Not In My Backyard - The Sequestration Compromise

Over the weekend, Congress did something unique - it acted with haste to fix a problem.  Now, it may be true that the problem was caused by Congress in the first place, but that's just a minor detail.  While the government's sequestration had been in effect for nearly two months, the cuts hadn't yet fully hit the Federal Aviation Administration.  There had been some publicized effects of the cuts, such as early closing of national parks, hiring freezes, and the cessation of White House tours, but none of these touched as many lives as furloughs to the FAA.

The FAA began furloughing air traffic controllers last week, and the effect was almost immediate.  There were flight delays across the country, and airlines were blunt with passengers, letting them know that the delays could've been avoided if there was no sequester.  Almost immediately, the media pounced on the topic and it became a popular topic at dinner tables, cocktail parties, and (of course) social media.

For the previous months, there were frequent stories about how the sequester had not yet affected daily American life and even claims from Republicans that the cuts were overhyped.  However, the effects had been very real for those who couldn't find government jobs, were closed out of national parks, or had been furloughed - the majority of Americans just didn't experience them firsthand, therefore, they didn't have a negative opinion or any opinion of the sequester.  

It was a classic example of the urban planning theory Not In My Backyard (NIMBY), which states that while residents may be in support of the idea of development in their neighborhood, they don't want it affecting their home; a person may think a city needs a new office building to attract jobs, but they don't want it obstructing the view from their own home.  People (Republicans and Democrats alike) generally supported the idea America needs to curb its spending, and we're 100% behind that effort as long as it's not in our backyard.  With at least 48% of Americans traveling by Air each year, there were few backyards that wouldn't have first hand experience with these cuts.

So, faced with dozens of flight delays, countless  angry people/voters, and a brewing media storm, Congress acted quickly.  Before going on recess, they worked to pass a bill to shift money around in the coffers to bring back air traffic controllers and stop the bleeding.  While this very public blemish was quickly concealed with bi-partisan support, it only happened because of the highly visible nature and the people (wealthy voters) it was affecting.  It's easy to see how flight delays not only caused a hassle, but also hurt the economy: business people would miss meetings, tourists wouldn't be spending money in their destination, and people would be more tired and grumpy.  

However, it's shortsighted to think those side effects only result from the FAA furloughs.  There are millions of other dollars being cut, thousands of lives being less publicly affected, and likely a lot of lost economic output as a result.  The FAA furloughs offer us a helpful looking glass through which we should look and understand the ripples across our economy from the sequestration.  I'm not saying that the spending cuts are all bad, but I am saying there are plenty more smaller scale examples where the sequestration is causing headaches and lost productivity.  We would all be served well if our Congress could continue to work in a bi-partisan matter to solve more of those issues, especially right after our GDP growth fell short of what we expected, let alone what we hoped for.

NIMBYism can be a dangerous thing as it pushes problems out of sight and onto those who can't fight for themselves.  At this critical juncture in the American recovery, Congress needs to be sure to understand the wide ranging results of their actions, not just when there's an uproar.

Initial Thoughts on the Paul Ryan Pick

I woke up this morning to discover that Mitt Romney had named Paul Ryan as his VP pick.  At the very beginning of the process, I was pretty bullish on Ryan being the pick and thought he'd be a good addition to Romney's campaign and messaging.  However, general wisdom was that Ryan was too happy and powerful in Congress to make the switch, unproven in a big election having never run statewide, and perhaps too divisive with his budget and conservative stances.  All of these facts led most pundits to write him off, so I did the same and hadn't given him much of a shot or much thought lately.  Now, that he's the pick, I've been thinking how it will impact the ticket.

What the Pick Means

There's no doubt it's a bold pick.  Bold means bucking traditional wisdom and doing something to up the ante, and Mitt Romney ignored all the reasons listed above and chose Ryan anyway.  Bold can be good (see: an unproven Obama deciding to run in 2008) or bad (see: McCain's choice of running mate). Mitt Romney isn't typically classified as a bold or risky guy, but I think he really went for it, here.  No matter how many people claim to know the answer right now, no one actually knows how this pick will ultimately play out.  We do know some things, though.

