Inconceivable! [or not]

One of the famous and favorite moments in The Princess Bride is when Inigo Montoya tells Vizzini:

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Watching the Yelling Shows this morning, I kept replaying Inigo’s line in my head.

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

I guess Inigo was wondering: Is it a misuse of language? A misunderstanding of what’s actually happening? Or, simply, wishful thinking? But ultimately the why doesn’t matter. If you don’t recognize the reality, you’re in trouble.

I was thinking about this as the guest on the show, in an ominously warning voice, said that people need to understand that Donald Trump is not a Republican, and he does not represent what the Party stands for (he said lots of other stuff, too, but that’s not germane here).

I think that this is the wrong argument.

What if people don’t care that he’s not a Republican? What if THEY are not Republicans, too? [There is a parallel argument on the Democratic side that Senator Sanders is NOT a Democrat, and my thinkings here apply to both parties.]

Earlier this week, Clay Shirky who, by the way, is a much better thinker than DocThink, wrote a tweetstorm outlining a theory of the redundancy of political parties in a networked world. He offers that parties used to be required to access media, to access donors and to access voters through organizing. He traces the arc of a scythe cutting down this syndicate starting with Ross Perot through Howard Dean and Obama for America. He posits that both parties are seeing an internal insurgency where “the people,” or at least a passionate sector of “the people,” are hijacking the party regulars.

I’m not sure that’s exactly right.* I think that we are seeing the hijacking of the parties’ infrastructure for people who may or may not be party members. It could be that the outsiders are not growing the party as much as using the party. They are disruptors.

Conventional wisdom sided against any 3rd or 4th party in the U.S. because of the infrastructure requirements to gain public office. It’s the party apparatus in each state that organizes and hosts primaries. The parties own the statewide infrastructure, the hosting of caucuses and elections, the rules, the timelines and the costs. They own donor lists and vendors who do polling and pipe and drape.

Smart outsider candidates are able to use this structure to launch their own campaigns with enough hat-tipping to the “party,” as long as they have followers. They can build their own followers

  • by addressing them DIRECTLY on social media and use this to pressure and gain earned media,
  • by raising money from them DIRECTLY online, and
  • by getting their names and emails and Facebook likes and Twitter follows to call on them DIRECTLY as well as ask them to call on each other when it’s time to GOTV.

We might be seeing a disruption on the scale of Amazon for commerce, Uber for transportation, Airbnb for lodging or Facebook for communications.

It makes me think, too, about another Clay. Clay Christensen wrote the Innovator’s Dilemma. I’m still working my brain through this but I think I’ll throw it out to see if it’s a useful model to apply. Christensen says*

  • Companies innovate faster than their customers’ needs evolve and eventually produce products that are actually too sophisticated, too expensive, and too complicated for many customers.
  • Companies pursue these “sustaining innovations” at the higher tiers of their markets because that’s what made them successful– charging the highest prices to their most demanding and sophisticated customers at the top of the market.
  • This leaves a gap at the bottom of the market for competitors to emerge and go after smaller markets with simpler products that might not be attractive to the “establishment” organization.
  • See a full and smarter version here.

So the people who were in the market, but couldn’t afford the goods are happy with a cheaper, less feature-rich version that they can have. Or maybe they don’t see themselves as customers of the Party as it is, and are open to an offering that better meets their beliefs.

But what about the Brand value of the Parties. Parties still offer a shorthand to understand where a candidate stands. I did voter studies in the 80’s. I know about party affiliation. But I also know about brands. So I’ll offer one thought. How does that brand–of establishment political parties–make people who are angry and left out feel?

The first Clay put out a stat that floored me. There are 150 million registered voters in the U.S. That would be considered a MEDIUM-sized group on Facebook. Shirky said, “All voters’ used to be a big number. Now it’s less than 10 percent of Facebook’s audience.”


in·con·ceiv·a·bleˌ inkənˈsēvəb(ə)l/adjective
     1. not capable of being imagined or grasped mentally; unbelievable.

* Apologies for my reductionist parsing of both Clays’ arguments. I’m just trying this out, Loyal Reader. I suggest you read them both and help me hone my Thinkings.

Hardest on the Ones We Love

Photo of spaghetti sauce cooking by Joey Rozier under a Creative Commons licence.In high school, my friend Jenny was mortifyingly embarrassed of her mom. Jenny would yell if her mom spoke to me. “Nobody cares what you say!” She would bad mouth her mother to me–her stupidities, her clothes, her hair.

