Unsolicited Advice for Palin’s “Going Rogue” Tour

November 15, 2009

Sarah Palin wants the option to run for president in 2012.  Seven out of ten Americans think that’s a bad idea. Here’s my advice for starting to win them over on the book tour:

  1. Pivot from past to future relatively quickly.
  2. Voters are craving steady hands and a “buck stops here” approach to leadership. Keep the score settling to a minimum.
  3. Have a strategy for creating jobs.
  4. Explain your resignation in a way that reveals an interest in governing.
  5. Sarah v. The Staffers shouldn’t be a fair fight. The narrative that you got rolled by these slick, chain-smoking Washington types doesn’t position you well to lead a nation.
  6. The best version of you doesn’t take herself very seriously, but takes the fate of the nation seriously. Signal both.
  7. We’re exhausted by anxiety. Tap into our aspirations.
  8. Remind us that you’re the adult and Levi’s the child. Again, that shouldn’t be a fair fight.
  9. Take responsibility for some piece of McCain-Palin. In particular, own your interview missteps. You’re auditioning for Spokesperson-in-Chief.
  10. Your base won’t be the only ones buying tickets to the show. Talk to the rest of us, too, for at least part of the time.
  11. Wear incredible shoes (see #7).

The Redemption of Mark Sanford

June 25, 2009

The governor has been found.  Governor Sanford was not, it turns out, hiking the Appalachian Trail. He was in Buenos Aires with “Maria,” a woman who is not his wife or the mother of his four sons. It is a familiar, human ending to a grim story.  Except for the B.A. part.  Great town, as Sanford himself pointed out.

Is there any reason to dwell on the details? We’ve basically got it. Marriage over, career destroyed, family shaken by scandal and lies.  Soon enough the facts will retreat to the private sphere, where they mostly belong, and the cameras will be redeployed.  The 24-hour news beast will consume another public figure’s private pain.

I do find myself wanting to linger, if only briefly, on one part of this story. Sanford’s staff issued a series of clumsy, misleading statements (and Tweets) on the governor’s trip that culminated in an attempt to convince us that what we were observing wasn’t actually real. No, Sanford had not disappeared for six days under highly unusual, if not unprecedented circumstances for an acting governor. He was hiking.

What’s happening inside an organization that lies aggressively to its stakeholders?  State Senator John Land described the staff as “dishonest, secretive and bizarre,” and now we know why. They were taking one for the team, covering up for the boss man, and it wasn’t the first time. Manipulation was in the organization’s DNA, and they came by it honestly. They were taking signals from the top on how to divert people from the truth and its consequences. The press “strategy” was likely not even up for debate. Lie ourselves out of this one? Why stop now?

Here’s the issue.  The reason we care about the private lives of our public leaders is not that they might hurt themselves or the people who love them.  We regret these costs on a basic human level, but the players are strangers to us, all of them, and this is not the source of the outrage.

We care about “Maria” because the absence of integrity is a highly toxic human condition. It cannot be contained to one part of our lives. It infects everything we touch, including the organizations around us that react intuitively to our structural weakness.  At best, lying about who we are destroys our ability to lead. At worst, it puts institutions at risk of rotting from the inside out, as the behavior of Sanford’s staff so vividly illustrates.  These are the soldiers on the front lines of our democracy, and they internalized the governor’s arrogance and duplicity.

The good news is that the presence of integrity is even more powerful.  The governor may think that his career is over, but the world just gave him the gift of intolerance for the small, broken version of him that we’d been getting.  A bigger version may exist, someone with the ability to effect real change, and now we have a chance of someday meeting him. By my measure, Mark Sanford may just be getting started.

That’s Funny

March 13, 2009

“Funny,” at it’s core, describes some variance between what you expect to happen and what actually happens. A monkey is dressed like a baby. A prehistoric man has trouble buying car insurance. A prepubescent kid headlines a meeting of serious conservative thinkers. On some basic level, these things are funny.

Over the past few days, I’ve heard myself saying “that’s funny” more often than usual, despite the growing absurdity of our economic moment.  Even with the world upside down, I didn’t expect most of these things, which I’m deciding is a hopeful sign. Some facts still have the power to surprise:

  1. Sears has had an open CEO search for 13 months and is now soliciting people to apply for the job if they feel “up to the challenge.”  Apparently there is very little interest.
  2. Almost all of the top posts under Geithner at Treasury are still vacant — the Herald Tribune reports it’s because the White House has become so worried about potential tax problems that it has nominated only a handful of people. It’s hard to find more compelling motivation for a flat tax.
  3. Ryanair is considering charging passengers for use of its in-flight bathrooms.
  4. Michael Steele is pro-choice.
  5. Ryanair is also launching a new transatlantic service.  Bring your quarters. 
  6. David Brooks is using his extraordinary platform to attach meaning to Michele Obama’s arms, and has named them “Thunder” and “Lightening.”
  7. Ryanair is also pressuring pilots to fly with less fuel. Don’t assume the flotation device will be free. 
  8. After playing an active role in pushing plastic on America, American Express is paying some customers $300 to close their accounts and walk away.  
  9. Jack Welch calls the obsession with shareholder value the “dumbest idea in the world.” 
  10. Real estate may also be crashing in Second Life

Michael Steele’s Big, Floppy Shoes

March 10, 2009


Every circus needs a clown.

