Patty Dineen

The view from here

Archive for October 2008

Political buzzword of the season – temperament

I have been struck by how often (seems to me to be on the increase lately) the word “temperament” has been used in this roiling political climate.  I’ve heard it used in candidate endorsements and in critiques.  I’ve heard it on TV and radio and read it in opinion columns.  It feels to me like a vague code for something else, what I’m not quite sure.  I’m also not sure when temperament became elevated to a status almost equal to things like whether someone can be effective at getting anything done, let alone done well.

Has “temperament” taken the place of the old questions about who you’d rather have a beer with; or who you’d be comfortbale leaving your kids with?  Not that those were especially helpful yardsticks either, but apparently something has changed that calls for different tools of measurement.

But mainly when I hear the word “temperament” used in reference to the candidates it makes me think of horses.  Information about a horse’s temperament is important in deciding whether you are likely to be able to accomplish what you want to with a particular horse.  Not to mention whether you will be able to get along at all.  Is the horse social, sensitive to stimuli, fearful of new environments?  These and many other terms describe horse temperament.  But the simple hot-cold spectrum description of horse temperament is the most fun to read in the midst of this mind-numbing human horserace that we still seem to believe is an effective way to choose a new leader.

Enjoy this wonderful description of hot-cold (horse) temperament by Cindy Hale, published on the Doctor’s Foster and Smith website:

Hot or Cold: Which Temperament is Best for You?

Select the horse whose “thermostat” is set in your comfort zone.

By Cindy Hale

When purchasing a horse or choosing one to ride, we tend to be smitten by a horse’s appearance and abilities. Unfortunately, we often neglect to consider the horse’s basic temperament. If that doesn’t complement our own riding capabilities and comfort levels, riding may become a chore. Here’s how to decide which type of horse is best for you.

A hot horse is one that is keenly aware of his environment, making him a little spooky out on the trails or tense amongst a group of other horses. If you’re a rider looking for a leisurely ride, a hot horse is probably not for you. Ditto if you’re a novice rider. Since a hot horse is very responsive to his rider, if your heel accidentally bumps against his side, you’re likely to get a response. Hence, a hot horse quickly becomes frustrated with a rider who asks for one thing but actually wants something else. Conversely, an experienced rider who wants a ready-set-go type of performer yearns for a horse that’s alert and responsive. Barrel racers, jumpers and endurance horses all have a tendency to be on the hot side.

At the other extreme of the temperament spectrum is the cold horse. Sure, they’re a little lazy at times, but there’s something to be said for a horse that enjoys life at a slower pace. Colder horses are perfect for equestrians who view riding as a hobby. Novices enjoy colder horses because, since they’re less in a hurry to respond, they’re more forgiving of miscalculated cues. If a cold-blooded horse is frisky at a show, it’s easy to settle them down with a few minutes on the longe line or under saddle. They tend to reconsider whether it’s worth the effort to break a sweat. Moreover, if you’re nervous during competition, the cold horse is less likely to react to your emotions.

Riding should be a rewarding, pleasant experience. Choose the horse whose temperament thermostat is set just for you.

Great stuff, huh?  Cindy Hale would make a fabulous political commentator, but she probably has way more fun with horses.  There are still a few days left before the election.  The main choices are between Barack Obama and John McCain. From one undecided voter to all you others out there, I’m hoping this information will help you make that final choice.  But it probably depends on your temperament.

Written by dineenp

October 28, 2008 at 2:56 pm

A man with a sign

As we were taking a family member to the airport this weekend we saw a man standing on the curb at a busy intersection where a left turn lets you head west over the Ohio River.  He was holding a sign aloft–both arms raised high above his head.  He turned and we could see that it was an “Obama for President” sign.  As we sat in traffic at a red light we watched him.  He didn’t walk around, just turned slowly from time to time, with a quietly determined expression on his face.  It reminded me of Norma Rae, standing on a table and silently holding her “Union” sign aloft.  Her message was much larger than her one-word sign.  This man on the corner, also, sent a larger message than just who he thinks should be the next president.

I saw in this man a hopeful sign; a one-man celebration of the democratic process.  In the car we talked about how impressed we were that someone had decided to invest their time and their person in this way to promote their candidate.  The man wasn’t with a group, he was by himself.  He wasn’t sitting in a chair, he was standing on the corner. 

There were other campaign signs nearby, stuck in the ground and sharing space with a lot of real estate signs (but that’s another discussion…).  In fact, there are campaign signs at nearly every corner these days.  The man’s sign was identical to the Obama signs stuck in the ground.  What was different was the message it sent.  What we learn about a candidate’s supporters tells us a lot about the candidate.  This man was serving his candidate very well.

