Saturday, October 2


David Brooks has an interesting column today. In it, he compares the ways Bush and Kerry's minds work.

Kerry, he opines, thinks like a manager or engineer. While he excels at producing a process by which goals can be met, he fails to "blend his specific proposals into guiding principles."

"Bush, by contrast, is steadfast and resolute. But his weakness is statecraft. That is the task of relating means to ends, of orchestrating the institutions of government to achieve your desired goals.

"Bush sometimes acts as if it's enough for a president to profess his faith. But a coach can't just dream up a game plan. He has to understand what his specific players can and can't do, and adapt to those realities." In Bush's case, he is no coach but a cheerleader.

My company is one of the most brilliantly managed (quoting Barron's and Fortune magazines) in the nation. It is led by engineers, or strategists who think like engineers. They hire people like me for the cheerleader role. Many of the most charismatic CEOs in history have also been colossal failures in the end, damaging their organizations and the prospects of their employees. A blend of the two mindsets in one leader results in a Bill Clinton, which is probably the reason for his huge popularity. But that kind of leader is exceedingly rare. Confined to a choice between the engineer and the cheerleader leadership models, I'll take the engineer any day. The cheerleader (or marketer), like Bush in the debate, has a set number of yells, taglines, or what-not within which to work. We don't lead or even often attend the strategy sessions, so our information is limited and our authority has boundaries. Bush's inability to respond substantively to the debate questions and his repetition of stock phrases betrayed his lack of knowledge or involvement with the important foreign policy challenges of our time. Kerry, on the other hand, performed brilliantly, the facts and concrete plans at his fingertips.

I suspect that voters thought when they cast ballots for Bush in 2000 that Cheney would provide the engineer's role in the government while Bush provided inspiration, moral leadership and overall policy direction. The experience of the past almost-four years has clearly contraindicated that assumption. Bush has been the captive, rather than the leader, of the neocon movement, which has fulfilled that role of policy direction. Cheney has ignored the "engineers" of the State Department and professional bureaucracy, rubber-stamping the idealistic and bumbling adventures of the neocons and using his influence with GWB to assure the continuation of his crony capitalistic and imperialistic initiatives. The Shrub has merely performed as front man, providing cover with his moralistic cliches and strong-man rhetoric.

So which style will win this election? Brooks says, "Bush launched a pre-emptive war even though his intelligence community was incompetent. He occupied a country even though he didn't really believe in, or work with, the institutions of government he would need to complete the task.

"Nonetheless, I suspect that the reason Bush's approval ratings hover around 50 percent, despite a year of carnage in Iraq, is because of the reason many of us in the commentariat don't like to talk about: in a faithful and moralistic nation, Bush's language has a resonance with people who know that he is not always competent, and who know that he doesn't always dominate every argument, but who can sense a shared cast of mind."

Not very reassuring words. I'm faithful too, and I pray that come election day, voters will opt to return "America's favorite neighbor" George W. Bush to the neighborhood, where he can moralize all he wants but never again make a life-and-death choice for the American people. The engineer can read a blueprint: he understands what it takes to provide an infrastructure for society, from foundation (guiding principles) to topping-out (finishing a job). He may not be the most articulate guy on the jobsite -- after all, his is a complex duty. But he knows the steps of the process and is able to speak honestly and directly to the architect, the project owner, and the employees, and he knows the value of doing so; otherwise, the job doesn't get done, and for the engineer, seeing the blueprint come alive is his raison d'etre.

The cheerleader can only stand by and rah rah while others play the game... or cry when it's lost.


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