September 21, 2009

You’re on the Clock, Senator

My three benighted decades on Earth have seen me in a wide array of jobs. I have worked the grill at fast food restaurants, stacked the shelves at chain bookstores, packed boxes at a felon-filled warehouse, and presided over cubicles at various suit-and-tie office gigs. I haven?t done it all, but I?ve done a lot.

In almost every job I have had, I have experienced a version of the following: Guy gets promoted, and immediately, he changes. He?s a manager now. That means he is paid extra to ?manage? things. Whether additional management is needed is immaterial. He has a new job description, and by golly he?s going to fulfill it, come Hell or high morale.

I know I?m not the only one who has experienced this, because every thoughtful chat I?ve had with anyone about their job, regardless of occupation, eventually went like this:

Today my boss was panicking because he realized he hadn?t made any decisions in a while.

Professional decision makers view constant decision making as the key to self-preservation. They think: ?I haven?t made any decisions for a few hours. If I don?t make one soon, people will wonder why I?m a manager.?

You have probably noticed that the nightmare of the micromanaging boss has been a major entertainment staple in recent years (Dilbert, Office Space). People will spend fortnights telling you their boss doesn?t do any work. I have never heard anyone say their boss doesn?t make enough decisions.

But though folks want a hands-off approach in the workplace, they demand the opposite from elected officials. The space they crave from the boss of their day job they resent in the boss of their nation. They want a political leader to arrive on a chariot, armed with a ?vision? and 10,000 potential decisions up his sleeve. The worst thing someone seeking office can be accused of is indecisiveness.

Since when is decisiveness necessarily a good thing? Gamblers are often quite decisive, cutting through indecision over and over until their house is gone and their kneecaps are shattered. Dictators?also not big waverers, though they sometimes must think long and hard about where to hide all the bodies. What ?decisive? frequently translates to is stubbornness and tunnelvision. Why then should so-called indecisiveness automatically disqualify someone as a potential leader?

The disconnect is striking. Employees beg their bosses to leave them alone, yet lap up leaders seeking to manage their every move. The same voter who mocks his supervisor?s drab slogans about productivity gets misty-eyed over the poli-vommit puked on the campaign trail. Just watch the lumps that form in the throats of the Obama Unwashed each time he blurts out some new scheme. They remind the observer of a python who has swallowed a manatee.

Nowhere is this cognitive dissonance more apparent than in the ?First 100 Days? swill we?re always bombarded with when a new President takes office. Thanks to the cult of decisiveness, the public has latched onto this wholly contrived timeline for erasing problems that have plagued man from time immemorial. Voters and pundits have arbitrarily decreed that rifts that have been intractable since ancient Sumer are somehow supposed to be mopped up in the President?s first 100 days; in a world far more complex and populous than the one the Sumerians faced.

Naturally, this just encourages the new Commandante-in-Chief to zip around D.C. in a clown car full of bad ideas. He can?t just create busy work for voters. He must excel in busy work himself. So he rolls up his sleeves and before you know it, we?re hearing about proposals to:

Erect a memorial to those who tripped at Tripoli, build more reservations for left-handed folks, Westernize Pakistan with a chain of wi-fi ready abortion clinics, pledge 1.2 billion to study the effects of putting pool filters in the Atlantic, pledge 2.4 billion to clean up the mess caused by putting pool filters in the Atlantic, invade the Nicobar Islands (We tried appeasement in ?38, didn?t work!), neuter every third cat, unveil the new Bob Uecker 3 1/2 cent stamp, drill for wind off the coast of Delaware, rename all federal condoms Freedom Ticklers, and finally, on day 100, push back the tide.

Just as supervisors must supervise to stay employed, legislators must legislate to stay in office. Your supervisor has to appear he?s busy supervising, and if that means issuing memos urging workers not to ship their mail order brides to the office, so be it. Likewise, your legislator must continually pass laws to remind voters he?s busy legislating, ?getting things done,? bypassing that much hated ?gridlock.” Authoritative fortune favors the decisive.

I on the other hand am often indecisive about my own affairs, and almost always indecisive about the affairs of others. I think this actually makes me more qualified to legislate than someone with a papyrus scroll crammed with ?solutions.?

But because voters have been duped into wanting ?decisive? leaders, someone with my approach would fail miserably on the campaign trail. Promising to speak softly and carry a whiffle bat does not rake in the campaign funds. Just picture me at the podium: ?This campaign season? season?season, we?re going to let the chips fall where they may! Read my lips: No new answers.?

I can picture the lawn signs all over America: ?Mike Payne: Can We??

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