As we passed the man we waved, smiled and prepared to give a thumbs-up.  He didn’t see us.  His expression didn’t change and his gaze was fixed at some point further off.  Either he wasn’t looking for reaction and affirmation, or he’d indeed had some and had decided to ignore all reaction as he pursued the way in which he had decided to spend his Saturday afternoon.

We said wouldn’t it be neat if there was someone at the other end of the bridge, standing and holding aloft a sign for McCain for president.  There wasn’t.  But we still felt good–felt better– about this long slog of a presidential campaign in which it’s easy to forget that if you want to make democracy just a little bit better, you can.  You don’t need permission; you don’t need a group; you just need to go out and do it.

Written by dineenp

October 27, 2008 at 3:17 pm

The problem with Barack Obama’s hyper-fundraising

Barack Obama’s campaign has demonstrated an amazing ability to raise money–much of it from people making small contributions.   The amounts are impressive; $150 million in one recent month alone.  It gives Obama a powerful advantage.  But even if he is your choice to be the next president; even if you are convinced that he is the one who can make progress on resolving some serious and complicated problems, there are some reasons to be worried about this kind of fundraising-on-steroids.

The first is the precedent that this sets for future presidential candidates, and for the public’s expectations.  If we come to associate a winning candidate with the kind of saturation media messages that only vast amounts of money can buy, anything less may give the perception of a lesser candidate, instead of just a less-wealthy candidate.  Should win-making media access in a political race that has the public’s interest at stake cost so much?  Especially when the airwaves after all–although it’s hard to still believe this– do belong to the public.

But the second, and more important reason, is the disadvantage that it creates for the many other campaigns currently being waged; local, state and national.  The historic money-attracting properties of the Obama campaign have sucked up much of the money and political oxygen that otherwise would have been shared with candidates running for other, also critically important offices.  A first-class and capable president must have first-class and capable officeholders to work with in order to make the most progress.  The presidential election is simply not the only contest going on.  To look at the fund-raising numbers, you might think it is.

Written by dineenp

October 23, 2008 at 9:22 pm

Inside Darkness – Film asks what it would take to get presidential candidates to work together

Russell Andrews, Karen Landry, Scott Alan Smith

Well, of course it’s fiction, but the film, Inside Darkness, asks some very real questions.  Created by filmmaker and Dominican friar, Dominic DeLay, Inside Darkness takes three presidential candidates who are onstage ready to begin their final candidates’ debate and throws them into a dark, isolated, and alien setting.  One moment they are standing at their podiums, and the next they are regaining consciousness in an all-black room with a few puddles of light here and there in the darkness.  They distrust, then blame each other, before deciding that “terrorists” must be behind their imprisonment.

The situation becomes ominous as they have reason to believe the walls (and ceiling– early on a shoe thrown up into the darkness takes a very long time to come back down, but later the shoe quickly hits an unseen ceiling and falls back to the floor) are closing in on them.  And they discover, there on the floor, a …body part.

Watching the candidates shift — or fail to shift– from competitor mode to cooperative mode is interesting, and raises many questions about when we see the “real” in each other; does context help or hinder; what is most important in a leader; what is the best way to find what we want in a leader?  Do we know what we want in a leader?

After watching this short, scary film, you find yourself wishing that the real final candidates’ debate tonight would at some point snatch the candidates out of their comfort zones; strip off all the political veneers; and let us take a peek at what’s really in there.

Written by dineenp

October 15, 2008 at 9:07 pm

Got problems? A candidates’ debate that would really help voters

So– at last– tomorrow night we will watch the final candidates’ debate before the election.  Is there anybody left in the country who has high expectations for this event?  We’ve seen little departure from these ancient, bastardized, and non-productive formats of questions, sparring, and back and forth that are promoted as “debates.”  Even the so-called “town hall format” is essentially the same tired thing– dressed up with a few “ordinary people” on the stage.  Yawn.  Is this the best we can do?  At a time when there is so much at stake in our country?

The media (which really is what these events are all about) could be revolutionary and innovative about this if they decided to.  They could start by getting real clear about what these “debates” are meant to accomplish.  Are they to: inform, entertain, produce a winner, harvest soundbites and gotchas, clarify positions, “educate the public” (is there any more contempt-revealing view of the public by both the media and the politicians…?), see if it changes the polling numbers?  Some of these goals are openly declared; some are just sadly obvious.

