Of Fine Tuned Machines and Such

A retired CIA officer commented that the new administration was running more like a “’72 Ford Pinto than a finely tuned machine.” I personally am not so much bothered by the comings and goings in the administration and the chaos they appear to engender. They happen; there’s precedent. Just maybe not so quickly.

Nor am I that concerned about the power centers. Goodness knows we’ve seen that before as well. What is new-ish is the numbers of people who are setting up shop for themselves and purporting to speak for the administration with no apparent knowledge connection to what they are speaking about or apparent direction to do so. Ms. Conway and Mr. Miller are standouts, especially Ms. Conway who decided she’s such an important adviser she needs her own chief of staff. I sense a certain sense of self-aggrandizement in that act, aside from the fact that it seems to run counter to the staff-slashing and staff freezes her boss is advocating. It almost makes one long for the malaprop General Haig who announced after the Reagan shooting, “I’m in charge here!” Well he shouldn’t have been, but at least we knew someone was. We don’t know that now.

While all this “fake news” elucidated by the “corrupt media”,
the enemy of the American people,” has gotten lots of attention, one major issue has not. It’s the issue of experience. What these past 30 days have proven beyond a doubt is this. Ideas are not enough; one has to know how to get them implemented. Because President Trump & Team do not, they have created what historians will note as the most dysfunctional 30 days of any administration in modern
history.

President Trump campaigned on his business experience. That he has. What he hasn’t is executive experience running a large company. The Trump Brand is a bunch of boutiques; it is not a Goliath like the Federal Government or let’s say Exxon. Truth be told, Rex Tillerson has way more of the experience called for to be president than does Donald Trump. Regrettably he may not have the experience  he needs to do his actual job, but I digress.

Then there is this “because I said so” problem. A CEO truly does get to say, “You’re fired!” Once you get outside of the White House itself it’s a whole ‘nother ball game. It reminds me of the Truman/Eisenhower story. A reporter asked Truman how he thought the general would do once he took over as president. Truman replied, “Poor Ike. He’s going to tell people to do things and he’s actually going to expect that they’ll be done.” On top of that in business, there aren’t three branches of equal constitutional weight to balance the doings of the executive.

So we’ve established that the executive called “president of the United States” is different than the executive called the president of IBM or even the loosier-goosier run giants like Microsoft or Apple.

So how does one manage the differences? Let’s take two examples, one good, one bad. Start with “President Golf,” Ike. First of all, while the military is also a different world, Eisenhower had great experience managing managers, getting the most out of them, and bringing them to heel when he wasn’t getting the most out of them. He brought in a team that knew a lot about American government, people who had experience in it and with it.

He created the positions of chief of Staff and national security adviser. His inner staff was experienced militarily and experienced politically. Andrew Goodpaster was the senior most general of his day and Sherman Adams, first Chief of Staff, had 18 years in politics and government culminating in the governorship of New Hampshire. 

While not much of an orator, Eisenhower was an inspirational hero. He wrote and spoke coherently and when he wanted someone to understand him they never had any trouble doing so. Why? Because you don’t get popped into generalship. It’s a long, slow climb up the ranks. One fights wars, one studies wars, one studies command, and one exercises command. And along the way one learns the political ropes of the military. We can certainly give the Eisenhower Administration a B if not a B+.

Then there’s “President Smile” or “President Peanut,” Jimmy Carter. I worked in Atlanta prior to and during the Carter years. When anyone, including the crooked media, asked me if I thought Carter would be a good president I said no. Why? He was after all experienced in government and  the military. And he “sho’nuff was a smart one.” Yet his record in dealing with the counties, cities, and legislature was awful. He made two enemies, may be three, for every friend. Georgia in the ’70’s was still a small state run by people with small minds. And his team?

There were Jody Power, Hamilton Jordan (pronounced Jerdon for reasons I know not why), a stodgy banker Bert Lance, a go-go PR guy named Gerald Rafshoon. They and others were called, “the Georgia Mafia.” It would be they who were brought in to end the “Imperial Presidency”, as Carter called it. It is said that it takes a month in the White House before you know where the bathrooms all are. These guys, nice folks all, unfortunately knew squat about the White House, how Washington worked and who made it work. Knowledge of the rest room layout soon became the least of their problems

So being Governor of Georgia and commander of a nuclear submarine didn’t come close to giving the President even a clue about the governmental Brontosaurus he was going to mount. His trainers, groomsmen et al were equally over-matched. I knew personally a number of the people named above who went to the White House with President Carter. That in itself presents a problem. I wasn’t important enough to have known people who were going to be making life-altering decisions for 250,000,000 people. Nice folks yes. Senior Presidential Advisers? Not so much. It took at least a full two years and some disastrous mistakes for the administration to see the result of several tune-ups. By then it was politically too late. Most would give his administration a C or C-.

If one is of a populist mind, then the perfect combo for governance is to have outside of the box ideas with inside the box experience. What Americans don’t understand is that love it or hate it, we have a government. Slice it and dice, it is always going to be huge. Engage the world or hold it at arms length, it not only will be always there, but it will have an endless, complicated and dangerous impacts on us.

In the ’50’s I think it was, General Electric, then one of America’s strongest companies, was looking for a way to build trust in its consumer base. Did they choose their length of years? Their products? Their leadership team? No, no, and no. This is what they came up with:

“Experience is our most important product.”

“Read’em and weep,” folks.”

 

 

 

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