Over the past 35 years I’ve had direct contact with the three different branches of the federal government and the media. Here are some of my observations.
Congress And The Senate
These elected officials are at the epicenter of democracy. They meet continuously with every strata of society.
They can’t do much for you when you petition them directly for help . The most you can expect from them is to: listen ( for a brief time, after which they seem to be sizing you up for what you can do for them), and maybe write a couple of letters in your behalf.
The most positive contribution they make to the workings of democracy is to know what the people within their area are thinking, and to develop working relationships with their fellow representatives. That knowledge and those relationships become critically important in working out landmark pieces of legislation such as The Affordable Healthcare Act. Painful as that process was, it is now a working part of every single American’s life. Only in congress can something so complex as that be brought to a successful conclusion.
In private their opinions are as quirky as their constituents. One time I was meeting with two congressmen from my home state of Utah. I introduced them to a client of mine who was a broadcast executive. He happened to be jewish, and very conversant on global issues, especially in the Middle East. We were discussing the war in Iraq. Out of no where, one of these congressmen piped up and said that the way to settle the war was to break everyone up into tribes as taught by Joseph Smith.
I was stunned – on many levels. For one, didn’t he know that most all the conflicts in the Middle East are driven by the fact that many Arabs are already broken up into tribes? He just sat there thinking he had said something profound. Afterwards, my guest confided in me that he had no idea what the congressman was talking about. It’s a crap shoot when you introduce your friends and clients to members of congress.
Don’t expect congressmen and senators to be anything else but authentic reflections of the people who elect them. That’s the genius of democracy. We’re all represented in all the peculiar, as well as noble, qualities that make up human life. And it’s democratically elected representatives who create the laws that govern our existence.
I once met President Bush (W) at a private correspondents’ reception in Washington DC. In person he wasn’t as tall as me (6′ 2″). I sensed he was a decent man, and very down to earth.
I asked myself, “What makes a president who isn’t even as tall as I am so powerful?”
Answer: It’s the departments of public administration under him. His cabinet members, advisers and department heads are smart professionals who are independent of the messy works of democracy going on in congress. For example they protect most of the land and forests in America. They operate a military that functions independently vis a vie the selection and training of a professional core of officers who dedicate their lives to protecting America. They control the world’s largest budget. They regulate the everyday workings of American business and commerce. And they guide our banking system.
These public administrators, under the direction of the president, are selected on the basis of competence not popularity. They are judged on merit and effectiveness, not on raising money to be elected. Their value is based on what’s the best decision, not on what’s the most politically expedient one.
America would fall apart if departments and bureaus of public administration were stripped of their power to act independently. My greatest concern is if congress wrestles power away from the president and tries to control these agencies. Political science scholar Francis Fukuyama thinks that’s what’s happening, and consequently what is weakening America’s enduring strength.
If this were to happen, it would rob the president of his power to think and act strategically. For example, the most complex place on the earth is the Middle East. I have spent much of my professional life as an educator and businessman going in and out of the Middle East. Lately, I have been impressed with how President Obama and his brainiacs have thought through America’s future strategic interests there, none of which would have been possible had the process been controlled by congress with its thousands of diverse opinions on the subject.
Without the office of president and the powerful departments under his control, we have no strategic rudder guiding the long term direction of America’s destiny.
That’s what makes a president who wasn’t taller than I was so powerful.
I’ve been involved in numerous lawsuits over the past thirty years. I have done this mostly as a consultant or board member to companies that have sued or are being sued. On occasion I have been directly involved either as a defendant or plaintiff.
I’ve been involved at every level of the court system, minus the supreme court. ( My frequent co-author on legal type articles wrote the amicus brief to the supreme court in support of the government on the Hobby Lobby case.)
What I respect about the judicial process is that even though it can be expensive, it demands that people resolve their differences based on the law or the agreed upon rules. All parties have their say, and ultimately decisions are arrived at based upon the clearest interpretation of the law, not on influence peddling or physical intimidation.
The legal system has been a safe harbor for me, odd as that may sound. The legal system slows things down, gives all parties times to cool off, and to think more deeply about what has happened and the best argument to use to pursue or defend your position. Plus, lawyers are involved, which takes you out of the direct line of fire. Lawyers are trained to settle disputes between parties. It is very rare that lawsuits end up going to trial.
I’ve had this funny experience with lawsuits that when I could not see how the case would ever possibly be settled, then at the last minute solutions are worked out. Through all the fancy legal language, the threats and counter threats, the legal system comes down to simple solutions that both parties can understand.
The weakest part of this process is in the beginning when the lawsuit is initially issued. There is a flurry of activity, when lawyers bill their greatest number of hours. That’s when it is the most expensive. Once you get past that first stage, expenses become more reasonable. I think it is the lawyers who prime the pump initially.
For example, I was part of a lawsuit where a temporary restraining order was issued and all parties were called into an initial hearing with the judge. The night before the hearing, the lawyers for the other side withdrew because of a conflict of interest and turned their case over to a new lawyer who knew next to nothing about the case. To top matters off, our lawyer forgot documents he was going to read into evidence.
Nevertheless, the hearing went forward and the judge worked out a broad outline of an agreement that both parties used as the ground rules for the next twelve months as we worked to reach a final agreement. In other words, in the end it’s not necessary to create a lot of documents, evidence, etc, because it gets down to a couple of arguments that can usually be written on one piece of paper.
I don’t like the stress of the process, but it is the best thing we have going.
I’ve consulted media companies for close to thirty years and been a radio commentator for over fifteen years.
The businesspeople of broadcasting are always trying to control the media specialist who is trying to produce and deliver the best news possible. I’ve seen stories killed because influential people lobby ownership and management to kill stories. For example the arch bishop of Dallas tried to get the Dallas Morning News to kill stories about pedophile priests. The publisher was a practicing catholic. The bishop threatened the publisher with religious sanctions. The publisher didn’t back down. I was a management consultant to the publisher at the time. I saw firsthand how much pressure the publisher was under. I was proud of the integrity he maintained.
There are three things that make media types great: a suspicious nature, a skeptical attitude, and the courage to draw fire. Unless you have that, interest groups and power brokers will walk all over you.
Beware the media organization that is known for being positive. That’s evidence they’re being controlled.
The media understands that people who possess power are the most susceptible to corruption. Only the media is able to bring it to the public’s attention quickly. The media may have to adjust its facts as the story rolls out, but that’s better than having a government that looks democratic but is having its timber rotting from within by unchecked and unchallenged corruption.
The biggest weakness of the media is that because they are always looking for a headline, they will make unofficial alliances with public agencies that feed them information about individuals they are investigating or are about to sue. Many times the media will take the information, write the article, and only hours before before the article is to be published call the person about whom the article is being written and ask for a comment. This is inherently unfair. It is collusion on the part of a media outlet which needs a story, and a public agency that wants a story told. Often nothing comes of the story. To the person who bears the brunt of this invasion of privacy, my advice is not to freak out. Be patient. It’s just a story. Nothing more.