Thursday, February 14, 2008

Sen. Clinton's Management Skills

Now that some changes have been made among the personnel in the Clinton campaign, stories are swirling about a campaign that miscalculated the degree of opposition it would face, failed to establish contingency plans, and stuck with a failing strategy long after its failure became clear.

For example:

It's been said that one benefit of the torturous process presidential candidates must undergo is that it gives voters an extended view of their managerial ability. After all, this line of thinking goes, if a candidate can't organize a national campaign, he or she can't run the federal government.

If that's true, there are four emerging reasons why voters may want to take a second look at Hillary Clinton. So far, in a number of key areas, her campaign is falling short - and she won't solve the problem simply by changing campaign managers, as she did earlier this week. (

Margaret Carlson notes:

Clinton saw the New Hampshire result as her political resurrection, where she finally found her ``voice.'' But if the voice was different, the message was the same. Her Lazarus-like win kept her from looking any further into why she lost so badly in Iowa. It put off any move to change her insular staff and validated her original strategy in which the primaries were a mere formality.

Voters would coronate her partly because she had been first lady, because shewas a Clinton, and because it was her turn after all she had been through. It wasn't as much a matter of competing as it was waiting until Super Tuesday to accept the crown. (

One of the principal concerns about Barack Obama is that he will not be able to lead effectively and that his plans for Iraq represent false hope. It is safe to say that there has been plenty of false hope spread around regarding the Iraq strategy from the start. Remember the claim that, "We will be greeted as liberators?" It was that miscalculation, based on false hope that seems to have kept the Bush administration from making contingency plans in case a more hearty opposition emerged. Failure to plan for contingencies and effective reconstruction are widely regarded as among he more obvious managerial failings of the Bush administration in the Iraq War. They assumed that their cause was unstoppable, and acted without thinking it through. The result was a strategy that miscalculated the degree of opposition it would face, failed to establish contingency plans, and stuck with a failing strategy long after its failure became clear.

The military and tactical side of war will always be the purview of the Generals. No need to fear an inexperienced young president moving troops on a whim. The principal of civilian control of the military is not based on the idea that the president is a military strategist; it is based on the notion that the president has the wisdom, foresight, and humility to think it through. Self-assured and arrogant leaders make their mistakes less by alienating others than by failing to think it through. There is no reason that the Bush administration could not have planned for stiff opposition or implemented a strategy to win the peace. Yet, even after the glaring absence of such plans became obvious, the administration refused to change course, remaining loyal to Donald Rumsfeld even at the expense of the 2006 Congressional Elections.

Reading this account of the recent changes at team Clinton leaves me with the eerie feeling of déjà vu. I realize that a political campaign and a war are vastly different, and while George Bush's poor planning has cost lives, Clinton's poor planning stands only to cost her a chance at the presidency. Nevertheless, a political campaign is a managerial challenge, and while the presidency is much more than just management, Sen. Clinton has grounded her campaign on her particular strengths in that area.

Perhaps the question of voting to authorize the war is ultimately only the tip of the iceberg. Perhaps the management experience that Clinton and her team have brought to the campaign is more reminiscent of the Bush administration than she would hope to admit. If management, foresight, wisdom, and the humility to plan for unanticipated contingencies are skills we should value in a president, is Barack Obama really the more risky choice?


seaver said...

First of all, it is always dangerous to use Margaret Carlson as an authority on anything. Just sayin.'

Second, this argument eerily appears to be just a dressed up version of the horse racing aspects to the campaign that you otherwise critique. Isn't it possible that the Democrats are witnessing two well run campaigns? We are in a virtual tie right now. Sure, Obama has the momentum right now. But, the Clinton campaign seems to be betting that their best chance to win is Texas and Ohio and then win the Super Delegates. When your Margaret Carlson then swoons about Hillary's eightieth political comeback if she were to win Ohio and Texas, the new talking points will be "why cannot Obama close?" along with "can Obama take a real punch -- the way that Hillary has time and time again." In the end, someone has to win and someone has to lose. The loser does not have to be branded then a "poor manager." That zero sum analysis is the epitome of political horseracing where all that matters is winners and, by default, losers.

What state did Hillary lose after New Hampshire that is the result of poor management? South Carolina? Maybe -- and the Bill Clinton "problem" was immediately addressed. From my vantage point, Missouri was the key moment in this campaign (after Iowa): this was a toss up state that Obama narrowly won. If Obama loses Missouri on Super Tuesday, then Clinton becomes the clear winner that day rather then "dead heat" spin that soon developed.

Here are three substantive reasons why Obama may be slightly ahead of Clinton right now that completely avoid process/horseracing arguments.
1. Hillary authorized both the war in Iraq and the potential war in Iran -- Obama contrasts sharply on these points.
2. Many Democrats would be very happy with either candidate, but the tie-breaker is the fresh start that someone not with the last name of Clinton or Bush can provide at this moment of history.
3. Obama's core message of political reconciliation resolves the fundamental problem of a Clinton Presidency.

