Allow me to elaborate on why I believe this to be the case. At some point during their tenure all Presidents and CEOs have to resolve conflicts and disagreements between various different subordinates or groups of supporters. Such conflict is inevitable within any large organization because no matter how hard you might try to only hire people who share similar perspectives there are bound to be legitimate differences of opinion on how to accomplish certain objectives. It is the CEO’s job to resolve such conflicts so the organization can move on to deal with other issues and not get bogged down by sometimes petty disagreements.
In the case of the Clinton campaign, Hillary Clinton has cultivated an image as a strong and steady chief executive surrounded by legions of loyal and efficient staffers when in fact the reality of the inner workings of her Presidential campaign has been the exact opposite. The truth is that many of Clinton’s campaign advisers despised each other and there were also deep divisions within her campaign over campaign strategy, TV and radio advertising, where to allocate resources as well as how best to use former President Bill Clinton as a surrogate for Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail. These problems were allowed to fester for months throughout 2007 until her campaign ship almost ran aground on the shoals of financial insolvency at the end of January of this year.
Now don’t get me wrong here, but there is a legitimate CEO organizational management style whereby some CEOs actually seek to surround themselves with feuding subordinates because they believe the conflicting ideas that result from these clashes gives them the best possible set of options to choose from. There is also some evidence that would suggest that this style of management can be quite successful, but it requires a CEO who is both very decisive and also very involved in terms of the divergence of opinions between his or her subordinates. They only let the debate of ideas continue for a brief period of time before they step in and make a decision on which course the organization will take so that all involved can then move on to the next issue.
But while Hillary Clinton assembled a group of campaign advisors who were well known for their dislike of each other, she paid almost no attention to the details of the issues her campaign staffers were debating. Nor was Clinton decisive, preferring to delegate virtually all campaign decisions (no matter how large or how small they were) to various different lieutenants and to defer to her advisors on all critical campaign issues.
For months Clinton appeared to be totally unaware of the many conflicts that were simmering within her organization and that were also preventing her staffers from making decisions on how and where to confront the upstart candidacy of Barack Obama. The Clinton campaign’s seething cauldron of campaign staff resentments and unresolved conflicts over political strategies finally boiled over in the wake of consecutive February primary losses to Obama and led to the departures of her campaign manager, Patti Solis Doyle, and Doyle’s top assistant, deputy campaign manager Mike Henry.
James A. Thurber, a professor of government at American University who is an expert on presidential management says this about Clinton as a CEO: “She hasn’t managed anything as complex as this before; that’s the problem with senators. She wasn’t as decisive as she should have been. And it’s a legitimate question to ask: Under great pressure from two different factions, can she make some hard decisions and move ahead? It seems to just fester. She doesn’t seem to know how to stop it or want to stop it.”
I found it interesting that Clinton chose another long-time member of her old White House inner circle of loyal aides as Patti Solis Doyle’s replacement. Maggie Williams, like Patti Solis Doyle, has had no previous experience running a presidential campaign or managing a paid political staff of almost a thousand people. In this respect Hillary Clinton has shown the same disturbing tendency that our current President Bush has shown during his two terms as President. Like Bush, Clinton appears to place a higher value on those who have demonstrated personal loyalty to her through the years than she does on their relative experience or competence.
Virtually all of Clinton’s key campaign aides are people who have worked for her for many years and are familiar with her peculiar management style. Clinton has also demonstrated the same propensity the current President Bush has shown for sticking by lieutenants who are not getting the job done even when other friends have urged Clinton to let them go. I find these tendencies troubling because it says a lot about the type of people Clinton is likely to nominate as Cabinet heads and for positions overseeing government agencies should she ever be elected President.
What the US doesn’t need is another four years of Presidential appointees who lack the experience or the competence to do the jobs they are tasked with. That is why I find these parallels between Bush’s and Clinton’s CEO management styles so disturbing.