The pick is a clear indication that Romney recognizes he needs to inject a little life into a campaign that has seemed flat lately and is soundly losing in many national and swing state polls. You don't go bold and unproven if you're in the driver's seat, you go safe and tested (Pawlenty or Portman). The pick also demonstrates Romney's perceived need to lock up tea party and far-right votes, as Paul Ryan has been their darling of late with his austere budget and deficit-reduction recommendations.  

What the pick means for Democrats is that they get to pick right up on their already successfully tested messaging of Ryan wanting to slash medicare and attack the most vulnerable while rewarding the most successful with his tax policies.  Also, it further hampers Republicans efforts to win the important women vote, as Democrats can hit Ryan for slashing funds for women's health care.

It's a bold pick that will energize the party, but it's a little confounding that someone with such a deep opposition file and pre-defined attack messaging was selected.

What the Pick Does and Doesn't Do

Ultimately, I believe where this pick succeeds is in energizing the right and existing supporters of Romney.  If some tea partiers or fiscal hawks were thinking about sitting on the sidelines due to RomneyCare or a distaste for the man, this pick likely gets them back in the game and turns them out to vote.  That's a pretty big deal, as Romney can't afford to lose any part of his natural base in what looks to be a close election.

What it doesn't immediately do is bring many new voters into the fold for the Romney campaign.  While all indications are that Paul Ryan is a very smart, driven, charismatic guy, he has already been pounded for months by Democratic advertising that have shaped independents' views of him as Medicare slashing and Tea Party obeying candidate.  Those are not the adjectives that will turn out many new Independents.  It may help the campaign pick up some voters who were on the fringe, but I doubt it sways folks who weren't already leaning Romney.  With that being said, if Ryan turns out to be a great campaigner (fairly likely), amazing debater (likely), and most importantly can fight back Democratic attacks, he may be able to win over more Independents, but that's not something that happens out of the gate.

What's Next

Over the next few weeks, Paul Ryan is going to be subjected to a level of scrutiny he's never experienced (his brown-nosing high school tendencies have already been unearthed) and the most immediate test for him is to make sure he doesn't crack.  I think he'll be safe there.  The bigger challenge will be how quickly and thoroughly the GOP messaging machine can respond to the Democratic attacks (already taking shape on Obama's cleverly titled attack site Go Back Team).  I'm sure they're prepared, but these first two weeks will be critical staving off Independents forming overly negative opinions of Ryan.

I think this was a good, energetic pick for the campaign, but at a time when polls show Americans support Obama's approach to taxes (keeping cuts for the middle class while ending them for the rich) vs. Romney's (keeping and expanding all cuts), I think it opens up too many lines of attack and further paints the Romney campaign as too far-right and out of touch.  Advantage goes to Obama with a commendable effort star awarded to the Romney campaign.

Video from Panel on Social Media and Politics

I was invited up to the New Hampshire Institute of Politics to join a panel on social media and politics.  I was excited to participate and think the discussion went really well.  Below is the full video from the event for anyone who is interested.  Thanks again to NHIOP for being gracious hosts and for my fellow panelists and our moderator for such a great discussion.

Click, Blog, Post, Tweet ... VOTE: Social Media and the Contemporary Campaign from NHLFDA on Vimeo.

Obama Will Keep the Support of His Left Base...No Matter What

With the recent debt ceiling "compromise," more and more people are growing increasingly vocal about how the President is dooming himself by alienating his left base that helped get him elected.  The NYT is even joining in the fray, warning Obama about the rift he's creating.  While there's no doubt that the left isn't pleased with the President and they view recent events as more of a capitulation than a compromise, it doesn't mean he needs to worry about losing their support.

