Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Why Not to Buy a President: Media and It's Sale of the Oval Office

--trends + business + politics--

I am blurry eyed and exhausted today after an edge of your seat CNN marathon of the primaries last night. Not a fan of action films, I find myself stunned by the high drama fix that I get from the nightly news shows that deliver an adrenaline rush that no fifty million dollar blockbuster ever could. What is it that’s happened in politics that has turned the potential leaders of the free nation into red carpet celebrities and the White House into an Oscar nod?

I listen to pundits who broadcast their razor sharp dissections of the carefully crafted speeches, the incidental events, the appearance and dress, and now even the “cool factor” of the candidates and wonder what in God’s name does it all mean? Are we watching because we like listening to the speaker, or are fixated on the ebb and flow of a politician’s popularity factor. For some, Obama’s inspirational speeches turn us on like horny teenagers, while for other’s Clinton’s hard edged matter of fact perspectives leave us feeling like we are in the hands of a highly organized, highly competent, if sometimes tough mom. The candidates are clearly riding our waves of “feelings” about them, that are inflated or deflated by the seduction of the all powerful media.

Turn on your T.V’s and just listen to all the emotional speak that goes on, about Clinton being too emotional or not emotional enough, about Obama seeming kinder and gentler – I just wonder if we scrutinize our kids teachers for their emotional composition as much as we do our politicians? It seems like we are trying to decide between wanting a cool, hip, nice candidate who get’s us hot with great speeches or a pushy, opinionated, go for the jugular candidate who “goes the mile.” On occasion you will even hear commentary on how good (or not) one or the other looks, adding or detracting to their popularity based on how they are visually “holding up under the pressure.”

In a world where we choose our doctors based on them actually being licensed, on personal referrals of trusted friends (and still go for second or third opinions after diagnosis) – how did we decide to have a less stringent criteria for choosing our nation’s leaders ? There is no real licensing to be in politics, a little bit of money or a whole lot of ambition will certainly get you a seat. So what are we left with? How do we really assess who is qualified for the job? Perhaps a good place to start is to look at what we shouldn’t be doing first.

  • Let’s get clear on what our choices are based on. Choosing because you like someone’s personality who you don’t know, who you never sat down with, nor whom you have ever been in the same room with - is about as credible as hiring a lawyer based on the suit he was wearing in a photo on his web site.
  • Basing choices on the information provided in 30-60mt televised speeches is buying into advertising and not reality. A one hour debate that is meant to provide highly edited snapshots of the candidates public plans for office and equally edited track record, is not a decision based in complete information.
So what is one to do? If you can’t rely on your view of a candidates personality nor the opinion in a televised ad or debate what do you do?

  • Well for one, take advantage of living in a time where information is free, readily available and available from a broad range of sources. From blogs to established new sources to underground news sources, information is plentiful. Read, learn and decide by examining a breadth of opinions and views and hard facts about track records that readily available online and offline. Get informed.
  • Look at the track record of candidates in office. What have they actually done, and in light of what opposition. The stronger the record of success in driving complex policy the greater the chance a candidate has in maneuvering the mine field that is the presidential office.
  • Most important, get real about what the position really entails. This is government – not Disneyland. The truth is business in Washington isn’t done by inspiring, being nice, or “looking good.” And yes it is about being tough as much as it is about being smart, knowing the players, understanding the stakes and stake holders, and being able to navigate and negotiate a very complicated system (that is currently under enormous pressure on the world stage).
  • The new President is coming in after an administration that has been ridiculed worldwide, and having to reinvent and redefine this nation will require more than good PR – it will require fundamental changes in long existing policy. Who can do this? Who knows who stands to win or lose as these changes are being put into process? Who can change the stakes for the players involved and turn a perceived loss into a win?

I will offer no opinion at the moment on who this candidate should be. There is enough "opinionating"of that in the press frankly. What I do offer is a request that we each take a close look at our motivation, our assessment, and frankly our knowledge (or there lack of) about who we will be voting into office. I hope that we will all be more proactive about where and how we are getting our knowledge. Let us choose a president based on informed choice, instead of buying into a candidate based on the saavy marketing of the media mega-machine.

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