The presidential candidates CEO skills

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on March 20th in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

Last week my closing comment was to express my hope for a landslide victory by Barack Obama in the General Election, one that would also usher in a bigger Democratic majority in Congress as well as many state legislatures.
One of my Republican friends, who is also sympathetic to my reasons for supporting Barack Obama, was nonetheless surprised to hear me advocating for larger Democratic legislative majorities as well. He wondered how I could do this given my longstanding opposition to many of the policies supported by previous Democratic legislative majorities in Congress as well as state government. So I will now attempt to explain my reasons for taking such a radically different position on this subject.
History has shown that US Presidents elected in landslide elections also bring substantial changes to the United State’s domestic political landscape. After his landslide election in 1932 Franklin Roosevelt brought Americans guaranteed old age pension benefits in the form of Social Security legislation. On the heels of his 1964 landslide Lyndon Johnson pushed through the 1965 Voting Rights Act that would later guarantee the success of 1964’s Civil Rights legislation. Ronald Reagan was able to cement the tax and economic reforms he had pushed through Congress (which significantly altered US economic and taxation policy) following his landslide win over Walter Mondale in 1984.
Just as the US was grappling with seemingly intractable domestic problems in those years, we now face a host of equally daunting issues that will require landmark legislation to effectively deal with them. I hope I will be able to see Barack Obama follow in the footsteps of these other Presidents because I believe he is the only one of the three remaining candidates with a chance of winning the Presidency in a landslide.
With a voter mandate provided by an overwhelming electoral win and a strengthened Democratic majority in Congress, Obama would be able to cut through a lot of the partisan political posturing we have seen in Congress for the last 20 years. With his emphasis on finding common ground and not trying to settle old political scores, I believe he would be able to get enough support from both Democrats and moderate Republicans to pass the difficult measures that will be required to address America’s ills while the country is simultaneously experiencing tough economic times.
If one closely examines the political campaigns of the three remaining Presidential hopefuls, you can get a pretty good idea of who is more likely to perform best in the role of US President. Being President of the United States of America is more akin to being the CEO of a huge corporation and thus is a role that is quite different than the advise and consent role played by a US Senator. Being an effective US Senator with a paid staff of 20 people doesn’t require the same kind of CEO skills needed to manage a Presidential campaign with a paid staff of over 500 people.
Let’s take a minute to examine the records of all 3 Senators and how well they have managed their respective Presidential campaigns over the past year. John McCain began his campaign in November of 2006 as the Republican frontrunner with the advantage of his past experience running for President in 2000 and narrowly losing in some key primaries against the current President Bush. He had the experience and the national name recognition from the previous campaign as well as a strong fundraising operation. McCain actually had more well connected lobbyists as fundraisers than any other candidate for President and raised over $13 million in the first quarter of last year.
So what happened? By July of last year the McCain presidential campaign was almost broke and they had to let almost 100 staffers go while the other remaining staff took pay cuts or switched to being unpaid advisors. McCain had also slipped from first to fourth place in national polls behind Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and the as yet undeclared candidacy of Fred Thompson. As a result McCain also showed both his campaign manager and chief campaign strategist the door.
But John McCain’s subsequent comeback to win the Republican nomination was less about savvy political campaign management and more due to the mistakes of his competitors and fortunate turns of events that McCain had no control or influence over.
In January of 2007 Hillary Clinton began her Presidential campaign in an even stronger position than John McCain thanks to the transfer of $10 million from her NY Senate campaign. She had been discussing running for President since the fall of 2002 and so it was widely assumed that much of the money raised for her 2006 Senate re-election was actually destined for the 2008 Presidential race.
She was the immediate Democratic frontrunner in all of the national polls due to her name recognition as the wife of a popular former President at a time when the current President was very unpopular. She also led the polls in the first 6 Democratic primary/caucus states and used this data coupled with influential lobbyists to raise an additional $25 million in the first quarter of 2007 to add to the $10 million from her 2006 Senate re-election campaign she started the presidential race with. By October of 2007 Hillary Clinton had a commanding lead in all of the national and early voting state polls over her 2 main rivals, John Edwards and Barack Obama.
By the beginning of December Senator Clinton was presumed by most political observers and establishment Democrats to be unstoppable in her quest to be the Democratic Presidential nominee. As a result many of these Democratic politicians decided to jump on the fast moving Clinton Presidential campaign train and announced they would cast their un-pledged delegate vote for Clinton at the Democratic National Convention. Clinton had over 200 Super-delegates pledged to support her before the first voters ever went to the polls.
So what happened? I will discuss this in some detail next week.