The Democrat Primary will be the longest most contested campaign in generations. It seems off the mark to then suggest that one side of this race is running a poor campaign -- especially given that their is no significant difference in money (except that Clinton is now behind). Isn't it possible that these happen to be two strong campaign machines? Changing Campaign Managers is often just a cosmetic change. Maybe, just maybe, Obama is leading (right now) because, to re-phrase Carville: "its the message, stupid."

PS: I concur with your argument that the attack on Obama for lacking "experience" is largely phony. But, so too is the attempt to make comparisons between campaign management and foreign policy competence ... in my opinion , of course.

Alan Coverstone said...

Maybe. Solid analysis, and yes, I realize that this line of argument risks buying into the horse race. Still, Margaret Carlson aside (yes she is no real authority), the details of the waiting too long too change course because you believe that you will be crowned does seem alot like sticking with Rumsfeld because you will eventually be welcomed as liberators. Obama may yet make the same mistakes, and I may be too caught up in the horse race, but so far, the parallels seem uncomfoprtably common to me.

Let's face it, Bush ran acampaign based on bullying, intimidation, closed-ranks loyalty, and refusal to compromise, and his administration followed suit. Does the campaign always give a glimpse into the administration style? Maybe not, but I thin kwe could find some striking parallels in at least the last 10 presidential campaigns and the management of the WHite House that followed.

seaver said...

For Clinton's firing of Patti Solis Doyle to be accurately compared to Bush finally firing Rumsfeld, Clinton would need to have finally made this move a few weeks after Obama is sworn into office. Really.

I am quite willing to believe the accounts that Doyle is poor leader who stayed around because she was loyal to Hillary. I think Mark Penn is an absolute gasbag. But, come on now, looking at her career, it is difficult to argue anything other then that Hillary Clinton is a successful politician. Her camp ran a very tight ship during the Monica mess. She won a Senate campaign as both a carpetbagger and without any previous elected official experience. It was just two short months ago when the pundits were claiming that she was running a perfect campaign -- not a small feat given that it had been lasting for ten or so months already.

She lost Iowa. It happens. Given that Edwards finished ahead of her, I think there is credence to my arguments about the Democrats are anxious for a "change" candidate. Yet, she survived in New Hampshire by immediately changing styles by becoming the experienced policy wonk ready on Day One by answering hours of policy questions in those few days. When Bill Clinton got into trouble campaigning for her in South Carolina, she immediately reigned him after that primary. He has even apologized. She goes on to have a good Super Tuesday. But, the hope that she would get more Super Delegate endorsements to amp up her momentum just isn't happening. So, she made another change two and a half weeks before her Waterloo in Texas and Ohio.

Sorry, she seems pretty decisive to me. I find her new "solutions" argument to be a solid way to frame her strengths versus Obama's potential preceived flaws. It may not work, but this is a good subtle change in argument late in the game. BTW, the Solutions meme is an effective rebuttal to your last post about hope for Tennessee. I could spend quite a few words comparing the Obama/Coverstone vision of hope with the Bush/NeoCon vision of "hope" to transform the Middle East and provide us all with ponies ... but I will spare you of that.

Here's the real thing: the media hates Hillary Clinton. Its their hobby. But please do not fool yourself into thinking they will treat Barack Obama differently then Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Al Gore or Bill Clinton. It is inevitable that the Obama team has a misstep along the way. There will be a gaffe, or the imposition of a gaffe. It is incredibly common for there to be staff shake-ups. It is par for the course. When this happens, Margaret Carlson and the gang watching the horse race will then use whatever happens to fit into the anti-Obama line of the moment. Maybe the campaign hiccup is proof that Obama is a lighgtweight? Maybe Obama fired his guy because he was not a secret al qaeda member like Barack is? Yes, it is all crap. So is this nonsense against Hillary Clinton.

The Democrats have two very good candidates that are running good campaigns for their candidates. Both have taken risks. I suspect that at least 75% of Democrats will enthusiastically support either candidate in the general election. In my opinion, the real story is that we have a serious Heavyweight Championship fight occuring. This fight is a great for the Democratic Party because it underscores a passionate, committed and growing base of supporters who are anxious to exert power to combat eight disastrous years of fanatical rule. That said, if the cards are played right, the 2008 election can change the paradigm back to Progressive politics.

Hillary Clinton's management style is more comparable to Midas then it is George W. Bush. Come on, now. The Bush Administration has been so spectacularly fanatical and corrupt that it defies fair comparisons. We can defend and root for Obama while still keeping it clean vis-a-vis Clinton. The big prize is in November. Legitimizing the argument that campaign management style provides clues to how that candidate would perform as President is not only the epitome of political horse racing (I think it is Mark Halperin that literally makes this argument to defend the political coverage of The Note) but it will also end up up biting Barack in the backside.

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