Saturday, December 6, 2008

On Cult of Competency

Chris Cillizza ("The Fix") notes that Barack Obama is doing his best to show competence as he prepares for becoming president. As we've said before, we think this is one of the most powerful narratives that Obama has going for him--that he's going to run the government efficiently and without drama. In other words, that he is going to run the country as he ran his campaign. This is different than "running the government like a business," frequently heard as George W. Bush, armed with a Harvard MBA, took office.* 

Given the struggles of the financial industry and now the automobile industry, running anything like a business now has multiple and conflicting meanings. Businesses care about products, efficiency, and cost control. Governments can care about those things, but their obligations are to the people, where corporations do have obligation to some people, the shareholders. 

Obama himself has identified with at least one company, Google, a company known for innovation as well as the same reluctance for internal drama. At a talk in front of Google employees in late 2007, he noted that his campaign and the company also shared a belief in delegating and innovating from the ground up rather than solely from the top.
"There is something improbable about this gathering," the Illinois senator told a packed cafe auditorium of hundreds of Google employees. "What we share is a belief in changing the world from the bottom up."
And one notable hire from industry has been Google's Sonal Shah, who is on Obama's transition team. In any case, it's clear that Obama is focusing on competence as at least one of his organizing principles (the previous mentioned Rivals metaphor is another), and one that has at least started to get the attention of outside observers.


*In the same Google search, I also discovered that Microsoft donors favored Hilary Clinton while Google favored Obama (and in the above article about George Bush, the writer compared him to Jack Welch, the legendary president of General Electric.) That's not surprising considering the cult of personality that ran through both Microsoft and the Hilary campaign.

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