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In Politics the 'Manager Fetish' Leaves Much to be Desired

John Podhoretz writes some biting commentary in today's New York Post which justly condemns New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg, for the intellectual folly (not to mention the self-righteous arrogance) of "managerial fetishism." Bloomberg's latest manifestation of the syndrome was in his appointment of a heralded "manager" and businesswoman, Cathie Black, as Chancellor of New York City schools.  While there (a mere three months), apparently, nothing garnered in her years of experience or education in management could be counted upon to be useful in helping her navigate the inevitably stormy political waters associated with the job.  Instead, she found skills that served her well in "management" cast her as "acting highhanded and condescending" when she was confronted with people who--like parents, teachers, and principals--have more of their own skin in the game than the posterior waxing, soul-selling and ladder climbing subordinates she was probably more accustomed to confronting. 

Examples of this kind of craven worshiping at the altar of the MBA and other demonstrations of managerial "competence" abound in American political life and--like their most adept priests--they have no permanent home on either the right or the left.  It's a perfectly bipartisan and, even, schizophrenic, sort of foolishness.  And there is good reason for this.  When one lionizes the skills or tools of "success" over the substance and meaning of "success," one always sacrifices that substance to those skills and tools. 

Those who suggest that we need to "run the government more like a business" think that what they are calling for is more accountability to the bottom line and responsibility for results.  But, in fact--if they thought a bit longer--they would realize that this is a false assumption.  A business is incorporated for the purpose of success with respect to profits.  Put simply, a business exists to make money.   We can argue until the cows come home about what the meaning of success in education or war or a Congressional budget may be, but the fact that we would be arguing only strengthens my point:  this is a political conversation, not a conversation about management.  The question of what makes for success in any of these things it is not as clear cut as the goal of making money is.  People will forever disagree about these things.  Persuasion is, therefore, always necessary.  Managers may have many virtues but, if among those virtues are a power to see the right and a facility in making a persuasive case for it, then these are absolutely incidental and apart from any training he had as a manager.  More often than not, however, the successful "manager" is going to be inclined to imagine that the question of ends is a settled one and he--as Cathie Black did--will proceed without a care in the world with respect to the need for garnering consent and building trust.  He may also be inclined to think that every kind of push-back he experiences can be countered with a PowerPoint presentation of "the facts" . . . as if "facts" were all that mattered.

A better case for all that I (and John Podhoretz) say above is presented here by Charles Kesler.  It also demonstrates why the last thing we should look for in a 2012 Presidential nominee is some indication--MBA or otherwise--that he has been a good "manager."
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