Information Rules for “Outsiders”, A Lesson for the New Congress
We’ve said all this before, in other contexts, but I put it here again, to explain how the new class in Congress should see their commission, and tangentially, how the people who put them there, and the Tea Parties, should see them now that they have gone from being “outsiders” to “insiders”. It’s all about information.
The Japanese have a saying that every man consists of four men:
The first is the man everyone sees, the public man, the man in society; the second is the man known to his daily circle, at his work, his colleagues and associates; the third man is known only to his closest friends and family; his confidants, his private talks and his pillow talks; and finally, there is the man who is known only to himself.
Think of these as two levels, the first two, and the last two (Levels I and 2) as it makes explanation easier.
Then think of this about yourselves, for there is a lesson in it for us all.
For in reality and politics, the two levels are war with each other.
Much of business (selling), and for sure, politics, is the art of revealing to people who know a man in the First Level about the nature of his Second Level…and convincing them it is an honest revelation.
People can easily find out a man’s “public record”; his experience, bona fides, education. These are all Level One understandings. With the exception of Barack Obama, you can get this from the public library. But it’s the honest politician’s job to get people to know his inner self, his ideals, his capacity for wisdom, his common sense, his integrity, and his fealty to the ideals held high by the people. These are all Level Two considerations that seal the handshake between the candidate and his voters.
For the in-coming congressman, then, his career, the success of his mission, and in these trying times, the survival of many precious things for his district and the people who sent him, all depends on how he maintains and stays true to Level 2, the last two of those four “men” just mentioned. This (we’ll get to practical knowledge in a moment) is what caused the people to vote for him/her in the first place. Level Two is what brung him to the dance, so to speak.
But the fly in the buttermilk, and probably what destroys most congressional careers, at least from the conservative viewpoint, is that 90% of his daily working environment, from media attention, to his own staff, to the ongoing pressures of the job; meetings, conferences, office hours, to actual voting, most of which seem to involve very few of those high minded, Level 2 ideals…all these things will be both “advertently” and inadvertently directed at convincing him to satisfy the First Level, the public man and the collegial man, for that will be what defines success in his personal career. That’s where the power, prestige and the big bucks are.
It’s an easy bait and switch. And this switchover is why we (the people) so often “lose” our congressmen….in the most damaging of ways, as we’ve seen the past several years.
For the longest time, I’ve recommended a big stick policy by the citizenry. Make ’em afraid, very afraid. And in truth, I still mean it. The People must remain the schoolmarm at the schoolhouse door, with the paddle in her hand, ever vigilant, eyebrows furrowed, and one foot tapping.
But this article is about “Sinner, heal thyself”. It’s individual soul searching I’m about now, for the vast majority of congressmen, even a couple of Democrats, actually come to office that first month or two all giddy with the idea of doing the people’s business and doing what they’d promised they’d do, and what the Constitution expected they’d do….namely stay true their bond. And to stay true to those two men at the Second Level.
But even as they go off to Washington almost like first graders, with their little Smurfs book satchel, and the brand new crayons and No 2 pencils inside, and the biggest boyish grin…in two short years they come home with their hair slicked back into a DA, pegged pants, up-turned collar, a cigarette behind the ear, speaking that insider-beltway speech of accountants and strange legalisms. James Dean or Eric Cantor?
True, Democrats have fewer problems with the Level 2 side. For them it’s mostly a case of fakery, shucking and jiving. For Democrats this has always been an easy path to walk, for their path to Hell was never paved with good intentions in the first place. Their Level Two man was always about “getting up to DC, “plucking the golden goose”, making a pile of money, hopefully getting out with a million in the Bahamas, and a sweet gig with a lobbying firm, and never having to shake the dust of Hurleyburg, Ohio off their shoes ever again…only these days a few have darker, grandiose, and more authoritarian ambitions.
A few Republicans are cut from the same cloth, and “in their deeds shall we know them.” Still, the majority of Republicans (e.g., I knew Mitch McConnell when he was actually a conservative) don’t fake it, but rather are seduced over to First Level, only not by the bright lights of Washington (????, it’s a godforsaken swamp, after all), and those bright lights are cameras, not brothels. Those seductions are power, not paparazzi, groupies and the glitterati. Star-power for the ugly.
