April 25, 2009 - April 18, 2009
. Some conservatives are getting grouchy about the meme of
President Obama as "celebrity" rather than "commander-in-chief." Stuart
Rothenberg of RealClearPolitics.com has a clever entry on this
I understand the concern, but it's not mine. I think something else is
happening here that's a great deal more worrisome than a 21st century
Let me explain. Right after college, I got a job working as a paralegal for an attorney who was also an entrepreneur in partnership with a businessman in South Jersey. Together, they bought struggling local businesses with an eye to turning them around and making profits where none seemed possible. The attorney was smart and I learned from him (he wanted me to go to law school), but the businessman was a revelation to me. His name was Harold Gunn, which couldn't have been more appropriate. He was six foot five, built like a defensive end, with a deep, gravelly voice that twanged just enough to remind you he was from Oklahoma and would never forget his roots. As a kid, he'd been dealt a bad hand. He went to the University of Oklahoma on a basketball scholarship that was terminated the day after his last varsity game. He wound up lifting crates at a Coca-Cola distributorship. But he had cagey eyes. He lifted the crates, to be sure, but he also took to observing the managers who ruled his life. He listened, learned, and one day decided that he could run the business better than they did. In a few years he was running the business. I first met him when my attorney boss bought a lumber yard and assigned me to work for Harold during its rehab. He immediately plopped me into the lumberyard as a yard hand. "You've got to learn what the business is before you can be of any use," he told me. I was willing. He liked that. My idea of a promotion from the yard was to be a truckdriver, which he approved with a knowing grin, and it was a couple of months later that he drafted me back into the office we yard hands called, not affectionately, "across the street."
He hadn't made any big moves yet beyond cleaning and repainting every inch of every building and fence. Like me, he'd been learning the business. On my first day with him, he gave me a tour, pointing out everything he had learned about the transaction flow and the people. He was on a first-name basis with everyone. He gave me a thumbail on all of them. "She's a clerk but she can handle a lot more." "He's been doing the same thing every day for years and can't change." "She's offended by anything different." (He did her face and voice in two seconds and shushed me when I laughed.) He explained his method. His first act had been to retire the old owner and name one of the longtime office employees as manager. To see what would happen in an environment where everyone knew their jobs were on the line. He showed me the manager working at his desk, visible through a glass partition. "What do you think he's doing in there?" Harold asked. The man was very very busy with scraps of yellow paper and the phone. Harold told me, "He spends all his time checking up on purchase orders and accounts payable. He's ducking."
"What's that?" I asked. Harold Gunn explained. "It happens a lot," he said in his booming undertone. "You put somebody in charge of something and they're so scared of the responsibility that they find a pile of busywork to bury themselves in. They're so busy being busy they can't possibly find the time to do their real job." Harold fired the manager a few days later. Just like that. He wasn't cruel about it, but he expressed no sense of guilt or sorrow either. If the business died, everybody would be out of a job. Bosses can't duck.
Early experiences like this are deeply formative. It was because of Harold Gunn that I wound up going to graduate business school rather than law school. I liked his directness. His ability to see the business coursing through even an antiquated body of habit and robotic employees. His sense that self-confidence had to be leavened with learning and observation, followed by purposeful action. His acceptance that risk was everywhere and not to be feared but met head on. He called that "gut punching." I'm sure he was a force to be reckoned with on the Sooner boards. Just as I'm sure he never ducked anything.
Since then, I've always been especially attentive to how people react to the experience of taking on a new job. And I've learned through decades of business experience that there are many different ways of ducking. In four years of consulting with various General Motors divisions, for example, I discovered the phenomenon of the divisional or business unit manager who follows his promotion with months of attending high-level meetings at other locations. His own direct reports never see him and know him only by phone, voicemail edicts, and memos. For some reason, he is afraid to inhabit his own office, the place where all the dread responsibility awaits him like a black hole of confrontation and possible exposure. Like Joseph Heller's Major Major, he is always out, never available, forever unreachable.
