Manufacturing and Presidential Politics: Three Thoughts

As I was watching the vice presidential election debate last night, something occurred to me about American manufacturing, if not organizations everywhere (or social, professional or private enterprises, including companies).  Just last week during the first presidential debate, President Obama acted like so many front-runners and so many countless industry leaders, seemingly more concerned about maintaining the status quo than trying to reach the top of his particular summit.  After all, the man had already reached it. 

For that night at least, it was Mitt Romney, the challenger, who acted the aggressor and who pulled out all the stops.

Then last night, with a handful of polling numbers having almost reversed themselves in the days since the president’s less-than-stellar first debate performance, and with Romney now the one with both the momentum and (in the opinion of some) an inside track to the Oval Office, it was the administration’s turn to come out swinging and attack bare-knuckled. 

Some of that was Joe Biden, to be sure.  But more of it, at least for my money, was the very nature of what it means to be someone battling to get something as opposed to carefully trying to keep it. 

Collectively, we American manufacturers have behaved these past few years – the days of China’s stunning ascendency as a manufacturing superpower – in a way we hadn’t been behaving for decades.   We’ve no longer been the complacent industry leaders who have blindly taken things like innovation, global reach, consumer choice and market leadership for granted. 

To the contrary, we’ve been aggressive attack dogs, thinking and behaving like hungry entrepreneurs fighting for something we feel has been unjustly taken from us.  And that new attitude has manifest itself in the form of any number of game-changing things like re-shoring, new product development, automation, increased exports and the highest productivity rates American manufacturers have ever known.

That, my friends, is the difference between wanting something and having something.  That’s was the difference between Vice President Biden last night and President Obama the week prior.  And that is the difference between what American manufacturing is these days and what it was not all that long ago.

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Mario Cuomo once said that you campaign in poetry but you govern in prose.  In other words, especially when you’re talking about the office of the President of the United States, there’s a vast difference between the rhetoric and ideology of a campaign and the cold hard truths of the day to day job. 

That’s why most of the men and women who have ever served on the Supreme Court will tell you that once you put on that black robe something almost magical happens to a person.  Suddenly your personal politics don’t seem to matter nearly as much as the law of the land. 

That’s still why I contend that so many conservatives were shocked by John Roberts’ deciding vote on the constitutionality of the president’s new health care law.   They expected him to vote based on his personal politics, and not the law.  But he did the latter, because that’s what his robe and his oath were all about.  And he understood that in a way they, perhaps, never will.

That’s also why the yahoos can call President Obama a socialist all they want, while their counterparts can contend to their hearts’ content that Romney will be merely a puppet of the 1%.  That’s nothing more than election year drivel and talk radio white noise. 

My sense is, while both men will still have some level of political bent to their leadership over the next four years, whoever gets elected next month, we will find that the job will once again not only trump the individual, it will trump party’s politics. 

And as a result, this country will end up with not so much a Republican or a Democrat for president, but a pragmatist; a man who wants the absolute best for as many Americans as possible; a man who understands that his legacy and his party’s future will be tied directly to the strength of the U.S. economy, especially manufacturing; and a man whose oath of office will compel him to think, act and decide, not as a man or as a candidate, but as the President of the United States.

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And finally, I happened to stumble upon a fun little just-released video this week, which is a public service announcement unlike any I’ve ever seen.  Sure it’s a bit corny, and sure it trades on all sorts of stereotypes – right down to the actors involved.  But that’s half the point. 

And what’s more, at its core it’s got a great message that we all need to think about. 

Its timing is perfect as well, as we now find ourselves ready to put the wraps on yet another presidential election campaign and to get on, once again, with the business of being one country.

Because, after all, that’s what we are, right?  One country? 

And what is the point of warring with each other when there’s a global marketplace out there four our companies to conquer?  How wise is it, in other words, to obsess about one another’s political beliefs where there are global opportunities to leverage and new markets to tap, not to mention a world full of people jealous, resentful and even occasionally hateful of the things we have – so many of which we continue to take for granted. 

That – at least according to this fun little movie – is where we need to be focusing our energies.  Not each other. 

Enjoy.

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