Talkers and Doers – an exposé on “The Washington Disease”

We will get out of these hard times – and, once out, we will recognize it was the Doers that made it happen.  The longer I live, work and travel in and around Washington DC the more I am convinced that it is a city of Talkers. Yes, there are hard-working, sturdy doers here by the thousands, and our republic depends on them. God bless ‘em! But it is the talkers in DC who have the limelight. Blinded by their own brilliance, they rumble about the town like tumbleweed. I bump into them often – thus my rant.

I remember, as a much younger man, spending some time with an elder in our church who was a farmer. He didn’t say much. But I have seldom been so impressed at how much one person could get done in life. And it was solid. I would float my lofty ideas by him, and his wise words were often: “We’ll see.” We did.

Here in DC it is not just The Administration, Congress and the Media that clobber us with lofty talkers. They are everywhere, at all levels and in most organizations. Oratory is in vogue.  It is so pervasive that I have named it The Washington Disease. You see it in business, with gusts of “my-idea-is-the-most-significant-idea”  blowing down corridors and swirling around meetings. You see it in schools with the teacher asking the class for their feedback and then cutting off the discussion because the teacher thought of something more important to say.  You see it in the frenetic pace from the beltway to the National Mall to the suburbs – as a friend of mine puts it:  “Everyone’s in a hurry even if they don’t know where they are going.”

Where does it come from? People feel the need to get something DONE – but they are trained here to TALK. It is easy to talk. Talk is cheap. Meetings are easy to schedule in Outlook. We get to talk a lot in meetings. Makes us feel better. Gets us through the day. Makes us look even better if we rush. It is easy to rush – hey, I am an adrenaline junkie too – it feels good.

How about really getting things done?  That costs us more. As my dad, who grew up on a farm,  would say: “Time to put your money where your mouth is.” (Note to Congress and the Administration – the proverb cites YOUR money – not someone else’s).  It boils own to DOING something. That usually involves more work than talking. A great deal more. Doing things makes you miss meetings.

A big part of the problem here in the DC area is that people are too tired out from the talking and the rushing to move down from the 10,000 foot level and get their hands in the dirt like a farmer and make something grow. Besides, there is not much social value here in being a farmer. Doers don’t get much credit. My theory – it is too provincial.  Seems too much like it comes from the heartland or a red state. I digress.

Now THAT gets me back to some of my recurring themes: Politics – Business – Spirituality – Life – What’s good for America – and stuff like that.

Here is the summary:

  • Politics: I think America is really tiring of DC talkers. Recent elections seem to bear that out.
  • Business: It is still about the small-businessperson, the small business family, and the American worker who likes the feeling of being captain of his or her own ship.
  • Spirituality: The Bible says it is not the hearer of the Word but the Doer of the Word that is blessed…  (I think that also goes for the talker-about-the-Word)
  • Life and What’s good for America: It finally boils down to the regular American people who go about doing and helping their neighbors and making their small communities work. It is about volunteers and parents and kids and teachers and preachers and singers and diggers. It is about farmers with hands in the dirt. I would MUCH rather listen to the few words they have time to say than the over-caffeinated cacophony I hear in and around our nation’s capital.

I am about over that.

The new Jacksonians

As a kid I was enchanted with the life of Andrew Jackson. Growing up in Tennessee, he was a ‘national’ hero. When I was a kid I saw the movie about him and Rachel. It showed him duelling, fighting for her honor, trying to protect her from her fierce critics and critics of their marriage.  When the ‘Battle of New Orleans’ became a country hit I memorized the words “In 1814  ‘took a little trip, ‘long with Genr’l Jackson down the mighty Mississipp’ .”

I read kids books about Jackson and our family went to The Hermitage in Nashville. He was a hero.

Strange, because our family was Rebublican and if the Civil War had broken out in our lifetime, I would have been one of the many East Tennessee Whig boys who would have fought for the Union (as almost half did). 

But there was something about Jackson.  He truly was a man of the common people. He was not an elitist. When he was elected president, he threw open the White House. On inauguration night there were street people with muddy boots or no boots crawling all over the carpets and boozing it up with moonshine on the South Lawn.  No wonder Tennesseeans loved him! He appointed no-names to many high offices in Washington. He turned the bureaucracy upside down.  He stood for what he stood for and he stood for the common man and woman and kid.

Jackson was no saint, and he made many mistakes – among them the policy he led against Native Americans, especially the noble Cherokee.

But beyond that it might be argued that he brought a truly popular meaning to the American experiment and removed it from the hands of the elite and the highly educated.

Fast forward to 1990.  Look in The The First Campaign: Globalization, the Web, and the Race for the White House, by Garrett Graff.  There is a chapter called “Web 2.0 Meets Campaigning 3.0” in which he describes a convention in which bloggers, ultimate outsiders (called ‘pajamaudheedeen’ by the cynics) were meeting in Las Vegas and and contemplating the powerful force they had become in poitics. No insiders they, the talk was all about grassroots politics of a new kind – the power of the amateurs, and the incredible things happening online to influence the real power in the country – the voters.

As I read that, I thought of Jackson. One of the thngs that has been so disappointing to me over most of my lifetime has been the turning of the Democratic party toards a sort of ‘educated-elite-we’re-smarter-than-mainstream-America’ mentality. Even though I never voted with the Democratic party I took no joy in seeing them make that movement. Now, out of the blue, comes the Internet, the new media, complete with its conversations and peer-trusting-peer paradigms, and the Democrats are understanding it and opening it up to the masses. 

Good for the country. Somebody needed to turn the snobs out! I don’t care which party they come from!

Garret writes: “The truth is that few of the political elites in the country are comfortable with the new power being exercised online through blogs, social-networking sites like MySpace and Facebook, grassroots multi-media endeavors like YouTube, and the power of cell phones, which allow almost anyone, anywhere, to snap a candid photo and beam it around the world). (p. 250).

Amen! And one might add – neither are the media elites, the business elites, the academic elites, the health industry elites, or the elite elites comfortable either!

It is time for a new day and truly a day of the people.

The old Jacksonians were messy. They were muddy. They tore up things and a lot of the new bureaucrats that came in didn’t know a thing about management. But they might have saved us from a British-style aristocracy. And that alone is worth a lot.

I may still not vote Democrat – we’ll see – Whig runs deep in my blood -but I sure want to see what happens.

It’s not who you know…

It is great to see old sayings turned on their heads.

 Remember the one – “It’s not what you  know, but who you …”

That one always grated on me. Not so much that networking is not important – it is. Life is still about people. Always will be.

But the implicit idea that, no matter how good you are, or how talented, some less talented hack will pass you up because of schmoozing.  And beyond that , the ‘assumption’ that if you are not aware of that ‘fact’ you are… well… stupid.

Sorry, I disagree.

It is what you know. Plus one vital element – courage.

Today it is easier than ever to bypass the gatekeepers, the elitists, the political controllers, and the king-makers. You can wade through the whole culture of control and come out on the other side. Thanks to the new power in our society to be found based upon what you know and publish what you say, you do not have to look for someone to give you a stage pass any more.

But it still takes courage.

Whether in business, politics, communications, or life, that will always be the case.

And that is a good thing.