That's how President Obama's first hundred days strike me. Problems
have been identified but, to my mind, misdiagnosed. He can't stop
campaigning for a presidency he's already won say some. He's
narcissistically in love with his own celebrity say others. What no one
seems to be realizing is that his unending schedule of public
appearances means that it's impossible for him to be doing any
honest-to-goodness homework in learning the presidency. George W. Bush
made few public appearances during his first hundred days. No doubt, he
was chastened by his new responsibilities and spent days on end
cosseted with advisers and subject matter experts who instructed him
about the countries he demonstrated a poor grasp of during the
campaign, the technical ins and outs of the U.S. legislative process,
the functions of the cabinet departments and the key players in their
permanent staffs, protocol,
and the relationships among the various entities -- from the Joint
Chiefs to the NSA to the Federal Reserve to the Council of Economic
Advisers -- the president can use, manipulate, command, and negotiate
with as circumstances require. And Bush had been a government executive
before, as Governor of Texas.
How hard is it to imagine the Oval Office during the first few months of any presidency? Piles of briefing books loading down every flat surface. Wave upon wave of government professionals meeting with the president to explain what they do, how they do it, what their issues and sensitivities are, how the the requirements of the executive branch interact with the committees and lawmaking perquisites of the congress. Not to mention the battalions of State Department officials explaining the fine points of existing and contemplated treaties whose work goes on regardless of any change of personnel in the White House. What we call a "heads-down" time, when campaigning gives way to the sober realities of governance.
Except that we've all been a witness to Obama's schedule. When has he had any time for this kind of of homework? He's been on the run almost continuously since he took the oath of office. Bear in mind that for every hour of public appearance, there are probably three to four hours of preparation for that public appearance -- time with speechwriters, rehearsals, itinerary planning, travel time, and the necessary cool-down time afterwards. In less than a hundred days, he's been to Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, two prime-time press conferences, and, seemingly, a televised speech a day, as well as town halls in East Jesusville, USA, and podium affairs with audiences ranging from the CIA to Detroit auto executives. He's been so busy that he had his first cabinet meeting yesterday and has yet to meet with his various economic advisory entities. In fact, he's been so busy that most of the top-level positions in the Treasury Department that's running the U.S. economy (into the ground) are still unfilled and un-nominated.
When, in all of this frantic running around, has he had any heads-down time with those briefing books? He hasn't. That's why he's pumping out gaffes at a record rate. He doesn't know that Austrians don't speak "Austrian." He doesn't know that the Monroe Doctrine discouraged interference in Latin America. He doesn't know that the Bay of Pigs invasion occurred before he was born. He doesn't know that the United States is much older than the contemporary nation of Turkey. He doesn't know that running all over the world apologizing for everything every prior American president did and taking exception to only those charges which might be construed as personally aimed at him is unpresidential and nakedly vain. He doesn't know that condemning executive gatherings in Las Vegas costs jobs for working people in Las Vegas. He doesn't know that nominating one tax-cheating lobbyist after another to his administration is something that ordinary tax-paying citizens might come to resent. He doesn't know that tossing the first, most vital pieces of his legislative agenda into the voracious maw of congress to fashion as they see fit is a suicidal policy for any president, let alone a brand new one. The prevention of most such bonehead mistakes is sitting in those briefing books in the Oval Office. But he hasn't been there, has he? And if you really think he has, when has he? Tell me. As I write this, I'm pretty sure he's jetting somewhere else to meet publicly with someone else and say some more platitudinous words into the teleprompter before jetting back to have a photo-op with his dog and his daughters and his oiled-up pecs.
The celebrity strategy isn't an offensive gambit. It's the best his handlers can do. If you could see inside the White House staff, my bet is you'd see a gaggle of frustrated operatives who are concocting desperate workarounds for the fact that the President of the United States is running like hell from his real job.
The presidency is hard. That is, if you're trying to do a job for the American people rather than yourself.
But if you never accept the responsibility in the first place, maybe
you really can run and hide and pretend that it's all about you, not the country you swore that
silly old oath to protect and defend. But in that case, maybe you were
a dead man to begin with.
