Monday, July 06, 2009

McNamara and Palin - Wrong Stories

Robert McNamara died today at age 93. Lots of others are covering this story. I want to pull out a quote played today on NPR from the movie Fog of War.

"We saw Vietnam as an element of the Cold War, not what they saw it as - a civil war. We were wrong."

McNamara was usually characterized as a 'technocrat.' Over 30 years ago, management scholars Blake and Mouton developed their managerial grid where they identified two characteristics of managers - people orientation and task (production) orientation. McNamara came to the Department of Defense in the Kennedy administration from the Ford Motor Company, clearly a task oriented person. He had a Harvard education and had through his task orientation and mastery of details, done great things for Ford.

I would argue that Palin tends to be more of a people oriented person and mastery of the technical details of getting the job done are not her strength.

I think though that there is another issue that caused failure for both - they both used their skills to push the wrong story.

McNamara told us that his story going into the Vietnam war was "The Cold War" but it should have been "Civil War."

In the Cuban Missile Crisis, at the end, I think we did put ourselves in the skin of the Soviets. In the case of Vietnam, we didn't know them well enough to empathize. And there was total misunderstanding as a result. They believed that we had simply replaced the French as a colonial power, and we were seeking to subject South and North Vietnam to our colonial interests, which was absolutely absurd. And we, we saw Vietnam as an element of the Cold War. Not what they saw it as: a civil war. [also from NPR]
I think that Palin's problems too, are based on a story that is at odds with most people in the US. It's a story, apparently, based on a strong belief in a fundamentalist interpretation of Christianity. It's based on relatively sheltered life with a small set of family and friends and experiences which never seriously challenged her story. Combine this then with her people orientation - which values loyalty (taking care of your own and expecting them to stand with you) - and a weakness with details and analysis of complex issues.

So, it is understandable when Palin is startled by the animosity towards her and it might explain her vitriol in attacking those who challenge her. But I think that while many of the issues that have been raised against Palin are petty, the real issue is the antipathy to Palin's story. Perhaps one day, an enlightened Palin, like a more enlightened McNamara, will say something like:

"I saw good and evil as established by Fundamentalist Christianity, not as they saw it as defined by the Constitution of the United States. I was wrong."


  1. Wow. One of the best summations and introspective piece I've read about Palin to date. Thank you for the mature and sobering comparison.

  2. That Ms. "Nahhhh" was ever considered for the job of vice president, with her background and lack of desire to expand her horizons will be a joke IF she is ever rememebred.

    I rememebr Geraldine Ferraro as being shrill and was putting too much emphasis on being a woman, but she did have a grasp on world issues and went on with a political career. I think I'll remember Palin more for what she said afterward about just wanting someone to pray with on the VP trail and me thinking, "Did I hear that right? Did she REALLY say that?"

    We will not see an enlightened Palin. She will go back to her little box. She seems to have the nuttiness and family loyalty as Teresa Obermyer, but Teresa Obermyer wouldn't have given up. (Cringe.)

  3. Brilliant insight. Thank you, your brief essay has brought more understanding to the table of how both sides see this issue.

    I agree with the post above, SP will not comprehend that her tiny, evangelical world-view is simply wrong.

    I was initially dazzled by her acceptance speech at the Republican convention, only to be horrified at her vast, willful ignorance of first Amendment rights.

  4. Bonnie-- but she supports guns!

    I wonder if she is counting on her bots to pressure the bloggers and press to back down.


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