The trouble is that these formats, moderators, and post-event spinning are all firmly based on the premise that this is- above all-  about competition.  The candidates are competing to win; the media outlets are competing for viewers, readers, and clickers; the moderators are competing for professional recognition; and the vast supporting casts for each campaign are competing for future jobs, money, and power.  Last, but also least, there is the public and its future…the public is evidently just not a player in all this; the future is out there somewhere, but doesn’t begin until November 4th.

A candidates’ event that would make a difference would be one rooted not in competition, but in problem-solving.  Public issues are complex, serious problems that government, and leadership, can either exacerbate or help to alleviate.  The country has problems.  We need to select a problem-solver in chief.  Let the candidates (maybe even including some third party candidates who are talking in much more specificity about what it will take to actually solve some of our problems) sit down with some citizens and work- together – through several possible approaches to a problem.  We could watch them deliberate about the pros and cons, costs and consequences of each approach.   The goal would be for them (together) to come up with the best approach to the problem.  We’d be watching to see who works best in a problem-solving mode.  Then, come November 5th, instead of waking up on either the winning side or on the losing side, we would all wake up ready to help our new leaders work on our problems with us.

Written by dineenp

October 14, 2008 at 4:56 pm

Leadership – If found, please return to the American people

Barack Obama may have been right.  I haven’t heard him say it lately, but early in the campaign I heard him repeatedly say that “we (the public) are the leaders we have been waiting for.”  He didn’t coin the phrase, I’ve heard it before.  But if it’s true, then it doesn’t matter who wins the election.  It’s really up to us anyway. 

And President Bush’s comments today on the economic crisis contained the unmistakable implication that a good part of the present economic trouble is the public’s fault– for being “anxious” and letting our anxiety fuel a vicious cycle that is making it harder for our leaders to help us.

So it’s our fault apparently.  And in the end it probably is the public that will turn this around– we didn’t create the mess, but we may eventually have to work through it ourselves, in spite of what our leaders do, not because of what our leaders do.

Having said that– and I do believe that the public eventually will turn this around– leadership does make a difference.  There’s just no getting around it.  Wise, selfless, and smart leadership could have headed off much of the economic crisis.  George Bush, Alan Greenspan, and others went about their busy days without ever acting like they were serving, let alone leading, the public.  John McCain is doing what he thinks he has to do to keep his party happy, and to make them forget that he once seriously considered changing his party affiliation.  And Barack Obama continues to campaign as an “aggressive pragmatist” — promising everything will change and be alright if we want it to badly enough to not ask for any details about what the change will entail.  It’s a sunny, populist version of a now all-too-familiar “trust me” refrain.  And if he has led us into the “new kind of politics” that he promised at the beginning of his campaign, it sure looks a lot like the old kind these days.

So here we are– our elected officials, our candidates, our public servants are not leading anyone but the mainstream media.  Maybe it’s time to turn to each other for some answers.  Maybe we could be the leaders we are looking for.

Written by dineenp

October 10, 2008 at 4:07 pm

Publicize rules for the imitation townhall – Candidates made the rules, citizens decorated the stage

During last night’s presidential candidates debate, moderator Tom Brokaw noted that lengthy negotiations with the two campaigns had resulted in the rules for the debate.  Billed as a “townhall” format, the evening was only just barely so by virtue of having a handful of “ordinary citizens” on the stage–arranged like they were replacing the American flags we usually see behind candidates.  They may as well have been flags, or potted palms for that matter.

Just a few of the questions came from the people-props.  And with the first question it became obvious that one of the “rules” must have been that there would be no returning to the questioner to see if they thought their question had been answered.  Reportedly, the rules also called for the questioner’s microphone to be turned off after the question was asked, and the cameras were not to show the questioner during or after the candidates’ answers.   What do you suppose the candidates’ handlers were worried about?

In fact, Tom Brokaw did very little pushing either.  That must have been another one of the “rules.”  Or it might not have been necessary since media folks are much more careful about upsetting candidates and their campaigns since they don’t want to suffer a lack of access in the future.  Ordinary citizens might not feel similarly constrained since we know  we won’t have any access in the future anyway.

Wouldn’t it be helpful (and instructive) to “we the public” if the debate sponsors had insisted that one of the debate rules had to be that the entire 31-page “memorandum of understanding” must be made public?  Better yet– let us see the demands that were made by each of the campaigns in their negotiations for the rules.  That would really be news we could use.

Written by dineenp

October 8, 2008 at 4:35 pm