Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Who is Running Congress Anyway? The People We Elected or Their "younger than you think" Aides?

This story in Politico, via And so It Goes In Shreveport, about very young congressional staff influencing the health care bill, reminded me of a trend I've been noticing for a while - now I understand why I am seeing this.

There are many, many practices and tools that are good and valuable for use by companies, whether private or publicly traded, that are not appropriate for use in any government. The general public, and even the customers, have limited rights of influence or access to knowledge about companies and the methods they choose for decision making, marketing, planning and acting, so corporations are free to determine what is best for their own interests.

When it comes to our government, however, we, the citizens, have MASSIVE right of equal influence and access to unfiltered, non-manipulated knowledge about our government. Decisions are to be made in OUR interest, not that of a small set of stakeholders. In government, the citizens are supposed to control the decision making process, by selecting representatives to
literally "stand in our place" and decide and act on our behalf.

Neither our country nor our government is a "brand", no matter which party is temporarily ascendant, and the use of standard brand marketing and brand management techniques is inappropriate at best, failing to treasure and respect the American way of individual self-governance: putting the moneychangers in the temple, as it were.

Applying corporate branding, organizational and marketing methods to operate the US government usurps the role of the people, and creates a risk of actually preventing legitimate government functioning.

Yet more and more, the majority party and the current administration behave as though our Country is a Silicon Valley corporation, focused more on marketing, PR, and Brand Management than on responsiveness to and respect for the citizenry, right down to hurried rollouts of buggy bills, pre-fab FAQs, and a new job title for every emerging market segment. It's as if we had elected a bunch of 20-somethings.

We saw it first in the remarkable campaign: Mr Obama was presented to the country with all the trappings of a new tech product launch, the latest in celebrity debuts: the attractive new iPresident! Complete with email and online donations, fashion art and vintage Pepsi Generation brand icon, romantic storyline (aka "narrative"), and carefully planned spontaneous rock concert rallies: a direct appeal to both the idealistic young and to the glory days nostalgia of aging hippies, promising a new endless Summer of Love if they chose the Democrat Brand.

It worked, America elected Mr. Obama, and, we assumed, the machinations of the campaign would be set aside for the work of governing. Instead, delegation of essential decisions became the rule rather than the exception, with Mr Obama playing CEO rather than President. The brand marketing meme permeated not only the White House, but all through the Democratic Party, and into the Republican as well.

While congressional staff have long been youthful, they did not always have the autonomy or influence they seem to have gained with this Congress. The people we elected to stand in our place in the House and Senate seem to be deferring the actual work of governing to their fresh-out-of-school staff.

And those unelected staff are practicing the current business success playbook: thinking like pirates, being disruptive to existing departments, taking what they want, defining their own roles, ignoring roadblocks and rules, making up their own success metrics, respecting no boundaries. Not looking past the current objective, focusing everything on winning whatever.

Being so concerned with delivering on the objective that back-end quality is sacrificed for front end cosmetics, ending up with products so full of bugs they won't work at all , then gaming the statistics to hide the failures and basking in the success trumpeted by the press release they wrote themselves. And no one cares because where else are the customers going to go?

Insistent on a need to conform to "industry standards", which is a way of saying to look as much like the competition as possible, there's a drive to mimic Europe, a marketing campaign titled "coffee party" and all sorts of progressives are now claiming to be "conservative".

Constantly changing the words used to describe things, so it appears something fresh and exciting is happening when in fact the reverse is true, like "The Open Government Directive", hyped as new but actually just a marketing campaign using 2010 buzzwords to claim credit for results of the e-Government Act of 2002 - a "relaunch" if you will - creating new website domains and cute page designs that link to ordinary data and tools already available on government websites and promoting plans agencies already had in the works.

Or inventing new words for existing things so that people will be fooled into accepting that which the public finds unacceptable, a la Microsoft Vista "Mojave", shutting down talk about the dangerous thing by renaming it something vague.

The current administration and majority Congress and their staff see voters as mere consumers who should be "driven" into certain modes of behavior.

Their roadmap says to turn our government into a west coast corporation and run it the same way.

Have you ever encountered internet or software upgrades that remove features and change things with no warning and even without the company ever acknowledging the change? Knowing customers have little choice in markets that are Too Big To Compete With, there's no interest in pleasing the customers upset by the changes, ony in getting them to be quiet and
agree that it is wonderful.

That is the environment the unelected staff of this administration and congress are mimicking. That's the model that the administration's advisors are foisting upon our nation. I'm sure they work very hard and are very bright. I'm sure they mean well. But they were not elected - and in a democracy that is more important than their good intentions.

15,000 people we did not elect are being paid very well to do the job we thought we hired our representatives to do.

And those are the unelected and inexperienced people that our elected officials are allowing to set the agendas, drive the priorities, and lay down the law of our land. A CEO can delegate authority to act on behalf of the company. An elected Representative cannot delegate the authority to act on behalf of the people, as it is not his to give.

The unelected staffers, no matter how talented, are the ones writing the bills and amendments and handing it all off just in time for those we elected to walk out on stage and claim credit for something they haven't even read.

So, our elected representatives not only did not write, but did not read the Health Insurance Bill. They didn't read the Stimulus Bill. And now, in the matter of inappropriately extending unemployment insurance for the umpteenth time, it seems the only controversy is that there's a need to cut spending elsewhere to "pay for it". And who is figuring out which budget items to cut? "[Our staffs] are working through that," [Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said].

Shouldn't our elected representatives, regardless of party affiliation, be listening to us more than to their employees?

Shouldn't the people who are deciding the fate of our lives and our country and our foreign policy be the people we elect to put our priorities and experience above any other?

Shouldn't they be something more than younger and smarter "than you think they would be"?

Shouldn't they be the people we actually elected to do these things?

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