I always thought this odd. Jenny’s mom was nice to me, and always let Jenny take the car. She wasn’t rude or dirty or inappropriate (we didn’t use the word inappropriate back in those days, but she wasn’t). But Jenny knew her mom as a stupid old woman. Who reflected poorly on her.

Progressives who think Obama “lost” Friday’s debate remind me of Jenny. Familiarity makes them overly-sensitive to any potential misstep–not aggressive enough, should have hit harder, McCain didn’t implode so if Obama didn’t hit it out of the park he did poorly.

Here’s the thing, Obama has run a very good campaign so far. And his campaign knows that he doesn’t have to convince his supporters. He needs to work on the undecideds. The people who have just tuned into the election process.

Newly engaged undecideds and independents see the candidates freshly. They are checking out and evaluating the men that they are seeing now. And trying them on for President. That’s who Obama is trying to win over.

Those of us who have been engaged from Iowa see different candidates. I hope Jenny made up with her mom.

Addicted to Palin

Okay. I said it. It’s the first step. I admit that I have a problem.

I have been thinking about Sarah Palin, reading about Sarah Palin, watching video about Sarah Palin, following convention coverage about Sarah Palin, wrestling with my feelings about Sarah Palin, and trying to figure out what I think about this polarizing newly minted political rockstar.

I can’t get her out of my mind, because I am having a hard time making a decision about her and what to think about her.

There is no doubt in my mind that Sarah Palin is qualified to be Vice President.

The qualifications for the vice presidency are the same as those for the presidency. The vice president must be a native-born American of at least 35 years of age who has resided in the United States for at least 14 years. — Encarta

This means that I, too, am qualified to be Vice President–or President for that matter.

In my obsessive reading, some folks are saying that they have alot in common with Gov. Palin, and since they do NOT think that they are qualified for the job, therefore SHE isn’t qualified. Others are happy to have somebody who is “just like me,” who will understand and respond to their needs. Next I find myself thinking about why I believe that Brack Obama is qualified to be President.

This gets me thinking about serendipity and timing. Before Obama became a 2008 Presidential candidate, I was wishing that he would wait until the next round. But sometimes circumstances thrust you into a position and you have to grab for the ring. It might not be presented again. And I think that I need to apply that same standard to Palin.

But what about her family?, I was thinking. How could Palin be a mother to babies, young children and teens while being Vice President?

What wrong thinking.

I always thought that I tried hard not to judge other parents and their decisions–whether mom should work or stay home, what role does dad play, is quality time better than quantity time, prudes versus permissives, milk versus ice tea? In our family the mom went back to work when the babies were 9 and 8 weeks old–and still nursed both until they were two. The dad worked part time for the first few years and did main duty. The mom took a new job that entailed alot of domestic travel 4 months before the youngest was born–and she dragged the baby from coast to coast. His first hotel was in Boston at 10 weeks. Good mom? Bad mom? Sometimes. Okay, I think Palin is a fine parent. Her kids look happy (and gorgeous!) and I bet they will survive her parenting and become productive adults. As I pray my kids will survive my own parenting.

But what does parenting have to do with being a “heartbeat away from the Presidency” anyway? Nothing. But the heartbeat away from the Presidency thing is pretty important.

So, I think that Palin is qualified enough. And I think that, as Obama has forcefully and genuinely said, her family needs to be off limits. So that leads me to where I should have been from the beginning–what do I think about her as a potential president, because that’s the job she is going for?

I definitely think that she is a shrewd and formidable politician. She has worked hard and appears to spit nails and bring down the hammer on foes. Her rise to the governor’s mansion in Juneau is something to be respected and admired. Politics is a tough game, and a young upstart from a small town making it to the top of the heap in Alaska is nothing to shake a stick at. Go Sarah Barracuda!

So now I am returning to her convention speech–what tells me most about who she is and what kind of president she might be, because that’s all we got. And this is the source that makes me most uncomfortable about Sarah Palin, and a McCain-Palin presidency.

The speech–well delivered by a confident, accessible, smiling candidate–helped to draw a clear distinction between the choice we have in November. And it isn’t about Palin, specifically, but about what her ticket stands for.

Change for them means making a U-turn and going back to the 50’s. The speech was very backwards looking, to the “good ole days” of some idyllic and perhaps mythical small town America. Where people are homogeneous (but not homos), where nostalgia and the familiar trump intellectual curiosity, and where we need to run back to the cocoon rather than boldly face the challenges of health care, the environment, education and globalization.

