John J. Pitney, Jr.: Ghosts of 1992





[John J. Pitney, Jr., is the Roy P. Crocker Professor of American Politics at Claremont McKenna College, in Claremont, California. ]

Senator Hillary Clinton has had to face questions about her toughness. The Boston Herald quotes Tobe Berkowitz, associate dean of Boston University’s College of Communication: “If you’re not tough enough to take the slings and arrows from Barack Obama, how are you going to deal with Putin or Chavez?” Senator Clinton helped herself with a confident performance in last week’s debate, but such concerns will probably resurface. Some say that the toughness issue is sexist, and that a male candidate would not face the same kind of questions. There may be merit to that point, but in fact male candidates have had to deal with the toughness issue. It came up in 1992, and the candidate in question was named Clinton. After the election, the New York Times ran an article titled “Is Clinton Tough Enough?” Journalist Leslie Gelb wrote: ” Mr. Clinton bridles when his toughness in exercising power is questioned. But he knows people think he isn’t tough.” Earlier in the year, Clinton acknowledged the issue when discussing his nomination fight against Jerry Brown: “If I’m not tough enough to deal with him, I probably shouldn’t be elected president.”

Another ghost recently appeared on the Republican side. Mitt Romney recently told the Wall Street Journal editorial board that the executive branch of the federal government has a poor organization chart.

Running a government organized like this is, he explains, impossible. “So I would probably have super-cabinet secretaries, or at least some structure that McKinsey would guide me to put in place.” He seems to catch a note of surprise in his audience, but he presses on: “I’m not kidding, I probably would bring in McKinsey. . . . I would consult with the best and the brightest minds, whether it’s McKinsey, Bain, BCG or Jack Welch.”

Actually, something similar happened in 1992 under the first President Bush. Incoming chief of staff Samuel Skinner enlisted management consultant Eugene Croisant to review White House operations. In the Washington Post, Marjorie Williams reported:

It was a classic political blunder. For one thing, it made the staff feel as if the grim reaper were stalking the corridors for a nerve-racking two months, as Croisant ambled into people’s offices and settled down for cozy, hour-long chats about just exactly what they did there. For another thing, it betrayed Skinner’s naivete about exactly what he was walking into. He made it sound as if it were just a matter of getting the right structure in place, designing the right flow chart.

Skinner failed to realize that corporate techniques do not always work in government. He ended up merely adding another layer to the White House bureaucracy, and the resulting organizational paralysis hastened his own exit.



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