Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Calling Admiral Stockdale

It was shocking when Hillary lost in Iowa, and surprising when she won in NH. Huckabee came from nowhere to win Iowa.  McCain rose from the dead to win NH.  The "ofer" record of pundits hasn't halted the 24-hour coverage of their confident predictions.   Following a college football season in the #1 and #2 teams lost with regularity and the BCS participants were decided at the last second,  the media is eager to declare the final presidential nominees in mid-January. An inveterate gambler, I'm willing to bet only on more surprises.   We haven't had a "brokered convention" in half a century.  In a year when the networks offer a steady diet of live and reality programming, who wants to see a safe, tightly scripted coronation ?  Alas, it is likely the nominees will be known after the 25-state primary on February 5.

So the only hope for election excitement is Michael Bloomberg.  Independent candidates have profoundly impacted recent elections;  Ross Perot's 19% of the popular vote may have cost GHWB a second term, and Ralph Nader siphoned critical votes from both Al Gore and John Kerry.  Neither Perot (post-withdrawal/re-entry) nor Nader had the gravitas of being the Mayor of New York with an $11 billion war chest.

At the very least, Bloomberg could win a state or two, and if he does, there is a very good chance that no candidate will win a 270 vote majority of the electoral college.   So, who wins then ?  As discussed in Beyond the Headlines today, the House would determine the winner from the three leading Electoral College vote-getters.  But if, as our story predicts is quite possible, the House reaches stalemate, then the Senate would choose an "interim" President from the Vice Presidential running mates of one of the top two vote-getters, until the first stalemate is resolved.  So yes, the 44th President of the United States could be the losing Vice Presidential candidate !  If it sounds like a complicated process, that's because it is; Chris Weigant of Huffington Post compares it, and not in a favorable way, to the instructions for Monty Python's Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch.

We can be sure of Supreme Court involvement and assiduous efforts by everyone to de-legitimize the process whenever it appears to be pointing in the wrong direction. If you think Hillary's loss in Iowa or McCain's win in NH was surprising, wait till you witness the inauguration as President of the United States of a person who failed in their role of enhancing the electability of someone else.

Who was the last person to lose an election as a vice presidential candidate and eventually become President ? There haven't been many memorable losing VPs in recent times.  With one notable exception.  Admiral Jim Stockdale.  Yes, he famously and clumsily opened the Vice Presidential debate in 1992 by asking "Who am I and why am I here" ?   Admiral Stockdale's performance was badly misunderstood, and he faded quickly from the public eye and died in 2005.

But he lives on through a philosophy that he developed while imprisoned in Vietnam for 7 years.  This philosophy is now well known in management circles as "The Stockdale Paradox":  "You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end - which you can never afford to lose - with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be."   This sounds like a better prescription for facing our future than any of the sound bites I've heard from those atop the current polls, or their likely running mates.  Let's hope there's an Admiral Stockdale somewhere out there, waiting to emerge from the chaos.

No comments: