As a sucker for unscripted drama, I watched all the debates and mostly enjoyed them, though not as much as in years when one of the candidates has had a real way with words (Clinton, Reagan). Still, watching two guys put it on the line in front of a panel of sixty million judges is more intense than just about anything else on TV. The media ought to be hanging its head in shame; the questions from the citizens at the town-hall meeting were immensely better than the ones the pros offered. Especially that CBS idiot; how can you have a debate on domestic issues without going into energy or the environment? I was going to avoid opinions about the election, but I’ve been influenced by heartfelt words from Russell Beattie and William Gibson. So in the unlikely event that you care what a Canadian computer programmer thinks about the big show, read on.
Firing the Boss · On three occasions in my career, I’ve helped get my boss fired. One time he was the CEO, and the stakes were really high. One of the nice things about private business, and about democratic politics, is that firing the boss is a normal, expected (if not everyday) part of the system. I’ve argued before that this is the single most important advantage of Democracy.
So the question I’d be asking myself, if I were an American, is whether it’s time to fire the boss.
Unlike most Canadians, I thought invading Iraq was a good idea in principle, and unlike most Canadians, I don’t think George W. Bush is stupid.
But from across the border, it looks like the Iraq project has been hugely, tragically mismanaged, both in terms of the results achieved and side effects such as making the United States a party to torture. In business, at this point you wouldn’t waste too much time figuring out whether it was just bad luck or looking at what-ifs and might-haves, you’d fire the group who ran it and bring in a new management team.
I also disagree with massive retrogressive tax cuts while a war’s in progress, and with the Bush team’s energy strategy, and with the idea that legislating against homosexuals constitutes a “defense of marriage”, and on civil-liberties issues, and I think if your relations with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and China are improving while you’re on the outs with Europe and Canada and Mexico, this is bad. But those are matters of policy, on which reasonable people can disagree, rather than execution.
So even if I agreed with all those policies, if I were an American I’d be looking seriously at firing the boss, simply for poor execution in Iraq.
The Alternative · What do we know about Mr. Kerry? He was apparently a good soldier and a better anti-war activist, a hot-shot District Attorney, and as a legislator neither a star nor a goat. So his record doesn’t make him a slam-dunk good choice for president, but there’s nothing obviously wrong with it. Yes, I’ve listened in detail to the avalanche of Karl-Rove-sourced trash talk, and found it pretty unconvincing.
Also, judging from the debates, Kerry is pretty level-headed and un-excitable; something which America’s neighbours consider a major virtue in a President.
So in this case, I’d say the chances that a new management team would outperform what the Americans have now are good enough to bet on.
Public Relations · But, as I noted above, I’m an outsider; nobody flew any airplanes into buildings in Canada, and my kid isn’t a candidate to go off to Iraq, and I’m not worried about losing my health insurance. So this isn’t my election. But as an outsider, and as a person who cares a lot about marketing and communication, I think I’m qualified to offer our American neighbors some public-relations advice.
There’s No Nice Way To Say This · The rest of the world is largely convinced that George W. Bush is an ignorant malevolent jackass. Here’s a story by way of highlight; we recently had an old friend over for dinner, and we were talking over the US election and he burst out “Americans are decent people and I like them, but if they go and re-elect that #*!^!% #$*!%* &*@!$%!, there’s just no excuse and the #!%$* with ’em!” I would say that there are a lot of people, not just in Canada, who feel about the same.
Let’s completely ignore the subject of whether they’re right or not; maybe Dubya is an enlightened, straight-arrow kind of guy who is just misunderstood. But consider the consequences. If you’re running a company and there’s a general perception that your CEO is an asshole, eventually it won’t matter that much whether he really is or isn’t; the perception will become an obstacle. And right now, the United States of America is facing that obstacle.