Home > Election 2008 > Strategy, Tactics, and Oratory

Strategy, Tactics, and Oratory

February 22nd, 2008

Time Kane, long-time and very thoughtful commenter on BlogD, has an excellent analysis of why Obama is doing so well despite having started so far behind Clinton:

When I was growing up I had a friend who said there were two kinds of people: Salesman and Accountant types. A salesman never let’s cost get in the way of doing something or buying something, he just figures he’ll have to go out and sell more stuff to pay for it: they tend to be optimists. Accountants, on the other hand, are belt tighteners by nature. If they see something or want to do something they either for go it, forgo something else or look around elsewhere to save costs. My friend was the former of the two, and not by a small margin. Though an electrician, He could sell ice to Eskimos.

Myself, in a similar vein, I think there are two kinds of mindsets: strategic thinkers and tacticians. Strategic thinkers take the long view, they don’t want to swim against the current, they’d rather try to figure out how to make the current work with them as opposed to against them. They are along the lines of Sun Tzu’s ‘all battles are won before they are fought’ types. Tactical thinkers are the opposite. They’ll swim against the current, they’ll fight for fighting sake, they see everything as contest, and their human relations are often dominated over who will be the dominate person in the relationship. I am definitely one of the former. Perhaps I’m merely pointing out the difference between deductive and inductive thinking.

I think what you point out here is that Hillary is a tactician. She’s a great fighter. She’s probably a hard worker and was a great lawyer. She’s also a pretty good campaigner. From what I’ve seen of her campaign, she’s lacking good strategic judgment. Everything she does is tactical.

Here’s the thing. I think Obama is a both-er: he’s got good strategic and good tactical skills – and he’s got good judgment for balancing the two off of each other – and on top of that he’s got good oratorical skills, no doubt a function of being a both-er. He’s like a guy who sees things at street level and top down like a map, simultaneously. In a dead even street fight, Hillary might be able to take Obama by simply out-working and out-hustling and out-fighting him. But she’s not in a dead even street fight. She’s in a fight that involves equal amounts of strategy and tactics and oratorical finesse. Hillary, despite having the obvious advantages going into this campaign as the virtual incumbent, constantly finds her self in a tactical struggle, swimming against the current where she is increasingly battling against greater odds. Meanwhile she keeps bumping into Obama and each time he looks as if he’s hardly broken a sweat.

As the campaign drags on, I think Hillary is becoming a better tactical fighter but she can’t overcome her strategic shortcomings, causing her to take bigger strategic risks which increasingly results in tactical set backs. Perhaps this is becoming more and more evident, at least on an intuitive level, to the electorate.

Obama isn’t perfect. But he’s a naturally gifted as a politician. First, He’s got the booming vocal chords, and he knows how to use them. He’s got both good tactical skills and good strategic skills and importantly, he seems to have good judgment in balancing the two off of each other. Obama obviously has the skills for becoming president, and the way he has run his campaign, it looks like he has the skills for being President as well. Increasingly it looks like we will find out.

Meanwhile we have to cross our fingers and hope that Hillary doesn’t go nuclear and undermine the entire Democratic party in her tactical struggle to become president.

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  1. Tim Kane
    February 22nd, 2008 at 03:11 | #1

    I should also say I think there are a bunch of other ways to look at how people think. There are the inductive versus deductive types. I used to manage projects and I even managed a DP staff for a little while, and it helps to understand the types and where their limitations might be.

    I first started looking at things this way when I started my first job as a systems analyst at EDS for GM in the mid 1980s. I was also coaching pee wee football. I had one running back who always like to run against the grain, and another who always like to run to the outside. I practiced and practiced and practiced getting them to run the ball where the play was called. But then in a game situation they quickly reverted to their instincts, negating all the work I did. So I finally came to the conclussion that when I wanted to run up the middle, I give the ball to the guy who likes to cut up against the grain, and when I want to run to the outside, give it to the guy who likes to run to the outside. This immediately affected my work at GM. I started to allocate work based upon aptitude, not availability, and the through put of projects went off the chart. I got so good I demanded a raise (I made very little money despite my responsibilities – so little that I couldn’t afford the title transfer to a car that someone just gave me when he had to move out of town suddenly).

