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How Come the Republicans are So Much More Fun Than the Democrats?

The difference between a Republican and a Democratic meeting is like the difference between a three-ring circus and a chamber music ensemble performance.

Remember when politics was totally boring? Back then, people were apathetic about politics because there was little perceived difference between Republicans and Democrats. It was like the politicians were speaking in an echo chamber. They put on a good show of arguing and fighting, but the politicos from both sides of “the aisle” ended up all saying and doing the same predictable thing—only louder because their governmental backup teams increased. Despite conservative Ronald Reagan’s famous rant against Democrats for favoring big government when he famously said, “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.” Yeah, sure. During Reagan’s eight years in office, the size of the federal government more than doubled!

Politics back then was like the television commercial you see over and over and over again. The message might be cute and even interesting the first time you see it. But repeated ad nauseum, it becomes an irritant. And in the end, you simply tune it out.

It’s easy to understand why. Politicians invariably would promise change – “change you could believe in” – but nothing buffoonschanged. And the unchanging promises and matching changeless results became a permanent part of the political landscape from which there was only an occasional reprieve. Watching politics was like watching an NBA basketball game: you don’t need to pay attention until the final two minutes of the game. It’s much the same in politics—except you only had to pay attention every two or four years. And then, no matter who won, the results were the same. Is it any wonder that after a while, people just tuned out politicians and politics?

A Brave New World of Politics

That’s not true today—and we can thank our lucky stars for the Republicans who have worked so hard to make politics interesting and entertaining, if not serious and meaningful. By contrast, the Democrats are their same old stodgy, boring selves; welded in lock-step conformity to the same tired story, with little intra-party squabbling. But you can’t say that about the Republicans whose performances would make fertile fodder for a reality sitcom titled, “Dysfunctional Family Run Amuck.”


The result? Republicans have made politics fun again! Sure, the fun might be macabre, like going to an NHL hockey game hoping to see a fight and being treated to a slug-fest among the players on the same team. But thanks to the Republicans rejuvenating interest in politics, the cable news networks can offer 80 percent (in the case of FOX News, 99 percent) of their content on politics, rather than the Kardashians, water-skiing squirrels or mutant pumpkins growing in Mississippi. And because of this politics is no longer only an election-year game.

Let’s Look at the Republican’s Record Winning Scorecard

Last fall the Republicans handily won the election and took control of Congress by chastising President Obama for his failure to pass legislation they had effectively blocked. The Republicans promised the voters that, if they were given full control of Congress, it would be a “new day.” They would use their majority power to show how Republicans can provide real leadership. How has it gone so far?

From the start of the new Congress the Republicans have done little except bicker and battle among themselves. On the first day of business, House Speaker John Boehner – who had led the Party to victory – was almost deposed by a revolt among fellow Boehner_2417210bRepublicans. Talk about giving inmates control of the asylum. Despite a large majority in the House and control of the Senate, the Republicans have exhibited functionally fractured leadership, because they have split up into different tribes that are more interested in fighting among themselves than doing anything positive. The Sunni and Shia in the Middle East have little on the Republicans when it comes to intramural fighting. The activity of the Republicans in Congress may not be constructive, but it certainly is entertaining. Contrast this with the boring sameness of the Democrats. The Democrats in Congress have lost ground in each of the last three elections, and yet there has been little threat to change leadership. Nancy Pelosi the House leader and Harry Reid the Democratic leader in the Senate continue on singing the same song, as if nothing has happened. How boring is that?

The Media in Cahoots with Republicans

Sometimes it’s hard not to suspect that the media is actually paying Republicans to fill a slow news day. Take last Wednesday for example: The Republicans had lost the battle to hold the funding for national security hostage, because they were enraged by President Obama’s executive order on immigration. Prime Minister Netanyahu had made his pilgrimage to Congress to hold hands with the Republicans, but he was gone.

It looked like it was going to be a slow news week, but then, right on cue, would-be Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson (Ben who?) stepped forward early in the morning to create a news cycle for the media. He claimed on CNN that being gay was a “choice.” His scientific evidence for this conclusion was that people go into jail “straight” but come out “gay.”

The next day climate change denier Republican Senator Jim Inhofe brought a snowball he had collected on the steps of the Capital into the Senate chamber and from the podium he threw it at the Democrats. It was the Republican way of scientifically proving that climate warming is a myth.

Folks you can’t make this stuff up! Only the Republicans seem to have this innate ability to constantly make things interesting in politics. Do you think it is some genetic structure that causes them to be this way or is it a choice they make? Perhaps they enter the Republican Party as reasonable and levelheaded thinkers, but later, influenced by others in the Party, they make a conscious choice to be wacko.