. No, it's not a round year of anniversary, but
there are reasons nonetheless why this is a significant date for
remembering the dedication of The
Boomer Bible. Most obviously, the next in the endless succession
of new messiahs has come, and so it's appropriate to recall that
always have a facile spiel to sucker us in with. The other big reason
is that thanks to devoted next generation punks, the once impossible dream of a
compleat electronic version of The
Boomer Bible, with a fully computerized Inter-Column
Reference is close to being accomplished, awaiting only some iterations
of proofreading to be published and accessible to everyone. And I'm
humbled to point out that no one at InstaPunk had anything to do with this
astonishing feat. It's been done as a labor of love by incredibly
clever and selfless volunteers. They could use some help with the
proofreading, though, which is best done by people who didn't do the
writing or the transcribing. When the electronic authors see this, they
will tell you how to participate if you want to, and what the rewards
We've reached the point, all these years in, where the print version of TBB is finally getting difficult to acquire, even though the publisher refuses to deem it 'out of print.' So for the benefit of those who have become regulars at InstaPunk.com, which did have a hand in the writing of the original work that inspired the site, I'm going to reproduce some of the customer reviews of The Boomer Bible currently posted at Amazon.com. To make sure you don't think this is all propaganda, I'll begin with the most negative of those reviews and hope you'll accept my assurance that the few others who agree with his appraisal say almost exactly the same thing about the book.
Others have been kinder:
Ways 34.5: We want to be more, not less than the dead. Ways 7.7-8:† And they must've known something, More than a lie.
Us.1-5:† Are we all alone out here? Are we crazy and hopeless and doomed? We don't think so, And if you don't think so either, You are welcome to come with us.
I stayed awake almost the entire night reading it, I resolved to make my life a lot more meaningful, I wrote a note on the inside cover to the next person that picked up the book: and then passed it onto someone who needed it when I was released. I went out and bought it, despite the fact I had no income. (Yes it's that good) I then followed the message of the punks of South Street (Yes, its still that good) and studied classical works, even going back and the Holy Bible normally collected dust at home. This book will change the way you think almost as much as the Holy bible would. But only `If you can manage to live up to it.' (Psayings 5A.45)
In closing, this book is a satire, it lifts you up on your toes putting others down, then swiftly kicks your un-guarded rear by putting YOU down. One of the greatest books of all time, you don't have to agree with it or disagree, you don't have to hate or like it, just don't be apathetic towards it.
TBB can be read linearly, from front to back, just like any other book, and that alone is worth the price of admission for its immense variety of jokes, memorable turns of phrase, and observations about the often-unacknowledged dogma that permeates the modern mind. The "Past Testament" takes us through the history of the world and the bases of the "Baby Boomer" worldview; the "Present Testament" relates the story of Harry, a man of wealth and taste who inspires the Boomers to do all kinds of fun things; the "Book of Harrier Brayer" codifies the Boomer Way into a secular religion; and finally, a "Punk Testament" tells the story of some nobodies who react to the Boomer Way with crazy ideas.
When you've finished reading "The Boomer Bible", though, you've only finished reading it one way. There's a lot more to it, and if you enjoy puzzles, "The Boomer Bible" has countless hours of brain-teasers in store. (I should emphasize, though, that the book stands just fine on the merits of linear reading alone -- in my case, I had hardly any idea of the iceberg under the surface until I found discussions of TBB on the Internet, long after it had become my favorite book.)
The only reservation I have about recommending "The Boomer Bible" is that it might give some readers dangerous ideas. If you apply the Boomer Way properly this shouldn't be a problem, but if you fail to do so, don't blame me.
An incredible book to read through once
and then read again in a random manner by skipping through the
A couple of concluding points. You can decide for yourselves if any of
the book seems "dated" because of its drug references, especially since
our new president and secretary of state are so anxious to blame
Mexico's problems on Harrier drugs and guns. And "blame" is obviously
no longer part of our national ethos...
But some of you may be wondering, idly, about the role of punks in all this, like the ones we have here at InstaPunk. Here's a final reminder:
After the republication of†The
Boomer Bible will come its sequel, Shuteye Town 1999, which is
also -- after many false starts -- close to becoming
internet-compatible. In the interim, fragments of Shuteye Nation will have to do,
beginning with the Amerian
Glossary. We were hyperlinking before Apple thought of it and
multimedia before anyone coined the term. But we were always as
merciless and misanthropic as Ambrose
Bierce. Go figure. Maybe we should reconsider calling ourselves InstObama.com
and call ourselves Anachronism.com
UPDATE 4/28. What's all the fuss about TBB's Intercolumn Reference? Go here. One verse. And its tree of connections. As somebody said, The Boomer Bible was the last book made of paper. It was also the first made entirely of links.