Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Again on Obama

Up until now, I have never cared for pundits' assumption that we should vote for the candidate who campaigns best. Generally speaking, I have regarded the whole emphasis on campaign style as mere fluff, a distraction from serious issues. But this election is different. The Democratic primary this year has more than convinced me to favor Barrack Obama over Hillary Clinton based on their campaign styles.

To recap, Obama, finding the Democratic establishment already lined up in favor of Hillary, proceded to build his own establishment from the ground up. This had never been done before, or even imagined. It persuaded me to vote for Obama in the primary, mostly in the hope that, by extending the Democratic machine into the most Republican territory and having something positive to offer, Obama could help undo the past two decades of demonization. But it is important for another reason.

When a Senator runs for President, many people ask whether he (or she) has the executive skills for the job. The Obama campaign has been able to build a whole new party establishment from the ground up, in remarkably little time. Charisma and the ability to inspire obviously has a great deal to do with this. But it also looks like evidence that someone in the Obama campaign has extraordinary executive ability. Is it Barrack himself, or some subordinate(s) he has handed the job off to? I'm not sure it really matters. After all, the ability to delegate well is, in itself, an important executive skill.

Meanwhile, Hillary's campaign failed to name a full slate of delegates in Pennsylvania and never bothered to learn the rules in Texas, even though they had decided in advance that Texas was crucial. Granted, as Josh Marshall points out in Hillary's defense:
Disarray and lack of a plan are easy to avoid when you're winning. Because when you're winning, you just keep with the plan that's working. Losing campaigns, at a certain point, have little choice but to desperately flail between various new messages since obviously they need to move from what clearly isn't working to something that might.
But her poor preparation for even so vital an election as Texas does not speak well of Hillary's executive ability. Or consider Hillary's only real executive experience, leading Bill Clinton's health care task force. Brad DeLong, who served in the task force, described her managerial style:

[W]hen senior members of the economic team said that key senators like Daniel Patrick Moynihan would have this-and-that objection, she told them they were disloyal. When junior members of the economic team told her that the Congressional Budget Office would say such-and-such, she told them (wrongly) that her conversations with CBO head Robert Reischauer had already fixed that. When long-time senior hill staffers told her that she was making a dreadful mistake by fighting with rather than reaching out to John Breaux and Jim Cooper, she told them that they did not understand the wave of popular political support the bill would generate. And when substantive objections were raised to the plan by analysts calculating the moral hazard and adverse selection pressures it would put on the nation's health-care system...
Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings makes a similar point in describing Hillary's stumbles during her campaign.

Valuing loyalty over competence is a terrible trait in a manager. But so are other things that come through in this piece: putting off decisions that obviously need to be made, for instance, and letting personnel problems fester rather than resolving them, and having subordinates who "protect" you from bad news that you really need to know.
Perhaps in times past we might have ignored these warning signs or dismissed them as unimportant. But today those descriptions sound disturbingly like the management style of a certain disasterous President we definitely do not want to emulate.

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