Just last week Republican governor and presidential candidate Scott Walker scored a double-bagger first by saying he didn’t Walkerknow if Obama is a Christian and then by comparing the teachers’ union in Wisconsin to the terrorists ISIS. (It is true that the teachers did want to behead Scott, but still?) And just a week before that Rudy Giuliani, hungry for publicity – any publicity – in the Trump mode, accused President Obama of “not loving his country, because he was not raised to think like the rest of us.” (This from a guy who avoided service to the country he loves so much by wrangling two draft-deferments and then cajoling a federal judge to intercede on his behalf with the Draft Board to keep him out of the Army.)

The Republicans have been blessed with a long line of “intriguing” personalities and this has given them a virtual monopoly on making politics interesting. There is the dowager queen of the Republicans Sarah Palin, who proclaimed her expertise in foreign relations, because “she can see Russia from her home.” Michelle Bachmann was such a godsend to making politics interesting there are still web sites that trace her comments; such gems as, “I find it interesting that it was back in the 1970s that the swine flu broke out then under another Democrat president, Jimmy Carter. I’m not blaming this on President Obama I just think it’s an interesting coincidence.” (Just for the record, the 1976 Swine Flu outbreak she was referring to happened when Gerald Ford, a Republican, was president.) Are you keeping score? There’s still more.

Then there was Herman Cain who became a leading presidential candidate in 2012 with his famous “9-9-9” plan. Only later did we learn that 9-9-9 referred to the number of women he had been accused of harassing in the workplace. There was Christine O’Donnell, the former Republican candidate for the Senate in Delaware, who claimed in a campaign ad, “I am not a witch, I am you.” And who could forget the Republican Senate candidate from Missouri who famously claimed, “If it’s a legitimate rape the body has ways to shut the whole thing down.”

And of course, it would be unfair not to include one of the great luminaries of the modern Republican Party on this list – Donald Trump, who other than Mitt Romney is the only person I have ever seen eat pizza with a fork. This entrepreneurial head of such losers as Trump Airlines, Trump Mortgage, and Trump CasiTrumpnos, perennially threatens to throw his hat into the presidential ring. My advice: Keep the hat and put a permanent lid on that mystery hairdo of yours. (What is that thing, anyway? It is a comb-over? A toupee? A transplant?) But at least give Trump credit for being a significant contributor to the Republican effort to keep politics interesting.

And what do the Democrats have to offer to counter all this political excitement generated by the Republicans? Well, by comparison, not much. But there is Vice-President Joe Biden. He certainly has the history and proclivity to make buffoonish comments. At the passage of Obamacare, for example, a microphone picked up him whispereing into Obama’s ear, “This is really a big ‘ffen’ deal.” But the Democrats have pretty much muffled him and we only see occasional pictures of him groping the wives of newly appointed cabinet officers. (In a recent survey 43 percent of the respondents could not name the vice-president, but 84 percent identified Sarah Palin as a Republican leader.)

Of course the Democrats do have Hillary Clinton. But how can anyone, even in their wildest imagination, claim that she makes politics fresh and exciting? Talk about a repeating commercial that gets old and irritating. Clearly Hillary is the face of the Democratic Party; boring same ol’ same ol’ stuff, emails and Whitewater notwithstanding.

No, the Republicans deserve and get all the credit for making politics interesting. Without a doubt, politics would be totally boring if it were not for the Republicans. Their antics are a political train wreck that entertains in an infinite loop; you simply can’t help but pull up a chair and want to watch. Even though it is a little like watching reruns of  the”Family Feud” or the “Gong Show.”

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Confessions of a Fallen Away Republican

The real question is this: If the political party you believe in no longer stands for what you believe in, have you left the party or has it left you?

In 1959, I was a junior at Loyola High School in Los Angeles, and an active member of the school’s “varsity” debate team. My friend and partner was a fellow by the name of Bob Shrum. (The same Bob Shrum who has gone on to be a leading strategist for Democrats.)

To prepare for upcoming debate tournaments, it was customary for Bob and I to spend weekends at one another’s home, doing research and planning strategy. We both came from hard-working, middle-class families, and there was nothing unusual about the Shrum family home, except for one thing: In a very prominent part of the home there was something that could only be described as a shrine. It was a shrine to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, as if he were some type of religious icon.

Already a died-in-the-wool Republican, this Shrum family shrine to FDR struck me as something just short of sacrilegiously bizarre. It did not resonate with me at the time, but when I asked Bob’s parents – who had come of age in the Great Depression – why they would have a shrine to President Roosevelt in their home, there response was, “He cared about people when people needed care.”

