McCain’s Whitewater, Obama’s Treadmill

Oct 27, 2008

I’m not making any political points in what follows – as the pundits would say, I have no dog in that hunt – just interested in the application of Predictable Success in another arena.

Political campaigns (and more generally, political parties) follow their own version of the lifecycle, but with different descriptors.

One of the formative political events in my lifetime was watching the UK Tory party in the Thatcher era as it cycled through the entire lifecycle over a 15 year period:

Early Struggle = Underdog

Fun = Populist

Whitewater = Electability

Predictable Success® = Governance

Treadmill = Entitlement

The Big Rut = Sleaze/Scandal

Death Rattle = Wilderness

As a lay observer of the current US political cycle (I’m what the US Government quaintly calls a ‘resident alien’ which means I have no voting rights), it seems clear that this race has been all about Electability – what we know in the business world as Whitewater.

In political terms, ‘Electability’ means: does the candidate, his or her campaign, and their party as a whole have the policies, processes and systems to deliver stable, dependable, predictable governance.

Because their candidate is running to be the first African-American US President, the Obama campaign appears to have been acutely aware of the ‘Electability’ issue from the get-go. The McCain camp, on the other hand, seems to have relished the ‘populist’ (Fun) phase so much that they have struggled to maintain the discipline and focus to push through ‘Electability’ (Whitewater).

Indeed, in these last days of the campaign there are signs that the McCain camp is going all the way back to the ‘Underdog’ (Early Struggle) stage in an attempt to play to their candidates perceived strength. I’m not a political advisor or pundit, but my observation of the shifts in the UK Conservative and Labour parties (they’ve both gone through the entire cycle above a number of times) would lead me to believe that ‘Underdog’ status needs to be worked out in opposition, and that a campaign needs to start at least in the ‘Populist’ phase, and cannot avoid the ‘Electability’ stage if they want to get to Governance.

On the other hand, Obama and the Democratic party now face an issue they might have viewed as unlikely 12 months ago – with a week to go, do the polls make their election look inevitable, and are they in danger of slipping into ‘Entitlement’ – even before they are elected? Republicans who recall the 1948 election presumably hope so.