But let’s start with the state of the big tent. It’s in the country’s best interest for the GOP to recover as a serious alternative to the Left.  Regardless of your ideological leanings, I suspect we can agree that ideas will be better if there’s a political cost to getting them wrong. The two-party system breaks down if one party unravels.

In the meantime, Michael Steele is left to entertain the audience between acts, since he is not yet representing a party with a coherent response to reality. He says ridiculous things (which we repeat). He struts and preens (which we follow with delight). But he is not among Republicans’ major problems (which we forget every time he grabs the spotlight).

Steele buys the GOP some time until the actors take their places, until the party is ready to deliver a more substantive performance.  His role – which can be loosely understood as clowning — has a long and serious tradition.  Do a quick Web search on clown history, and Steele jumps out at you in almost every description. Wikipedia summed it up nicely:

all-knowing (even if not particularly smart), bossy and cocky… [clowns] meet some deeply rooted needs in humanity: violation of taboos, the mockery of sacred and profane authorities and symbols, reversal of language and action

Some part of us needs Michael Steele and people like him. The challenges of fixing a country and planet are daunting. The truth and consequences of our choices are devastating. Send in the clowns. Now let’s get back to work making sure the show indeed goes on.

Unsolicited Advice for Bobby Jindal: UPDATE

March 1, 2009

11. Ok, you may not actually recover from the part where you may have looked the American public in the eye and lied about the details of your anti-government heroics. This interpretation is now part of the public discussion. If it’s wrong, you must clean it up quickly. 

12. We tend to forgive public figures who manipulate the truth to cover up weakness (see Clinton v. Impeachment) and lose our minds at the first hint of exaggerated strength (see Mainstream Media v. Al Gore for President).  

Unsolicited Advice for Bobby Jindal

February 26, 2009


1. There is such a thing as bad press.

2. You will recover from it.

3. Your competition for 2012 is not Governor Palin, as delighted as Democrats are by the prospect. You’re now competing against the version of you we just met, the party hack with bad advisers and worse comic timing.

4. Americans can handle the complexity of your thinking. We can handle the scary part of “scary smart.” Risk it.

5. Your intellectual curiosity is an enormous public asset. Come out as the Brown University-attending-Rhodes-scholarship-receiving-McKinsey consultant that you are.

6. A great gift to the nation would be a serious fight over who gets to be the “Party of Ideas.” You could lead that fight.

7. The country watched in horror as public incompetence destroyed communities and lives across the Gulf Coast. The mainstream media has moved on, but the rest of us are still paying attention to what happens next. Your career depends on getting it right.

8. Earnest, we like earnest, but you need to calibrate it slightly. More Eagle Scout, less kindergarten teacher.

9. You’re right to wonder about all the boas and wigs around you this month. They’re not all being worn by imports from West Hollywood — you’re representing a lot more queer, tax-paying Louisianans than you may realize. Consider the wacky idea of granting them full citizenship.

10. Natural disasters – even the volcanic variety — are never a good punch line.

Unsolicited Advice for a Congressional Tongue-Lashing

February 11, 2009

The bankers will be scolded today. The theater of it all will be familiar and ridiculous. The lawmakers will climb up onto the stage, tap the full depths of their moral authority and deliver judgment as the cameras roll. It will remind us of similar performances with auto executives and baseball managers – and the current news cycle, which still has A-Rod by the scruff of the neck, will remind us that oversight without teeth is a very possible outcome.

As a taxpayer, the whole thing makes me tired. I’m numb to the show. I don’t want to know which plane, train or automobile delivered these guys to the gallows. I don’t want to hear the carefully scripted claims of disbelief that investment bankers were motivated by profit. I feel like Mary J. Blige, ready for a life of “No More Drama.”

I’m craving a technical solution, not a public hanging, as gross as some of the behavior may have been. There’s certainly enough blame to go around the hearing room for creating a system that made this moment possible.

I just have one piece of advice, and it goes for everyone in the room today – channel the Pottery Barn, a company that’s inspired public leaders in the past, despite its crass interest in wealth creation. You broke it. You own it. Fight the temptation to strut and fret and focus on putting it back together again.