Friday, November 16, 2012

Role Reversal

Years ago I watched a Mayoral race unfold in my town. On the liberal side we had a progressive champion who served as a state congressman. I loved his policies. But he exuded the stereotype of the absent-minded professor. I remember serving on a citizen's committee with him. He would always arrive late, shirt and tie disheveled, hair uncombed, with an armful of folders full of papers that were haphazardly arranged. I would look at him and wonder if he could manage his way out of a paper bag.

The conservative candidate was anathema to me in terms of policies. Personally, he was a slimeball. But he was an excellent manager and knew how to get shit done. And of course, he knew how to smile pretty at the cameras and tell people what they wanted to hear. So of course, he won. I'm not giving out any names here, but its the very same guy who went on to be a Senator and was defeated after one term by the great Al Franken ;-)

That particular race embodies how the divide between liberals and conservatives played out for much of the time I've been following politics. Its why the Republicans got labelled the "Daddy" party and Democrats the "Mommy" party. Liberals were the "feelers" and conservatives were the "thinkers." Liberals were the empathic ones and conservatives the managers.

I say all that to suggest that some of those themes still linger in our consciousness and color perceptions that no longer reflect the reality of our politics these days. It will perhaps seem inconsequential to some, but to me, this was one of the most telling moments of the Romney campaign.

After my ears recovered from the pain, I remember thinking...what kind of campaign can't even manage the singing of "America the Beautiful?" Of course there were more obvious examples - like ORCA. But demonstration of good management is most often exemplified by doing the little things right (ie, mic-checks).

Anyway, I don't need to tell anyone how terribly-managed the Romney campaign was or what poor planning was done by the Karl Rove's of the right. And yet I think a lot of people still voted for Romney because of this belief that the word "conservative" equals good management skills.

Perhaps this is also why some people continue to think that President Obama is cold, detatched, and professorial - even when he is demonstrably not. The Maureen Dowd's of the world seem to pine after the days when liberals exuded emotion rather than fixed problems. And some on the left still think the only effective strategy is an angry fist in the air.

As someone who lives on-the-ground with the implementation of social policy via our government institutions, I can tell you that NOTHING makes me more angry than badly managed government programs. And it is very often liberals - with their lofty ideas about what they want to do for the "poor and oppressed" - who are the worst offenders.

That's one of the biggest reasons why I support our pragmatic progressive President. As I've said before, the most significant way we can advance a liberal agenda is through the implementation of good government. We've just seen President Obama run a well-managed campaign. But we don't hear as much about the quiet revolution he's also undertaken to make every arena of our federal government more effective.

I welcome this embrace of thoughtful pragmatism into the liberal ranks. And I'll take it over a fist in the air any day.


  1. Good Government is what PBO ran on in '08, but folks seem to forget that.


  2. I have a paranoid streak, for real, and at times it flares up in thoughts that there was a real right-wing conspiracy to deflate the left, particularly after FDR but with renewed vigor after the 1960's, by offering its "best and brightest" cushy academic gigs where they could theorize, opine, and declaim 24/7, lord it over their ivory tower, and in the process remove them from any organizational effort that might really apply pressure to capital and build something better.

    So, yes, being the party of "getting shit done" is step one on the long walk toward something better. Our best and brightest on the left belong in the trenches, and clearly this is one of the things that Obama has demonstrated.

  3. It is a pain that people think that way about the president and democrats in general. I was raised to believe that results were the only thing that counted. So I have a really hard time relating to people that think the president should be James Brown. When are republicans going to be seen as off their rockers?