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10/13/2004
KERRY…CARTER II?
CATEGORY: General

Historians generally agree that when it comes to ranking Presidents, Jimmy Carter is in the bottom 10% in effectiveness. This is due to a variety of factors, but the overarching reason is Carter’s management style.

In short, it was a disaster.

Carter was a so-called “detail man.” Trained as an engineer (he was a grad of the Naval Academy) Carter brought a manic desire to “understand the problem” to his role as chief executive. Hence, on every issue-large or small-Carter would carefully and, according to his aides, maddeningly, personally research the problem while discussing with his aides various policy options then asking them for MORE information while all the time, the problem would usually be growing worse. Carter would often take the position of devils advocate just to elicit more information from his frustrated aides. Zbigniew Brzezinski has some fascinating insights into this aspect of Carter’s management style.

Here’s a quote from Theodore H. White’s “America in Search of Itself” on Carter’s manic obsession with information gathering. A New York Democrat visited the oval office and found Carter sitting at his desk:

“...There sat Carter at his desk with a pile of papers knee-high beside him. “Do you know what that is?” he asked the visitor. “That’s the Air Force budget,” said Carter. “I’ve read every page of it.” he said proudly.

Aides like Hamilton Jordan were driven almost to distraction by Carter’s inability to make up his mind. Jordan, a political pro of the first order, was incredulous when, during the gas crisis of 1979, Carter cancelled a speech on energy to delve into what White called “the spirit and faith of a questioning nation.” There followed perhaps the most bizarre period in modern American history. With lines at gas stations stretching for blocks and Americans beating each other over the heads if someone cut in front of them, the President went on a personal journey trying to ascertain “what was wrong.” with America. He called in wise men like Clark Clifford. He talked to ordinary Americans from all over the country. He talked to party leaders, teachers, preachers, businessmen, activists, blacks, whites, hispanics and children. While he was doing this, the dollar was dropping like a stone on international markets, gas lines were getting longer, Americans were getting madder, and Europeans were starting to worry. And what was the result of all this?

Carter determined that what was wrong with America was, well…Americans!

Evidently, the people had lost faith in the country and each other. What became known as the “Malaise” speech sealed Carter’s defeat in 1980.

Teddy White summed this period up succinctly:

“In the court of almost any other contemporary soveriegn, the attempt (to ascertain the spirit of the nation) would be material for comedy, except in China where such doctrinal disputes end in tragedy…”

And what about the management style of John Forbes Kerry?

A PBS puff piece (actually, a 2 hour campign commercial for Kerry complete with attacks on the President), interviewed long time Kerry aide Jonathon Winer who spoke briefly about Kerry’s decision making process:

“So he goes to the other side, the opposite position that you want. “Why should I do this?” He’s got the following problems with it. “I might be justifiably attacked for this. Why shouldn’t we do that instead? Those kinds of arguments—it’s [an] environmental issue or energy issue or a foreign policy issue or a tax issue, and you have to battle him. He won’t just do it with one staffer. You could sort of deal with that one on one. He does it with a whole group, and encourages everybody else to participate in whichever angle of the discussion they want to be.”

Now there’s absolutely nothing wrong with getting a wide variety of viewpoints when trying to make a decision. President’s need that kind of feedback in order to organize their thoughts and set priorities.

But here’s what the Washington Post says about Kerry’s campaign decision making apparatus:

“Almost 25 years later, Kerry brought the same voracious appetite for information to his presidential campaign. He has three dozen domestic policy councils, two dozen foreign policy groups, an expanding corps of consultants, and many informal advisers he calls—about 15 per night—before going to bed.”

When Kerry was Senator, this kind of overlap and duplication wasn’t possible. But given a preference in his own campaign, Kerry makes exactly the same kind of mistake that Carter made…overloading himself with information.

The Post pretty much draws the same conclusion:

“But in his presidential race, the approach has bogged down his campaign in indecision or led to jarring changes in direction—even if the result, so far, is that Kerry remains in contention with President Bush. “Things you thought you resolved a week ago pop up again because he’s had another four conversations,” a former adviser said.”

This is the crux of Kerry’s problem. There is a monumental difference between policy making and crisis management. When faced with a crisis in his campaign, Kerry has either loaded up on new advisors, changed his message, or even revisited decisions already made. Sometimes, he’s done all three.

The Post points up the problems with this approach:

“Before setting a course of action, he regularly engages aides and friends in long discussion and argument, often playing devil’s advocate to probe for weaknesses and, if he finds them, insisting on more information until he believes he can argue all options equally well.”

“Argue all options equally well”...Evidently, Kerry is bucking for “Debater in Chief” rather than Commander in Chief.

Finally, the Post shows why Kerry is more like Carter than Reagan.

“Another recurring theme in Kerry’s executive style is that he almost always believes consensus is possible if he knows enough about an issue and the concerns of all those affected. “He thinks he wins because he knows the most,” said a longtime friend and aide.”

While consensus is desirable on any number of issues, the fact is they don’t call the Presidency “the loneliest job in the world” for nothing. There comes a time when a President is tested with making a decision alone. Will John Kerry have the ability to to make the tough, lonely choices that would protect us from catastrophe?

His track record to date does not instill any confidence that he would.


UPDATE:

P.J. O’Rourke is my favorite political satirist. If you haven’t read “Holidays in Hell,” an uproarious journey to Lebanon, El Salvador, Nicauragua, and Russia (among other places), then you’re missing the funniest travelogue written since Mark Twain’s “Innocent’s Abroad.” Some classic P.J.:

On Saddam Hussein: “He’s worse than Hitler, worse than Stalin, worse than waking up wearing a wedding ring next to Roseanne Barr…”

On the Ottoman Empire: “...so called because it had the same amount of energy and intelligence as a footstool…”

On the Naming of Birds in the Amazon: ...”these are very useful if, for instance, you’re writing an epic poem about the Bush (41) administration cabinet secretaries and need a rhyme for “Manuel Lujan…”

P.J. has “16 obvious points President Bush should make during the Wednesday night debate.” Read it and weep (with laughter).











By: Rick Moran at 7:58 am
2 Responses to “KERRY…CARTER II?”
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    obladioblada Said:
    9:33 am 

    Well said, Rick.

    We have an obligation to be active and vocal and fight legislative proposals that we oppose. However, we can’t afford to fall into the Leftists’ stance and wish evil upon our country in exchange for political gain. That is unpatriotic. Humor and satire are accepted and encouraged, smears and open hatred are not.

    I will respect the Presidency, even as I actively oppose the sitting president’s policies.

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