    Then I recalled my aunt talking about dogs. We think of sled dogs as working dogs. But sled dogs like to run so much that if their owners don’t stop them, they’ll literally run until they drop dead. Beagles are great lap dogs, but they’re bread for hunting rabbits. When they see a rabbit they do this Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde transition from lap dog to vicious and fast hunting dog in less than an instant. You would obviously not want to have a beagle pulling a sled, and you probably wouldn’t want an Siberian Husky keeping your garden free of rabbits.

    A lot of computer programmers are, for lack of a better word, “sequential” thinkers, I picture there minds are like ditch diggers, deeply involved in their work, following a thread of logic, often grinding threw all kinds of mathematical and logical equations, but never lifting their head out of the trench to discover where they might be and how relevant it is. There are creative types and analytical types (who often seem to overlap). Eventually this lead me to learning a little about Gardner’s multiple intelligence theory.

    In essence there are anywhere from 8 to 16 intelligence types. Mathematical, Interpersonal, Intra-personal, literary, etc…. The average person is above average in three or four areas, and at average, or slightly below average in most other areas. Idiot savants have an enormous spike in one or two areas and abysmal aptitude in most other areas. I view none of these aptitudes as better than the other – they just have different characteristics. In different situations they obviously have different values – I’d rather read a poem by Shakespeare over Einstein – an the market value of each is never level or fair.

    I love Geography and history most. Most people say these are important. But the economy doesn’t value them that much – especially in the midwest, so I have to work in areas where I have fringe abilities, making my life very unstable.

    Obama, just happens to have been gifted with skills that are well suited for politics – multiple skills – in a way few people have. He has the possibility of being another FDR type. He knows it, though he’s used Reagan’s name instead of FDR to talk about it. The thing is, because he’s so skilled, he undoubtedly has a target on his back. If he survives he could become one of the greatest Presidents ever. If he doesn’t it could be big trouble.

    I might add, that George Bush is a natural politician as well, but in a much more cynical way: He’s a natural bully with little ethics. Often Bully’s do quite well in politics, but their’s is a naturally cynical politics.

    The importance of natural aptitude in any field is really important. Bush obviously had a huge advantage in being the son of a President and coming from money. But it’s his natural aptitude as a bully that got him to go from town drunk to President in only ten years – passing his more gifted brother along the way (though he was aided by Karl Rove – making up for a lot of his short comings). Note that in seven years he went from not having ever held a political office to being President of the the United States. That’s something people spend a lift time trying to do. Like wise, Obama assent is roughly as dramatic as Bush’s. Having said that, these two people come from radically different spectrums and mean radically different things. They are almost the antithesis of each other.

  2. Paul
    February 22nd, 2008 at 03:56 | #2

    Great posts by Tim, and thanks for sharing them, Luis.

    I like the contrast between Clinton and Obama that I got in today’s pitch for donations from the Obama campaign (once you’re on a candidate’s email list, you’re on forever; I get stuff almost daily from McCain because I donated to him back in 2000.)

    Clinton supporters are mounting a deal where they’re trying to get 100 people to donate a hundred grand each, for a special committee (illegal, BTW) to work to get her elected.

    Obama, on the other hand, is about to hit a count of 1 million individual donors to his campaign.

    One is “more of the same” in terms of being the corporate-political complex’s candidate, and one is a more people-powered candidate.

  3. Eric
    February 22nd, 2008 at 16:45 | #3

    Thanks for reposting, Luis. I read most of the comments here (especially Tim’s), but I’m sure there’s a lot of people who don’t, and it’s great of you to have so much respect for your readers.

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