As a dedicated 18 year old Republican, this sentiment seemed a little silly to me at the time. After all, as a 9-year-old,  I had been more interested in following the 1952 presidential campaign between Dwight Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson than in watching Buffalo Bob Smith and Howdy Doody. As a kid I can remember rushing to the drug store for the latest issue of – not Mad magazine, but U.S. News and World Report. And I recall, at age 12, getting on my bike during a school holiday to pedal several miles to listen to a speech by Republican California Governor Goodwin J. Knight. (And I thought Bob’s parents were strange!) I was also the high school student whose part-time job was not bagging groceries, but representing a large, Los Angeles financial institution, and was paid to deliver my speeches extolling the virtues of individual freedom and free enterprise to various organizations.

I resurrect this trivia only to verify my own bona fide credentials as a life-long Republican. And not just any old Republican; I have always been a true, straight-line conservative Republican. I had never voted for a Democratic – any Democrat – until 2008. And when I voted for Barack Obama, I joined ranks with Shrum and the Democrats.

What Kindled this Metamorphous in Political Thinking?

Typically, as a person ages and becomes more financially secure, there is a tendency to become more conservative and Republican leaning; for me it was just the opposite. Fortunate to live long enough to become old and successful enough to become a member of the “one percent club” much to the consternation of my friends, I have become more and more liberal.

There were a number of experiences along the way that ignited this change but, believe it or not, the fuel for this conversion was my success as an entrepreneur in the free enterprise system. What did not change were my underlying beliefs in individual freedom, opportunity and the unique benefits of capitalism. But I came to a new understanding and belief that, if individual freedom and opportunity is limited to only a few, it will ultimately be lost by all.

My career started in 1965 as an insurance salesman and my first corporate job was in 1975. When I entered the corporate world, I recognized and accepted, as most did, the concept that power and management in the corporate universe is top-down. One only had to look at an organization chart to recognize where the corporate power rested (and I do mean rested).

My first corporate job was at the vice-president level, so I entered the system near the pinnacle of the power pyramid. I quickly discovered that this top-down structure created an “I versus them” mentality among those in power. Those who had clawed their way up the power pyramid seemed to be hell bent on protecting their power and preventing others from becoming a threat. This struck me as illogical, wasteful and contrary to my long-held beliefs in individual freedom, responsibility and opportunity for all.

I was the new kid in the executive suite, but it seemed obvious to me that my ultimate success would depend on the willing support and effort of those who occupied the lower slopes on the power curve. And the only way I could marshal their support and effort would be to offer them the same in return. My belief was that real power comes from the bottom up, not the top down. This belief was reinforced when our division became the most efficient and successful in the company; and it resulted in me being offered my first CEO opportunity.

In that next job, as CEO of a poorly performing subsidiary owned by The Hartford, it did not take long to discover – and chafe – under the same, top-down management mindset. My rapidly emerging belief was that the only way to improve the performance of the company was to enlist the support and effort of everyone involved – from the bottom up; an approach resisted at every step by the bureaucratic power freaks at the top in Hartford. Once again my beliefs were reinforced when – supported by efforts from the bottom up – the company turned around and achieved significant success.

However, it seemed the more the company became successful, the more Hartford resisted the bottom-up management approach. Disillusioned but not bowed, I knew my options were either to give in or get out, and I decided it was time to start a new company – LifeUSA – where I would be free to implement, from scratch, a complete, bottom-up culture.

I was convinced that the best opportunity for my success and the success of the organization was to allow those who had the talent to help achieve the success, to share in the success. In other words, if the freedom of individual opportunity and success was good for me, it would be even better for me, if everyone was allowed the same opportunity to share in that success. To achieve this, LifeUSA was structured from the bottom up and it was no accident that the company organization chart was in the form of an inverted pyramid. I have no doubt that it was this approach that allowed LifeUSA to become one of the most successful companies of the 1990s.

What does this have to do with politics?

As my bottom-up management philosophy matured – we called it parallel interests – it struck me that the philosophy of government held by the Republican Party was the same type of governance found in corporations – top-down. Indeed, most corporate executives are Republicans, because they are comfortable with this philosophy. The Republican Party talks about individual freedom, opportunity and free enterprise – and they believe this. But when their rhetoric is translated into actual policy, it seeks to protect the freedom and opportunity of those at the top who already have it and prevent others from achieving it. If you harbor any doubts about this fact, the recent “secretly taped” Romney fund-raising video will remove them. The Republicans even have a name for their belief that government should be top-down: They call it “trickle-down.”


