Sunday, June 17, 2018

Lobbying Pence: On the VP's Role in Trump White House

What a great Father's Day gift, some reports on the doings of Vice President Pence!

This White House leaks, that is an understatement. This White House gushes. Yet, monitoring reports on the internecine warfare of the West Wing, Pence remains in the shadows. His public appearances are of course covered and interesting. (The limited love the VP received at the Southern Baptist Convention was certainly interesting - they should have been the friendliest of crowds.)

But public appearances are basically carrying the President's water (or whatever POTUS wants done with his water...) 

Pence has been pretty effective as a presidential surrogate, smoothing our POTUS' rough edges (as much as possible, at least) on Capitol Hill, domestically, and abroad. This has had its costs of course, it does for every VP, but particularly in this administration. 

From what I've seen Pence's biggest contribution has actually been in personnel. Trump had a very limited rolodex of DC-types who feel administration jobs. That has hurt him (although in fairness, the very capable John Kelly can't run a Trump White House, so probably no one can.)

None of this is influence (which is what my dissertation was about). My core contention is that areas where VPs play are a role are areas where Presidents face vacuums in experience or are particular priorities. Following where a VP exercises influence can tell us something about how decisions are being made in the White House.

The problem was, that for all of the White House leaks, there was only very limited information on the doings of the VP! But that, quite suddenly, has changed...

Pence in the News: Finally!
First, there is a new book on vice presidents (how's my own book on the VPs coming... don't ask.)

Reporting on the book, Kate Andersen Brower's First in Line: Presidents, Vice Presidents, and the Pursuit of Power has this fascinating tidbit:

The author tried to persuade Pence’s staff to let her sit down with the former governor of Indiana. She’d already talked to the other six men who had held the title of VPOTUS. “I don’t want to leave you guys out,” Brower recalled telling Pence’s gatekeepers. But they wouldn’t budge. The narrative was too tricky, especially after reports that Pence was looking to position himself for a 2020 bid for the office down the hall.
“They are very tight-lipped, and they’re smart about it,” Brower said, adding that Pence’s staff has assumed a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” stance on profiles and one-on-one interviews. “If it seems like he’s doing a lot, then the president won’t like that,” she said.
So, that's why there aren't many leaks about the VP. He is being very careful not to leak or have too large a public profile. And if you do that, no one has much reason to leak about you. 

Then there is this terrific bit of reporting from The Washington Post, Pence turns VP's office into gateway for lobbyists to influence the Trump administration. So far twice as many organizations have registered to lobby of Office of the Vice President in Pence's first year as in any of the years in which Biden or Cheney served as VP (the number of lobbying clients trying to influence the President directly has remained essentially flat.) Here's a key quote:

“The vice president’s policy staff regularly takes meetings with representatives from the private sector — including registered lobbyists, whose activity is publicly disclosed and regulated — to discuss policy,” said Alyssa Farah, Pence’s press secretary. “Hearing the real-world impacts, positive or negative, to individuals or businesses is a key input to the deliberative process behind President Trump’s agenda and making the federal government more accountable to the American people.”
In some cases, Pence has served as a kind of second White House chief of staff on regulatory issues, given his extensive knowledge of how the government works and the president’s relative lack of interest in policy details, according to current and former Trump administration officials.
Pence was also responsible for staffing many of the federal agencies that lobbyists seek to influence. One other lobbyist who interacts with Pence described the vice president’s office as a key entryway to reach officials such as Seema Verma, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, who worked for Pence when he was governor of Indiana. A spokesman for Verma said the agency gets requests for meetings “in many different ways.”
“His staff is very accessible,” said the lobbyist, who, like others interviewed for this story, spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid jeopardizing future access to the Trump administration. “If you can’t get high up in the West Wing, they are your best bet.”
The actions taken by Pence and his staff as a result of lobbying are not disclosed in federal filings, and more than a dozen companies that have hired people to contact his office declined to comment on the role of the vice president or what their lobbying spending accomplished. 
Then there's this report from today's Post (I check lots of sources for VP doings, but it just so happens that The Washington Post is breaking the news on this particular front.)  The vice president has pressed USAID to direct funds to aid Iraqi Christian and Yazidis.

But Pence was unhappy with the progress in the field. He recently “directed” Green to go to Iraq before the end of this month and report back to him on plans to get assistance there quickly, according to a statement from the vice president’s office.
In a sharp-edged statement on Friday, Pence’s office said the vice president “will not tolerate bureaucratic delays.”
According to a U.S. official familiar with Pence’s concern that, as he saw it, USAID had failed to prioritize the issue, the vice president told Green that he would support any personnel changes the USAID administrator chose to make.
Before the end of the day, the head of USAID’s Middle East bureau, a career Foreign Service officer, was replaced by a political appointee who had worked on development projects under Green at the International Republican Institute.
What both of these stories have in common is the VP (and his staff) putting pressure on the bureaucracy to change policy. There is nothing wrong with this in principle.

This is what politicians do. They cannot control the vast bureaucracies directly (the famous principle-agent problem on a massive scale). They can intervene at times and places or structure bureaucracies in a way to help ensure preferred outcomes. This is agnostic to the actual policies. I don't know if having USAID put more of its limited resources towards towards Yazidis and Christians is actually smart development policy. But this is the kind of thing politicians do.

