Historians For Messy Desks

I’ve been trying to keep an open mind about the primaries. Among other reasons, because as a registered independent, I can’t vote in them anyway in Pennsylvania.

But everyone has their tipping point, and mine kind of just tipped over to Obama. Reason? The sparring over Obama’s “messy desks” comment at the debate.

It’s no secret around Swarthmore that I have a legendarily messy desk. It works for me, and since it’s mine, that’s really all that matters.

But the spin on the remark coming out of the Clinton campaign really makes me sick. Try Noam Scheiber on for size. Normally you don’t see that kind of straining unless someone’s severely constipated.

The Clinton spin reinforces my fear that she is the fourth coming of Dukakis/Gore/Kerry’s exaltation of technocracy, not to mention Carter’s tendency to micromanage obsessively. Obama’s basically right, in any event: the President is not the Chief of Staff. Bush hasn’t failed because he’s not wonking away late into the night. He’s failed because he surrounded himself with sycophants, axe-grinders, loose cannons and bureaucratic land-grabbers, because he made unquestioning loyalty a more important attribute for service to the executive than ability. He failed because he didn’t ask the big questions or seek a range of advice, not because he didn’t micromanage.

What warms me to Obama in this instance isn’t just his messy desk. It’s that when he was asked a human question (“What’s your greatest weakness”), he answered like a human being. For Scheiber and Clinton’s staffers, that’s somehow evidence that he’s not fit for the Presidency. As Obama pointed out today on NPR, Edwards and Clinton both gave almost freakishly political answers. (Edwards: my greatest weakness is that I care too much. Clinton: I get impatient with people who don’t care enough about the children!) Come on, if you were interviewing someone for a job, and you asked ye olden “greatest weakness” chestnut, what would you think of the kinds of answers that Clinton and Edwards gave? I’d immediately think I was talking with someone who was both phony and unimaginative.

Messy desks arise! You have nothing to lose but your politically hollow micromanagers!

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10 Responses to Historians For Messy Desks

  1. evangoer says:

    Exactly right. You know, I occasionally ask the, “What is your greatest weakness?” question in job interviews — *just to see* if candidate answers with “My greatest weakness is that I work too hard!” or some other phony variation. If they do, that’s basically an automatic fail.

  2. evangoer says:

    Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration. An *automatic* fail, that’s if the candidate launches into a racist rant or some such. But you get the idea.

  3. Bob Rehak says:

    I agree that Hillary’s response, and the subsequent spin, summarizes what’s so tiresome and depressing about campaign politics right now. And what’s appealing about anyone who seems to offer an alternative, from Huckabee to Obama. (I’m in the latter camp, of course — my own private litmus test makes it impossible for me to vote for anyone who doesn’t believe in evolution.)

    As for Clinton, I hate to traffic in gendered stereotypes, but her words & performance increasingly remind me of Reese Witherspoon’s character, Tracy Flick, in Election.

  4. Timothy Burke says:

    That precise analogy came to me the other day as well.

  5. ikl says:

    What took you so long?

    I’m not kidding. Doesn’t the Clinton campaign just epitomize the Democrat running on a competence platform that you are always complaining about?

    Besides, this one moment is just symptomatic of the phoniness of Clinton’s campaign and its frequent bouts of disingenuousness.

    Can’t you register as a Dem for the primary and then change back afterwords? The PA primary isn’t for a while. It could actually matter this year.

  6. ikl says:

    So as not to be so negative, I should also note that it seems to me that Obama is the most exciting candidate that the Democrats have had in a while.

  7. Laura says:

    It sounds like the difference between a manager and a leader. A manager has a neat desk (usually); they count the beans. Leaders do the vision thing and leave it to assistants and others to keep them organized. Quite frankly, we could do with some vision in this country and some humanity.

  8. CMarko says:

    This is tipping me to Obama as well. When asked my greatest weakness at my most recent job interview, I said that I have a messy desk. I got the job.
    Of course, the job involves wrangling seventh graders in New Mexico for six hours a day, so maybe that wasn’t such a good thing.

  9. alkali says:

    Slate did a video mashup of Tracy Flick & Hillary the other day.

  10. Doug says:

    Good thread on clutter (in its more extreme forms) over at Making Light.

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