That is why you see the Republicans in favor of reducing taxes on the wealthy, eliminating taxes altogether on investment income and capital gains; while resisting extension of unemployment benefits, seeking to lower the benefits of Social Security, eviscerating Medicare, Medicaid and reducing Federal aid to education. (Not to mention the repeal of Obamacare.) It is why Republicans screech that any type of regulation is an infringement on individual freedom and opportunity. It is why Republicans support voting laws that restrict the rights of those below – minorities, poor and elderly – to exercise the power of voting. The Republicans see a government that seeks to expand individual freedom and opportunity to all as a threat to their individual freedom and opportunity. This is contrary to my belief that when individual freedom and opportunity is limited to a few elite, it will soon be lost by all.

Two Parties Two Visions, One Mess

The policies and actions of the Democrats seemed to be more in parallel with my management philosophy. The Democrats offered a bottom-up philosophy of government. That the purpose of government should be to create an environment that expands individual freedom and opportunity for all. A top-down Republican government philosophy is all about power for the few at the top, while a bottom-up Democratic approach is all about power for all the people. From my perspective – and experience – when given the chance, it is the people who create the power. People are not entitled to success, but they are entitled to the opportunity to achieve success.

If you talk with those who were associated with LifeUSA, they will tell you that they achieved the type of success that could not have been imagined working at any other company. As leaders of the company, I and the other founders did not create this success; all we did was implement a bottom-up philosophy of management and reward that created the opportunity for all to experience success. When people responded to the opportunity for success and worked to achieve it, the force of this effort pushed LifeUSA to exceptional levels of success.

Today, I have an even stronger belief in the free enterprise system than I did as rock-ribbed conservative Republican in my youth. But my experience gives me an equally strong belief that if we take the same approach to government – bottom up – then the benefits, incentives and rewards of individual freedom, opportunity and free enterprise will drive the entire country to higher levels of success.

And the Moral of the Story …

Despite the excess of fringe elements of both parties, both the Republicans and Democrats have, at their core, the same objective and that is to preserve, protect and defend individual freedom, rights and opportunity. The difference is that the Republicans sincerely believe this is best achieved from the top down and that the purpose of government is not to interfere with the process and even to protect those who have made it to the top. The Democrats, on the other hand, sincerely believe the objectives are best achieved from the bottom up and that the purpose of government is to take actions that assure individual freedom, rights and opportunity start at the bottom and is available to all.

My experience in business and the success I have enjoyed has convinced me that all we seek to achieve is made more possible when we work to assure that all have the same opportunity to achieve success.

Now, after all these years, I understand why Bob’s parents would have a shrine to FDR in their home. I have learned that power comes from caring about the people, rather than in caring about the people in power.

 

 

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Election Results Portend Lessons in Leadership

To witness the whoopin ‘n hollerin, chortling, cavorting and self-righteous back-slapping of the Republicans, combined with the gnashing of teeth and cries of apocalyptic doom coming from the Democrats, one could easily assume that the recent midterm elections resulted in a seismic shift in American culture and government. That may be true, but don’t be so sure.

Before coming to such a conclusion, we should recognize that the results of this year’s midterm elections represent the norm, not the exception. Since Abraham Lincoln was president, the party holding the White House during a first term has lost House seats in every midterm election, except for 1902, 1934 and 2002. This means that Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt and George W. Bush were the only presidents not to suffer Congressional losses in their first midterm election (Granlund cartoon used with permission).

Many are suggesting that the losses suffered by the Democratic Party combined with Obama’s low approval ratings signal that Barack will be a one-term president. That may be, but before that conclusion is drawn, one must remember that both Republican Ronald Reagan and Democrat Bill Clinton had lower public approval ratings than Obama, at the same time in their presidency. And, yet both went on to win rousing re-election and are considered saviors of their parties.

The “political experts” tell us that Republican control of the House, along with the rise of John Boehner as Speaker of the House, spells the end of the Obama program and presidency. But, before that conclusion can be accepted, one must remember that after the first midterm election of Bill Clinton’s presidency, he was faced with a new Republican majority in the House and the rise of the dogmatic and mercurial Speaker Newt Gingrich. (Compared to Gingrich, Boehner seems more like Mother Teresa.) Clinton had his greatest success as a president in that contentious environment. It also should be noted that at no time did the Republicans have control of Congress during Ronald Reagan’s two terms as president; and he is considered one of the most successful and effective presidents of our time.

So, one could argue that the best thing to happen to Obama since his election is the loss of Democratic control of the House. How can that be true?