The Republican field of potential challengers is the farthest right it has been in decades.  All of the candidates, except Hunstman, publicly admonished lawmakers for the deal.  The GOP candidates have been relentlessly courting the Tea Party vote by going as far right as they can, even when those sentiments are against the views of the majority of the country.  All of this is happening in the background while the foreground is represented by Republican lawmakers playing chicken with our country's credit rating, limiting collective bargaining in states, and defunding Planned Parenthood in others.  

These things will mobilize Democrats plenty, even if they're somewhat disappointed in Obama.  Democratic voters have now seen what a Republican Presidency and/or Senate majority could look like, and that will be all the motivation they will need to fight in 2012.

Even with these uniting factors among them, there's always the chance that the left base could fall into disrepair or fail at driving home their message to more moderate voters.  However, that sentiment is ignoring the fact that the top of the ticket in 2012 is perhaps the best campaigner, organizer, and messenger in recent electoral history.  If people are wanting to be organized and inspired, then Obama is the one who will do it.  Even with low approval ratings and all of these distractions, he has already started shattering fundraising records.  Just imagine what he'll do when campaigning becomes his primary focus and he has a bankroll to start driving home this message to voters around the country.

Even if they don't formally approve of the job he's doing, Democrats will be out there canvassing, fundraising, and voting for Obama.  I believe the President and his team are well aware of this fact and will continue letting the Tea Party alienate the rest of the country and the GOP start to tear at the seams.  No doubt about it, 2012 is going to be a true fight for both parties, but to think that the President's base won't turn out for him is a failure to understand all of the other factors in play.

The Value of Picking Fights

There is a stigma against picking fights.  It's seen as crude, immature, and cheap.  Anyone who has been with me after a few drinks knows that I have a different point of view.  Actually, even in the most sober of states, I'm more than happy to pick a fight or push someone a little too far.

It's not because I'm hoping for an actual all out brawl or because I revel in the discomfort of others, but because I understand the emotion that it can evoke.  When speaking to coworkers and employees, if you position an upcoming competitive task as a fight rather than just an objective, they are far more likely to fiercely rally behind the cause, and your opponent is much more likely to feel intense heat from your efforts rather than just an uninspired flicker.

Examples of this strategy can be seen across the business world.  Larry Ellison is the perfect example.  Boisterous and provocative, he doesn't see things in gray, only black and white.  Right and wrong.  Oracle or a contender.  When he hired Mark Hurd, he didn't shy away from confrontation -- he went so far as to step over the line and immediately called into question the entire HP partnership.  He rallied the troops and spit fire, and HP limped away.

The same strategy can hold true for startups and small companies.  One of my favorite marketing strategies of the past year was when Posterous called out Tumblr and encouraged people to "graduate" and switch services.  They could have been coy and hinted at the advantages associated with Posterous, but they instead chose to be blunt and pick a fight.  I don't know the final results of the campaign, but I know it convinced me and was a well trafficked promotion.

While business has good examples of the value in picking fights, the best niche is probably politics.  Look at the tea party -- isn't that what they're doing (maybe the only thing)?  

A couple weeks ago, I was disappointed to read that President Obama was shying away from a public fight and was going to use a loophole to temporarily appoint Elizabeth Warren as the chief consumer watchdog.  

I understand that it's a delicate time of year for politicians, but I cannot understand how it would hurt his standing to publicly advocate and fight for a nominee whose sole charge is to protect consumers from Wall St.  That would be a hell of a rallying cry for the November GOTV efforts.  However, by avoiding the fight, the issue has slipped virtually under the radar and the administration is unable to leverage the fervor that a public fight would stir up.

I'm not saying that you should use a sledgehammer to kill ants -- many situations are still best resolved by discussion and compromise.  However, it's important to remember the value of picking a fight when you want to really create momentum, corner a competitor, or rally the base.  Don't be afraid to throw the first punch.