What really transports them over to the dark side is a slow, relentless deluge of information, not like a tidal wave, mind you, but rather like the Biblical flood, where it started raining one day, and just never stopped, the water always rising. Always rising. Then along comes this boat, piloted by the media and oared by all the support staff a man could dream of, and a promise, “Just go along, and you can get in.”
Trust me, Eric Cantor can row that boat as well as Steny Hoyer.
(In case you don’t know, it’s a law with me: As we learned when Harry Reid had to explain how he’d gone from being a public servant in DeerintheHeadlights, Nevada to a public servant in Washington, and a multi-millionaire en route, on salaries that were all public record, I don’t care what party or professed political persuasion, conservative or liberal, if you come to Washington and stay several years then leave town a millionaire, you’re a g’dammed thief…and have stolen far more than money. There are special pits of Hell set aside just for your eternal comfort.)
Avoiding the Seduction
First, you have to know it is there, and why it is there. You must be forever vigilant and aware of this struggle being carried on not just inside yourself, but just outside your office door, and just down the hall. Wittingly or unwittingly, they are all in on it. Be aware.
When I was in the corporate world it was a constant source of interest to me how some senior managers, CEO’s and guys like that, could manage to stay loyal to the mission they had inherited, considering the deluge of information they had to absorb…much of it for that one day only, and which only involved tending to alligators and office politics. Business ethics (much like Constitutional fealty here) was a big issue in the 1970s. (Not so much anymore, thanks to our business schools.)
I made notes of what the successful bosses did to first hold one to that Level Two contract they’d made with their forebears (the corporate mission) and stockholders and then pass it on to the next generation of managers…amidst being swamped with those daily fights with the alligators. This is now considered an art form, since, as I just mentioned, it is no longer taught is business schools, except with perhaps the same kind of smirk they smile in legal ethics courses.
I’ve also made similar comments here about military men I’ve been lucky enough to know. And He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named (his Comanche name, Po-cha-na-quar-hip), who, when he wasn’t out harpooning blue whales and killing seal pups with a ball bat, bequeathed RedState with a pretty impressive library about how information moves through the executive offices of government. Not for the generalist, you should read it sometime.
But Congress is a special case, and this needs to be considered in that light, for they are executives in the national sense, but who still run nothing larger than an office staff, while working with a half dozen more. Unless they have managed their own business or practice, the guy down at Dunkin’ Donuts still has more executive experience.
First Rule: The key to these successful leaders I just mentioned: They all viewed themselves as leaders, and not as managers. That’s a difference that runs very deep in defining success. Leaders succeed or fail in achieving a mission. Managers, as rule, succeed in furthering themselves and little else.
Rule 2: It seems they all found ways to pause and reflect. The less successful didn’t. This is a law carved into stone, so insist on making that time, Congresspeople.
I know, the spelling, but my uncle once said this is how it’s spelled in Nebraska because that’s what the “N” stands for on their helmets. (One of our family lines came from Oklahoma.)
Now that we agree it’s best that a congressman stay a Level 2 man, all I’m going to talk about here is how the flow of information in and out of a new Congressman’s ears can walk him back from being a Level Two man to that Level One man.
The whole idea of a citizen-activist-legislator is that they are not policy wonks. Nor are they Trivia Pursuit champs. Foremost of all things, none of these things have anything to do with the original handshake between the Congressman and the People. They weren’t elected because they could name the Algerian Prime Minister. By definition, most outsiders don’t know who Van Jones, or Cass Sunstein is, and very little about Janet Napolitano. They’ve never seen Elena Kagan in her Stalin get-up. Or what Title 5 is. They don’t read Huffpo or Kos, or even RedState, at least until they decide to throw their hat in the ring. They may know Beck and Limbaugh, but they work for a living, so can’t listen to them very often. And they don’t tape them, or Tivo their shows, since, being hard-working citizens who usually work past 6, even missing Charles Krauthammer and the Fox gang, they grab as much couch time as they can with the wife and kids when they’re home. Citizen Americans don’t stay glued to the TV or their nose stuck on the internet. We do, but they don’t.
Nor do we want them to.
We want more of these kinds of people, not fewer. Lots more, so let’s not screw the pooch here. If we are going to condemn “insiders” we need go a step or two deeper to try and understand what it is that makes anyone an insider. The Heritage Foundation has been in Washington for years. They dress like beltway insiders. They drive the same kinds of car, eat at the same fancy-schmanzty restaurants (for a swamp), even keep tux’s in the closet and can tie a black bow tie…but are still “outsiders”. Why?
