All Rights Reserved © 2004 Thomas W. Day
If everything is top down, we're screwed. Our last half-dozen Presidents, from Ford to Bush II, have been, mostly, screw-offs. Carter and Clinton were, often, relatively hard working (especially compared to the vacationing Ford, the comatose Reagan, and the AWOL Bushes), but their work ethic was often misdirected and unproductive. Clinton, especially, found too much time to cater to his lower instincts and lost momentum, credibility, and direction from the resulting scandals. Carter was simply too easily distracted by unimportant crap and pointless detail. When you think about it, these "leadership" characteristics are pretty constant themes in most US businesses.
If management isn't missing, altogether, from the functions of the business, they have their tiny little heads crammed into details that don't matter, can't be positively affected by someone who isn't dealing with the problem on a day-to-day basis, and can only be made worse by the addition of a non-functional manager's participation. Usually, management chooses to be missing. Surrounding themselves with other managers, philosophizing about the "purpose of the business," and arranging the perks and benefits available to the ruling class seems to be the only reason most "managers" exist.
Relate that to our national leaders' performance in the last generation of Presidents and their lackeys. Ford performed his one and only intended function, pardoning Nixon, and returned to his old Speaker of the House habits; schmoozing with corporate executives and playing golf at every exclusive golf club on either coast. His three years in office were a waste of time, but they set us up for the future of, especially, Republican Presidents.
Carter worked his ass off: selecting office equipment, interviewing practically every menial White House potential hire, worrying about the color of new carpets, and rewriting hundreds of pointless government procedures. As far as the critical functions of the Presidency, Carter forgot what he'd been elected to do. He forgot the progressive campaign promises he made, and fully intended to keep, in his control-freak over-management of the daily, unimportant functions of his office. The man couldn't delegate the selection of office supplies, let alone important policy research. Four years wasn't nearly long enough for Carter to accomplish what he'd intended to do. Forty years wouldn't have been enough either.
Clinton was a productive executive. He worked hard, he kept his eye on his objectives, selected competent advisors and administrators, and got a good bit of the job done; right up until his dick got hard and his brain went soft. Even with full knowledge that he would be a target for the right wing for any indiscretion or mistake, Clinton stumbled in where almost any rational adult would have reconsidered and regrouped. Way back in one of my 1998 Rat Rants I wrote, "Is the job of President of the United States so boring that Clinton needs this kind of distraction?" I still don't know the answer to this question, but it appears that Americans tend to elect folks who aren't particularly interested in doing the job.
I realize that in some ways it's irrational to look at the President of the United States as a role model for corporate execs. The President gets paid less than the average CEO of a mid-sized corporation, for one. But power-wise, nobody has it over the Pres. Execs can fire people, but the President can pardon them. If forgiving is more difficult than punishing, you can't top being able to provide a passel of "get out of jail free" cards to anyone you feel good about. The Republicrats made a big deal out of Clinton's pardons at the end of his administration. They seemed to have forgotten Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Bush's pardons of an incredibly large group of administration and corporate criminals. One of those criminals is currently the Vice President, which puts a different spin on the "vice" in that title. Or maybe that's what the Constitutional Congress meant when they created the job?
At any rate, if morals, work ethic, and performance standards are shipped top-down from the President to corporate execs, it's no wonder that so few corporate execs are productive. If they're taking their lead from the nation's top exec, it's a wonder they ever leave the golf course. Bush II is mostly showing how few days the President can be in the office and still get away with the illusion that he's actually doing some part of the job he was elected to do. If there is a more unskilled, lazier, less productive exec in the country (and we know there is because this country's "leadership" never fails to hit new lows) you'd think the man would have a full-time nurse to keep his heart beating. "Management by walking around" has been replaced by absentee ownership.
As I said in the first sentence of this rant, we're screwed. The only thing that's holding our economy and political system together is momentum. And that's being scrubbed off fast. It's hard to kill a working business, but creative execs have discovered ways to kill almost every type of business of almost every size. The 4-year period of Bush II brought record bankruptcies of small to huge businesses in the US. Just about every spot in the economy has been dismal and it's not just middle-class jobs that are vanishing. The places where the jobs were vanished, too.
At least with Bush II we knew what we were getting into. The guy was a failure at everything he'd ever tried; from cheerleading at Harvard to flying flowers for the Texas Air National Guard to massacring the Texas K-12 education system. His one business "success," managing a baseball team, was a total prop-job. To mask his incompetence, he was "given" the cash for his share of the team purchase, he was given a job where his sole task was to remain immobile so that he couldn't screw up, and he was prevented from participating in the sale of the team for the same reason. He still managed to pose for some incredibly stupid photo ops, looking confused, bored, and foolish sitting behind the dugout in complete isolation.
While the ship is sinking, the corporate rats are trying to eat the band's instruments. Execs are giving themselves larger and larger golden parachutes as rewards for their total failures as leaders. Executive boards, who are supposed to protect stockholders from this sort of shenanigan, are crammed with other companies' failed executives. The rats are guarding the cheese and the result is there's no cheese left. I guess the "upside" will be when the economy's momentum comes to a grinding halt and we suffer a massive depression. When home values start falling, interest rates jump, and the economy grinds to a stop (as it did in 1929), the country's complete lack of leadership might get some attention. But I'm not holding my breath.