Backwards to when diplomacy means that the U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A. (chant it with me like its 1980) plays nuclear games of chicken with our enemies, and globalization means that everyone oversees wants an American car and the imports from Japan are cheesy.

Where small towns are filled with honest, sincere dignified people who are somehow immune to a failing economy, the mortgage crisis, and the false prospect that cutting taxes for the wealthiest will make us all better off, even if that leaves state coffers empty without money for infrastructure projects and public safety (can you say levies?) and with gimmicks to improve education.

When the natural resources of this great planet were seen as infinite, and frontier settlers were the masters, taking whatever they wanted and moving on when the land was depleted or destroyed because it was their right. In contrast to the people already in this country that the settlers displaced. People who were stewards for the land, the water, the air, the animals and plants.

I watched Gov. Palin’s speech–and within the context of the Republican Convention–felt like she saw the best times were behind us. Simpler times. Times that needed to be protected from the future.

And her reiteration of wedge issues in the guise of small town values–guns, abortion, creationism–sets up the old “us against them” no-compromise zone. I appreciated Sen. McCain talking about reaching out across differences to make changes during his acceptance speech, but he really didn’t advocate anything new. And, if his running mate and others making speeches have their way (as they did with his choice for VP), his calls for pragmatic compromise to resolve tough issues will likely disappear.

I used to work in an academic environment with decisions made by “consensus.” What that meant in practice was that anyone could stop an idea by crapping on it. It was a huge challenge to get anything done, make change, see things in a new way, innovate or invent. It was status quo all the time, because there was always someone who knew they could stop change and keep their fiefdoms intact.

So it’s really not about Sarah Palin, who is truly a remarkable person on many levels. I don’t need to think about her, although she helped me to reconcile some ideas that were vexing me.

It’s about the fact that on most issues I absolutely and fundamentally disagree with Sarah Palin and her running mate. And all the distractions that have been fed up by the 24/7 news personalities and Democratic and Republican spinmeisters are just that. Distractions.

So yes, I have been thinking alot about Sarah Palin. And I think that now, I am on the road to recovery.

Scottie We Hardly Knew Ye

Weebles wobble but they don't fall down!What was he thinking? Scott McClellan longtime press punching bag and Bush mouthpiece, that is.

For most of his time in the Press Room, I thought Scott was such a tool (definition 6)–repeatedly mumbling his talking points without any evidence of imagination or art. Maybe if he said the exact phrase seventeen times in a row his interrogators would

  1. Believe him and move on. (As IF!)
  2. Forget their point and move on.
  3. Get bored and move on.
  4. Turn into a field of Budweisers, ripe for the pickin’. Boy a cold one sure would be good right about now. Let’s move on!

Then, toward the end of his tenure, I began to feel sorry for him. It must of been around the time when reporters began to openly mock him. And like a weeble, he would get knocked around, wobble, but not fall down. His demeanor changed. He began to look hurt. He seemed like he would rather be anywhere else–inside of an active volcano, for example–than behind that podium.

Scott wasn’t quick enough to dodge any of the incoming. He seemed wounded. It was like watching someone getting stoned. (Not like smoking weed stoned, but like “whoever is without sin…” stoned.) His loyalty seemed dopey, yet somehow pure. He was sticking by the man who brought him to Washington.

Now he comes out with his book. And he really gives it to the Bush administration–even the President. So I wonder, “Why?”

Well, one friend, channeling Deep Throat, said to “follow the money.” It’s true that McClellan will make alot more money on a controversial book, but given the bridges he’s burned, h e better invest wisely because he won’t be working in communications or PR ever again. (In addition to smashing his political glass house, he made a shambles of the 4th Estate, too!)

Empty White House press briefing room with an empty podium.Nobody says that Scott is smart, so the easy money motive is a quick fit. But it also seems possible that McClellan did have an epiphany–as well as an axe to grind with Rove and Scooter. Maybe it got to be that the more he thought about what happened, the more he felt he had to take layers of varnish off of the truth. Maybe he was worried for his immortal soul.

And now, in a perfect Karmic turn, all the vitriol that he had giveth is now being returnith to him ten-fold. Does he deserve it? I don’t know. Is he doing the right thing? For the right reasons? I don’t know. But for some reason, I sure want to figure it out.

In or Out?

It’s like the cool kids. The “in” crowd. The OC or Beverly Hills 90210. The ones that the high-school Alphas take into their circle. You know, like the Bushies.

Between shutting out career Justice Department lawyers, inexperienced appointees at NASA telling scientists what to say, putting political appointees in charge of all regulatory policy undercutting career staff and experts, and, overall, increasing the number of Schedule C–political appointments the wagons are circled tightly.

