Friday, May 30, 2008

Post No. 12: What I Hope We Learn from Scott McClellan

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense
Doing the right thing is not rocket science.”

This is the mantra that my good friend Laughingman has been pounding in my head for going on thirteen or more years, and with more frequency since I started this blog. Laughingman is the Senior Fellow and Founder of the Institute for Applied Common Sense. When I first met him and he handed me his card, I was immediately taken with the concept, although I did not quite understand what it meant.

Being a linear thinker and not particularly bright, it’s taken me a while to develop some appreciation of the application of common sense. This “event” involving Scott McClellan, and his experiences while serving as the White House Press Secretary in President Bush’s administration, has served to further develop my appreciation of the concept. Work with me for a while.

After practicing law and providing business management consulting services for a total of over 25 years, which were followed by a major personal failure, I decided to re-invent myself and become a motivational speaker. I teamed up with Laughingman, and other baby boomers around the country, and developed a number of products. Our team will soon embark on a nationwide tour of colleges and universities to engage students in a discussion about personal responsibility.

We will utilize adults, like me, who have encountered and recovered from various difficulties in life, as teaching vehicles, in conjunction with the latest research on the brain and decision theory. Our goals are the following: (a) to provoke thought; (b) to encourage students to consider their choices in life; (c) to assist students in analyzing the decisions that they make along with the consequences; and (d) to have them recognize the importance of taking personal responsibility for their choices. Our ultimate goal is to come up with some fresh, new ways to address their personal and societal issues.

One of the goals which we will achieve, during our discussion of issues, will be the de-personalization of the analysis, by avoiding subjective and partisan approaches. We believe that the analysis will improve through objectivity (as much as it can be achieved) and creativity, along with “digging deep” to expose the root causes of the problems that we encounter, instead of merely being distracted and sidelined by the symptoms. We can thereafter craft better solutions. The articles appearing on our site reflect the type of thought process and critical thinking through which we will navigate students in our sessions. These articles are precursors to the content that will be delivered during our workshops and other projects.

Getting back to doing the “right thing,” I first misunderstood the concept in that I felt that by suggesting that there is a “right way” to do something, one implicitly suggests that there is no other way to do something and still have it be “right.” And then I thought about it. I recalled that there were many times during law firm partnership meetings, that we had to deal with some uncomfortable issue or event. What always amazed me was the fact that you could have ten different attorneys in the room evaluating the situation, and have every, single one of them say, “Why didn’t they do X?” I realized that when you have a unanimous appreciation of the appropriate or “right” course of action to take, it is a powerful force.

In thinking about Scott McClellan, I kept saying to myself that I did not want to judge either side, and take a position, if for no other reason than I did not have any first hand information. So how was I supposed to deal with this? It was really bothering me, and then it came to me. For purposes of this analysis, I decided to assume that both sides were telling the truth, as I had during the case of the Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill hearings. (By the way, in that situation, I really did feel that they were both telling the truth; here, it is a fiction created for analytical purposes.) By doing so, it allowed me to immediately go to the next place, and ask, “How did this happen?”

The answer? It came about simply as a result of people in the Administration not being straight with us. It doesn’t matter who it was. It does matter when it was. Shakespeare got it “right” by noting, “Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive.”

This ain’t rocket science. You know that we’ve been deceived about numerous issues on various occasions. It does not matter which ones. It also does not matter the political party or President in office. Bill Clinton was no better; he was just smoother. It is interesting that perhaps the straightest shooter, Jimmy Carter, did not fare well. Unfortunately, being less than straight in political office has become the norm. There’s too much spin; and too many attacks on messengers and those who dare question suspicious conduct. You see how this is not rocket science? If the members of the Administration had been straight with the American public on a regular basis, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. That’s the first example of how they could have done the right thing.

Let’s move on to the second. You will recall that many people came to Bill Clinton’s defense when the Monica Lewinsky allegations first surfaced. Madeline Albright and others hit the talk show circuit and the pavement, and passionately defended their president, and took heat for him. When he finally fessed up, they all looked like fools. To put his friends and loyal staff out there to later be embarrassed was, in my opinion, far worse than any impeachable offense. It was simply wrong. Encouraging your friends to extend their necks on your behalf based on a lie, is simply wrong, no two ways about it. Clinton could have done the right thing in the first instance by simply telling the truth, and not placing his friends in that situation. This is not a moral judgment, but rather a common sense judgment. I can almost guarantee you that Scott feels that he was misled and hung out to dry on something. Once again, it does not matter the issue.

Former President Clinton provides me with material to discuss a third example of what potentially could have been a right thing to do. Once he was caught up in his web, he should have realized that the work that he tried to accomplish on behalf of the Democratic Party was bigger than the man. He should have simply resigned, and let his Vice President, Al Gore, take over, and continue the policies of his Administration. Instead, Clinton made himself the issue, and not the causes and policies supported by his supporters. Example number three - we should all be reminded that everything is bigger than we are. When what we do hurts the bigger cause, we should re-evaluate our involvement, and consider changing course.

I am somewhat concerned that we have reached a point in our political evolution where an elected official can not admit fault, and still stay in office. We automatically demand that they resign. However, I would suggest that we remember that there is more to a person than the worse thing that he or she has ever done. We allow the leaders who blame their indiscretions on drugs or alcohol, and seek rehabilitation, to stay in office on the premise that they were not actually responsible. We also allow those who deny any responsibility to stay in office, unless the proof against them is overwhelming, or they are subsequently voted out. And yet, the politician who stands up and says that he was wrong is immediately forced to resign.

Example number four: one can’t solve a problem without admitting there is a problem, and taking responsibility for one’s actions. It’s simple as that. This Bush Administration is unbelievable. (By the way, this is not coming from some die hard Democrat. When I was making some “real money,” I was a full on Republican in practice and in heart, if not per registration.) It’s almost as if they do whatever they want to do, with impunity, and don’t care what we think or feel, or the consequences. “These guys are absolutely wild!” And I don’t know, I may be wrong, but I can not recall these folks ever really providing us with an unqualified, “We’re sorry. We made a mistake.”

Is such an admission still possible in American politics, or is it the immediate kiss of death? Folks, you can’t muck up, and then pass blame to others for your muck up! Take this gas situation for example. It’s absolutely incredible that we sit on so much oil and natural gas within our reach, protect it for our various reasons (some of which may be valid), use gas like there is no end in sight without developing alternative sources of energy, and then blame OPEC or the Saudis for our current increase in price. Get real! It’s unbelievable! All we have to do is just apply some common sense. We can’t have our cake and eat it too.

So there you have it. Right thinking; doing the right thing. It’s not that difficult after all, is it? Thank you Scott, for helping me see clearly.

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

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