Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Perils of Congressional Strategy


Richard Rumelt writes in his article, “ The Perils of Bad Strategy”, “Bad strategy has many roots but I’ll focus on two here: the inability to choose and template-style planning -- filling in the blanks with ‘vision, mission, values, strategies’”. I want to evaluate these two elements and the ways they are apparent in U.S. Politics today.. I want to explore this because I think from my limited view that a failure on the part of both Congress and the President has been an inability to “identify and analyze the obstacles” which Rumelt suggests are the key to strategy. This failure seems to be a major factor causing the current gridlock and bipartisanship in U.S. politics today.
        Rumelt suggests that template style planning creates bad strategy. American politics today is reflexive - people tend to look at pat answers that fall within their parties vision. Each party, the republicans and the democrats, have a template strategy. They have set view points and platforms that they use to drive their actions. There are formulas for example - raise taxes or cut spending, support Israel or you are against Israel, etc. Political decisions in todays climate are black and white, democratic or republican. Rumelt suggests that by working with a template-style strategy,  "someone who wishes to create and implement an effective strategy is surrounded by empty rheotric and bad examples. Thererfore if we analyze each political party's performance, than we can see that both parties rely on their template-style for strategy. If politics today did not rely so heavily on the templates of each party, it would allow legislators to look more creatively and broadly at the obstacles facing the country. Ultimately if we moved away from template-style we may also be able to eliminate some of the severe partisanship that is allowing the template style to flourish. This would entail blending the two templates together, looking not at tax increases or spending cuts but at tax reform. These template style strategies do not allow the leadership to look at the real obstacles and asssess them critically, but rather to employ the response from the template. It is impossible to create meaningful change without accurately analyzing the obstacles. Our template-style strategy is preventing us from doing so.
     Looking now at Rumelts other factor, the inability to choose, we can further see the struggles present in American political strategy today. Upon entering office, Presient Obama laid out an agenda, he promised voters he would accomplish while in office. Health Care Reform being one of them, the ending of the Iraq war another, the list goes on. The economic crisis that plagued his first year in office quickly became the priority. On the one hand, President Obama displayed an ability to chose when he initiated the stimulus package bill in his first 100 days. However, on the other hand, moving forward, the administration prioritized healthcare reform over further economic measures over the course of the first half of his first term. Many see this choice as what Rumelt would term an inability to choose, he states, "choice means setting aside some goals in favor of others". At that point, should Obama have prioritized differently? Could his strategy to fix the economy have been improved? The inability to choose is also a fault of the republicans. During the debt crisis the Republicans, many of them anyway, pledged not to raise taxes on anything, which ultimately caused serious delays in debt ceiling neogotiations and led us to a deal that neither party was particularly happy with and one that was signed at the eleventh hour. Had the republicans not focused so much on their template-style and better prioritized their issues they may have had better luck achieving their strategy.
      Finally, let's look at the role fluff plays in all this. Fluff is a huge part of politics. Rumelt says, "fluff is the restatement of the obvious combined with the sprinkling of buzz words that masquerade expertise. Politics is full of fluff, let's start with hope and change. So much of politics on both sides, yes both sides, is about change, hope, a better America, doing what's right. Name any campaign slogan and it is fluff. Unfortunately however, this fluff seems to drive the template style. Compassionate conservative is fluff that has come to define the template style for the GOP. This combination of fluff, template style and an inability to change are creating bad strategy for congress on the whole.   We see movements like occupy wall street emerging as examples of ways to look away from this template-style, and while they are less defined and also without great strategy yet, they are beginning to shift the paradigm with which we view our current politics.  Our current strategy seems flawed and seems to be driving the highly anticipated and promised "change' into impossibility. 
           It is interesting to evaluate Rumelt's framework in terms of American politics today and begin to gain an understanding of what is causing the gridlocks and partisanship. It might be interesting to continue to explore this into the various primary campaigns and how Obama's reelection campaign follows this pattern or breaks away from it. 

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