Why McCain Blew It And How to Fix It

Some rambling thoughts and a way forwardby SteveM

So it’s a Sunday afternoon and I’d just finished cleaning out this crawl space we want to use as a small shed. Yuck. The previous owners of this house had a bunch of insulation and firewood in there, along with other junk. For those of you who are fans of the 1970’s, I pity you. Especially after I found the old newspaper with the picture of Tony Orlando and Dawn and all the polyester glory from 1974.

Anyways, having done my honey-do for the day, I grabbed the golf clubs and headed over to the par 3 for some late evening links. I love golf. When I can play by myself, it’s time for me to relax and think without any distractions. But today would be different. Politics was on my mind.

As I grabbed a club for the long par 3 that is hole #1 at Interbay Golf, I kept thinking. Why are the Republicans losing? What’s the root cause and how can we fix it? Can it even be fixed?

Swishssshhhhh….Chunk. Dammit. Off the heel of the club goes my shot. What am I not getting about this election cycle? Sure, the GOP is unpopular…but why would a guy like Colin Powell endorse a guy like Obama? What is it the voters see in this empty suit?

I address the ball. Thwack. Frack. Off the toe, this time. The par 3 is starting to look like a 7. Why don’t the voters get it? Obama has tons of questionable associations, has basically used every elected office to campaign for his next job, is ideologically diametrically opposed to a huge majority of the nation, and yet has star power out the wazoo. What the hell am I missing?

A couple of more chunks to get to the green. I line up the putt…Clicccckkk. It rolls 6 feet past the hole. There has to be some explanation as to why voters will stand there and forget the fact that Obama is an untried rookie…reverses himself at every turn…

And then it hit me. In these things, you always have to go back to the basics. Who is Colin Powell, and why would a guy like him, so accomplished, so intelligent, so much representative of the great men that America produces, endorse Obama? What could be the fundamental reason?

I had looked at Powell’s CNN clip earlier in the day. In said clip he outlined his reasons for the endorsement. Like many, I was prepared for him throw all Republicans under the bus and endorse Obama out of sense of getting even. But I’d forgotten who Powell is and how he was trained.

I thought about what Powell didn’t say. He didn’t come out and say that Barack had a wonderful plan for running health care or that Obama’s an economic genius. Instead, he talked about how he thought that the negativity and the negative messages were indicators that the McCain campaign wasn’t in touch with the situation. In other words, it’s not that he was signing Obama’s praises. More like criticizing McCain.

Okay, fine. From anyone else, I’d just take that at face value. But then it hit me…this is Colin Powell. On what basis would he be making those statements? What metric would he be using to evaluate the candidates?

Then the answer occurred to me. Leadership and making the human connection.

I work for a semiconductor company. The products we make are a household name and I occupy a, no, the leadership position on a high-risk, high profile new technology project even though I’m fairly young (I’m 36). We often have meetings with a group whom we call “the guys upstairs”. The guys upstairs are supporters of ours in one of the product enabling divisions. They believe in what we’re doing and want to see it move forward.

We’d been having manufacturing issues with this particular chip. My guys in conjunction with the fab people had root caused the issue and found it to be process related, not design. That meant that a series of time consuming experiments needed to be run to eliminate the problem. In the meantime, there was nothing to do but sit and wait for the fab to run down all the possibilities and arrive at the answer, which they assured me they get to, as they’d seen this type of thing before.

I’d explained all this to my team and the guys upstairs. There wasn’t anything to do in the meantime except be patient. But the guys upstairs, senior engineers, all having many more years experience than I do, started panicking. And complaining. Our meetings turned into gripe sessions where they pretty much whined at me for an hour about how they had held up their end and the whole project was in jeopardy.

So a Friday came where I was having a meh kind of day and I didn’t have the energy to walk upstairs and listen to the same complaining all over again. I said as much to my chief architect – Hey, I’m not going up there just to have those guys dump all over me again. They have all the same facts that I do and they’re grown-ups.

My chief architect looked at me and said, “They need you to go up there and show some leadership,”. I looked at him like he was from Mars. What the hell are you talking about? I said. I’ve been out in front of this thing the whole time (I take pride in my leadership ability). Besides, there isn’t anything to say – they know the score and it’s our rear ends, not theirs, in the sling over this.

He said, “Look. I know all that, and they know all that. They just need to vent and have you listen to them,”. I grumbled, but I went up there anyway. Sure enough, more moaning and groaning. But in the end they seemed to feel better.

What does this have to do with what Colin Powell didn’t say? Just this:

Somewhere along the line, McCain lost the American people. He stopped setting the example and he failed to get his vision for his Presidency across. This also is a major contributing factor to why Bush lost the country’s approval (if anyone objects, you can point to all the things that Bush has done that Obama says he will continue to do – therefore, there is another reason for his unpopularity as policy isn’t the sole one).

In a way, it’s hard to blame McCain. The facts about Obama all line up in John’s direction, and the voters know it. Obama got where he is today by criticizing the Iraq war and energizing the nutroots. Nobody likes the nutroots. They’re loud, elitist, Starbucks-snorting complainers who mostly take up space in the political world.

McCain is essentially campaigning against that guy – the nutroots Obama version.

But somewhere along the line, Obama changed his ground game and core message from one of I Hate The Iraq War to I Have A Positive Vision For The Future Of America. McCain’s plan of emphasizing the negative would’ve worked against the democratic Primary version of Obama and it can be argued that if Hillary! had sharpened her attacks in January, she’d be the dem nominee.

But Obama, for as much as I don’t like him, is an extremely shrewd campaigner. He realized that to get elected he would have to come up with a message of broad appeal..and quickly started tacking to the center. McCain, well, all of us, didn’t realize the impact this would have on the voters…and we all went negative. Conventional wisdom told us that all we had to do was educate the voters as to the facts of how bad the guy was and all would fall into line.

We fell into the same trap that Kerry fell into in 2004 – you have to give the voters your vision for the future, in other words, you have to set a positive example and make a very human connection with the people who would make you President.

Obama has done this. When you look at the surveys on why people are voting for Obama, a lot of times you don’t hear agreements on his views. A vast majority of Americans don’t want their taxes raised, for example, want their guns, etc. What you do hear is an appreciation for the potential that Obama brings to the White House and the possibility that he can really make a difference in Washington.

Horsepoop, you might say. Well, I do say “horsepoop” myself as I don’t believe it for a second that he’ll change diddly/squat. But to the voters, who in these times were looking for a leader to connect with them and set a positive example, the connection was made.

And Obama made it. McCain didn’t.

This was the point that Colin Powell and my chief architect were making. Having all the facts don’t always get you through. You have to remember that these are real people with real concerns and you must address them and make them feel as if their problems are yours – and that you’ll take their hands and work together as a team to get the job done.

When Bill Clinton said, “I feel your pain,”, that’s exactly what he was doing. Bush41 couldn’t make that emphatic connection to the voters, and lost. Bush43 was able to do it as late as 2004, but lost his way after that. McCain has never been able to get there.

So for us Republicans, the path back is simple. On policy matters, get back to the core values. And on leadership, we have to remember to make the connections whenever and wherever we can. If we don’t, the Republican brand will remain right where it is today: square in the toilet.