Today’s WashPost and others report that Monica Goodling–former Justice Department official and of the 5th Amendment fame–may have questioned applicants for career jobs about their political affiliation. I guess she was thinking, “If you’re not with us, you’re against us.” Or something.

It’s very discouraging for career civil servants to be ignored. Not invited to meetings. Not consulted or overridden in their areas of expertise by inexperienced political hacks. To be told by a senior agency official, “I don’t know you [federal worker], but I trust the political appointee to my right” really makes for a bad meeting.

Lots of the Politicals are terrific public servants. But if the main qualification for critical jobs, like rebuilding Iraq, is ties to the Bush-Cheney campaign, something is amiss. If leaders in political jobs do not trust career staff, if career staff are seen as lazy bureaucrats, if career staff are outside of the decision making process we have government by the seat of our pants and government being pulled out of a youthful buttocks. Oh, and wasting a bunch of resource$$.

Ultimately, the important work of governing suffers. The Bushie A-Team is long gone, and many agencies are being led by the 5th stringers or vacancies. Yet there is work to be done–in education, health care, terrorism response, information sharing, the environment, poverty eradication, immigration reform, international relations, support for returning and especially injured veterans and much more.

But it looks like we might have to wait for the remaining Bushies to vacate their posts. What a shame when there are so many good people–many of them career civil servants who are also Democrats, Republicans, Independents or Other –who are so ready to do real work.

High school is over! The OC and Beverly Hills 90210 have been cancelled.

Toles Cartoon (c) Wash Post

Missing Link

The House and Senate both flipped based on Tuesday’s election. With all the hoopla about concessions and successions, resignations and designations, hand shakes and half baked, I am focused on a missing link.

Or should I say, missing Linc. Lincoln Chafee, the defeated Republican Senator from Rhode Island, that is.

Did you know that Chafee stood apart from all Republicans and most Dems on the October 2002 Iraq War resolution? Chafee, Russ Feingold & Ted Kennedy on one side. Shumer, Clinton, Edwards, Kerry, and the entire Republican Senate delegation strongly behind the White House on the other (The Vote).

Did you know that Chafee thinks that global warming is real and needs to be addressed? Is against drilling for oil in the Arctic? (On the environment)

Did you know that Chafee didn’t vote for Bush in 2004? Although he did say that he couldn’t vote for Kerry. (NYTimes)

Did you know that 63% of the people who voted in Rhode Island on Tuesday said they approved of him. And 51% said he was about right on the issues (CNN Exit Polls). So, most people who voted in Rhode Island approved of his work and agreed with him on the issues.

I must be getting old and soft, but this Senate turnover is a bit bittersweet when legislators who are doing the bidding of their constituents–and provide a moderate voice to their party–lose out. Somehow I think we all lose a little on some level. Where is the roadmap to bi-parisanship? I need to think on this.

Why Does A Muskrat Guards His Musk?

Cowardly Lion/Bert Lahr

Most people now think that the President’s thing in Iraq is a bad idea. And there’s evidence that our actions might be making things worse. In addition, the party of morals and values might be having trouble on many levels, here and here. Oh, and that the top folks in the White House are living in denial.

The response of the opposition party? Outside of kicking up some dust, saying that the Republicans are bad guys or bad guys, it’s the same cowardly response. Or lack thereof.

Why say something? If you say something, the other side will use it against you. So just stay quiet. Where is the leadership from the opposition? Well, there is trio Warner, McCain and Graham taking a principled stance on human rights protections for prisoners. Wait, they aren’t the opposition. But they were joined by….well, Dems couldn’t join in because they were waiting for the GOP to eat itself. Which was shortlived when–SURPRISE–there was a compromise and the red-staters took the day. Again.

Sure the Prez was bruised, but the leadership moment, the chance to reach across the aisle, the moment of leading over rough terrain versus bickering like kids on the schoolyard was gone. Poof!

Just before our mayoral primary, my neighbor asked me who I liked. I told her that I liked Adrian Fenty because he had guts. When the Mayor and other council members were touting an early curfew to deal with a violent crime spike this summer, Fenty called the bill what it was–window dressing. The lone wolf on that vote. As the front-runner in a tough election, he ran the risk of the negative riff about being “soft” on crime. And, yes, that happened, but he still won. Soundly.

What makes the Hottentot so hot?
What puts the “ape” in ape-ricot?
Whatta they got that I ain’t got?