Answer: All that Level 2 stuff. It’s their life’s blood.
We need to learn this now, because the media will pick up this theme in some way or another in 2012, trying to finesse the Tea Parties into going after the best of this new class of Congressmen as having “become insiders”. Watch for it.
Back to the new Congressmen, they have to learn a lot of new stuff…usually on the run. So in order to retain it, they have to maintain a focus most of us don’t have. In the first few weeks and months of 2011 they will hear names for the first time in their lives that most everyone here on RedState knows intimately. And they will only know those names because there is a meeting in one hour, or a teleconference with that very name.
This requires a lot of homework, but also a lot of well-managed whispers in the ear, so when Rep Rangel calls, you know in advance 1) he’s a Democrat, 2) he’s a crook (but I repeat myself) and 3) he’s not offering good tax advice.
Both the successful and unsuccessful CEO’s, 3-star generals, United States presidents, agency heads, and congressmen have chiefs-of-staff, so that job obviously isn’t the problem with all the failed CEO’s, 3-star generals, United States presidents, agency heads, and congressmen. The CofS merely gleans all the information for the boss, and decides what he sees in the daily briefings, depending on the scheduled events of the day. For instance, If he’s going to meet with the Ambassador of Myanmar he gets a Wikipedia overview for a few minutes, and is clued in on key issues to be discussed, and reminded never, but never to say “Burma” or the “Golden Triangle”. If meeting a delegation from Morocco, he’s reminded not to pick his nose with his left hand. And if meeting with the Democrat ranking member for a game of raquet ball, he’s reminded to double padlock his locker…if he leaves his wallet inside.
This isn’t the stuff these guys had to know back in Iron Mountain.
So, in light of Rule #1 and #2, above, and the fore-knowledge that Level 1 and Level 2 are at war with one another, I offer these other simple rules:
Rule 3: Decide now the kind of information you want coming to you.
You, not your CofS decides this.
You can get it from HuffPo or you can get it from RedState. You can get the deep stuff from Heritage and not Brookings. Actually, i suggest both, as you need to know what the other side is thinking, and how they are behaving. It really is important to know that daily, a half million college children invade the internet, raving the most scurrilous lies and calumny, while not one of these mothers’ sons or daddies’ daughters are capable of writing a single declarative sentence, without at least 3 g-d’s, two m-f’s and a POS littered through it. This too is why you are there, to reclaim the highway for decency.
Your choice of information sources will reinforce the battle that will be waged for your soul these next two years. Choose wisely, and learn faithfully.
Rule 4: Always have a Ben Franklin in your inner council. Maintain a close circle of friends, Level Two friends, to constantly whisper in your ear to keep you grounded and mindful of your mission.
These people may be on your payroll, or just friends back home, but they must be just a little outside the chain of command. I once wrote of a general who always managed to get private time with his command sergeant major for off-the-record chats. Look for these people. Truman, and almost every Republican president got to know the kitchen help. It wasn’t for nothing they did this. Do you think the ex-Lady Nan ever chatted with her driver? Hillary threw her eggs on the floor because they weren’t poached just right. So much for a late-morning chat with the upstairs maid. See?
The point is, no matter how good you staff may be, no matter how loyal, your paid staff all have one thing in common…you are their rice bowl. So at some level they will be pulled in that Level 1 direction, which may mean more money, prestige and power for you, but which will also trickle down to them. Keep this in mind.
About the Ben Franklin thing, I recall the CEO of my company, who retired the same year I came on board, every 8-10 weeks, or just when he was feeling low…(he had a boss too)…he called an inner circle of about four down to his office, usually on a Saturday, and for 3-4 hours they just talked. But not about sales, plans for a new factory, or business, but about the old days, when the company was a tenth it’s size. They talked about the things that got them there. They always mentioned the shoulders they all stood on. (I knew him too.) And they spoke of disturbing trends in the business. Then they all home renewed. I was in the inner circle of the next generation, this is how I know.
Just a reminder, Congresspeople. There are mighty forces arrayed to separate you from your primary duties to your constituents…sometimes, for the good of party, others for the good of the House, and always, they’ll say “for the good of the country”. Unless you are fully grounded in that original handshake you have made with your voters, and the handshake you all have made with the Founders, it will all get gobbled up in a mishmash of meaningless information.