Well, for one thing it is always easier to criticize than to create. If you are not in control, you cannot be held accountable. If you don’t have the job, you don’t have to do the work. It may be that the biggest challenge faced by Obama in his two years in office has not been the economy or terrorism, but the large Democratic majorities in Congress.

Complete control and power can (and did) lead to arrogance, aloofness and complacency. In many ways – whether intended or not – President Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid fell prey to the virus of power. It really became an attitude of “their way or the highway.” In a democracy, the greatest risk to power is power itself.

During the past two years the Republicans have been in the enviable position of being able to criticize without being accountable. They could bemoan the loss of jobs without having to offer a specific plan as to how to create them. The Republicans have been able to attack the bailouts of the auto, banking, insurance and mortgage industries without the requirement to offer an alternative or explain what would have happened had these industries collapsed. The Republicans have been in the enviable position of being able to call for tax cuts for the wealthy, while at the same time lament the rise in national debt. The Republicans were free to harangue for cuts in government spending, without the requirement to be specific. The Republicans had the luxury of resisting any and all reform of health care, without the obligation to offer an alternative to the status quo – which clearly was a broken system.

Now, all that has changed.

The media has proclaimed that the “honeymoon” for Obama is over. That may be true, but with full control of the House and the ability to block legislation in the Senate now in the hands of Republicans, clearly their “vacation” is over. The Republicans are now going to have to do more than criticize – they are going to have to actually lead. And they may well find that real leadership is not nearly as easy as they have led us to believe.

For example, many of the new members of the House and Senate – mostly the Tea Party backed candidates – were elected based on the promise to cut spending and reduce the national debt. A laudable objective, but easier promised than delivered.

Early in 2011, the government will reach its legal limit for national debt. Unless Congress votes to lift the ceiling, the government will be bankrupt and have to shut down. The ramifications of the U.S. Government defaulting or being unable to pay its debts – not only here in this country but worldwide – would be cataclysmic. And yet, many of the new Republican members of the house and Senate have promised the voters that they will not vote to raise the debt. The only way to avoid this conflict is to cut spending.

As Obama and the Democratic Congress have had to be specific regarding their plans during the past two years, so too will the Republicans have to be specific as to their plans. It is great that the Republicans want to cut spending and reduce the deficit – we can all agree to that goal. But, what will they do with their power?

Of the total Federal Budget, less than 40 percent ($1.4 trillion in 2010 budget.) is made up of discretionary spending. Of that amount, $844 billion goes to defense and Homeland Security, $84 billion for health care, education accounts for $47 billion, transportation $76 billion and energy $37 billion. Take a look at this budgetary pie chart and you’ll soon see how entitlements leave legislators scant wiggle room to pare spending.

Will the Republicans be true to their promises and be willing to take the heat (and take if off Obama) by proposing deep cuts in defense and a significant reduction in social security or health care benefits to seniors? Will the Republicans be willing to tell the parents of our country that their kids will be better off if we lop off a few billions of investment in education? Or, that it is better for us to remain dependent on foreign oil rather than invest in energy development?

The point here is not to indict or criticize the Republicans – the Democrats could be chastised as much if not more – but rather to highlight the challenges of leadership. Leadership calls for making decisions and being accountable.

Now in a position of leadership, the Republicans are in a conundrum. They either go back on their promise not to increase the national debt and vote against increasing the ceiling or they drastically cut spending in areas that will make them hugely unpopular with voters. One thing they know is that there will be another election in two short years.

This is not the first time this issue has come up. In 1995, Newt Gingrich and the Republican-controlled Congress refused to pass a budget that required an increase in the national debt ceiling. While the Republicans blamed Clinton for not being willing to accept cuts in the budget, the public blamed the Republicans for shutting down the government and Clinton’s popularity rose to its highest levels.

And the Moral of the Story …

The loss of Congressional control may be more a blessing than a curse for President Obama – and the country. Rather than being on the outside and free to criticize without accountability, the Republicans now have to share both the responsibility and accountability for leadership.

Power does not define leadership. Leadership is best tested and exposed when power is less than complete and challenged. True leaders emerge in times of conflict not compliance. As Reagan and Clinton before, Obama will have the opportunity to exhibit his leadership–or lack of it. In either event, it will now be easier for him to contrast his philosophy and leadership with what the Republicans have to offer, because now they will have to offer something other than promises.

The irony is that this loss of power by Obama could actually lead to increased power. If he exhibits true leadership he will join the leadership club of Reagan and Clinton. If he fails and is less the leader than we thought we elected, then he would rightly be relegated to the club of Carter. In any event, we should remember that as one politician (Republican, Democrat, it makes no difference) said, “Politics isn’t about big money or power games; it’s about the improvement of people’s lives.”

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