Something Old
Many of the things the OVP is up to are not that different from their predecessors. Other VPs have been a path to reaching the White House for groups that did not have relationships with the president. Mondale was the go-to person for traditional Democratic supporters like African-Americans, labor, and the Jewish community, because Carter did not have strong links with them. The hard right reached out to Quayle, in order to make sure their preferences reached the more moderate President Bush 43. Al Gore was the environmentalist voice in the White House.

Vice presidents have also pressed bureaucracies on a huge range of issues. Cheney famously found a workaround for the Endangered Species Act that allowed the government to open damns and provide water to drought-stricken farmers (which also led to a massive fish die-off.)

Gore was a go-to for Clinton on innumerable bureaucratic issues, from coordinating security for the 1996 Olympics to Reinventing Government. All vice presidents do this stuff, either on issues of personal concern or on behalf of the president. And in the process, of course they make new friends and take care of old ones.

Is this corruption? Maybe, certainly it can be. Lobbyists and organizations make donation to politicians who help them out. Sometimes it is all pretty mercenary, sometimes it is well-intended gratitude. If the OVP is now a den of corruption, well so is the rest of this town. (This leaves aside the administration's promise to drain the swamp, which clearly was not going to happen.)

So far this fits with the paradigm that Pence, as a Washington insider who knows how things work (and just as importantly who makes them work), takes care of things for the president.

Something New
But, something is off in seeing the doings of Pence's office as just more of the same. The USAID issue might be classic vice presidential influence. This does not seem like something the president would oppose. Pence takes care of his base, the evangelicals. This works in two ways, first his base cares about the fate of Christians in the Middle East. Also, USAID grants to help the Christians and Yazidis are apparently going through faith-based organizations - that is, at least in some cases, be groups that will generally be aligned with the VP's world view and institutional supporters. That's just good politics.

The lobbying however, while not new, is occurring on a much larger scale. The obvious conclusion is that in a poorly run White House, the OVP can get stuff done. Plus there are Pence people all over the administration. People in the bowels of the bureaucracy tend to sit up and respond to a call from the OVP, and even more so if the OVP got them their job. That's all standard. But doing so on such a large scale for paid lobbyists that work for businesses is new.

Anything the VP does, a critical question is: what does the president think?

Normally a president might be a little concerned that so many people were approaching OVP for favors. First, why aren't they coming to President? Second, the more people reaching out to the VP, the more likely that the VP gets into something that will embarrass the President.

That is in a normal administration. This administration does not seem to have a big problem with the influence peddling business. Second, the President does not grasp standard political inputs and outputs, thus is not monitoring the VP and does not really care. Finally, the President may trust the VP not to do anything that will be a problem. This final point is entirely plausible. Pence has been loyal to a fault and has maintained access.

Or not. According to a story from The New York Times about Pence's burgeoning political operation, which could be seen as filling a vacuum (because the president is not terribly interested the mechanics of the running a campaign.) Some White House staffers however, see it more as empire building, but grant that if no one else will do it, Pence might as well run the 2018 mid-term efforts.

Presidents may delegate a great deal to the VP, especially in the mid-term elections. There's a cold logic to this by they way, since mid-terms often go badly for the president, so if the VP is on point, who takes the blame?

Taken as whole, this much scope over political operations is pretty astounding. In my article in War on the Rocks I observed that given Trump's inexperience, Pence would be effectively a back-up chief of staff helping the president with everything. But the president's disengagement from the standard policy process and lack of interest in advice, has instead left Pence a great deal of room to do low-key stuff. He does not have much influence on big issues (I can't imagine Pence wants to get into trade wars for example). But on lesser issues it appears he has a free hand as long as - in this classic description of his great predecessor as VP Martin Van Buren, "he rows to his object with muffled oars."

Hidden Hand of the Hidden Hand
By most accounts, Pence's chief of staff Nick Ayers is a critical player in all of this. He is extraordinarily savvy and he is good at threading the needle - going just far enough. This is, precisely what Pence needs in this environment. One other thing about Ayers, he is extraordinary at turning political activity into money. Pence is certainly willing to help his friends (who have now all become lobbyists.) But it is probably Ayers who saw the opportunities to put out an open for business sign at the OVP.

In general VPs are loyal, painfully so, and avoid even the appearance of a conflict with the president. VPs who get too big for the job have poor political fates. (See John C. Calhoun, Nelson Rockefeller, and most recently Cheney.) Can Pence continue to thread the needle, build power without attracting attention from the president?

Given the unique nature of this administration, does it even matter? The president cannot fire the vice president and if the president becomes radioactive, being politically cast out will be a blessing, not a curse.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The VP and the Ronny Jackson VA nomination

I know the big news is more Mueller, but that's not my thing. I'm about the Veep, and there is some fascinating news on that front.

CNN reports that the vice president's physician had written memos to the White House chief of staff John Kelly that he had some problems with White House physician and erstwhile nominee to be Secretary of Veterans Affairs Ronny Jackson. Those memos were shared with CNN.

You can read the details in the report, but apparently on September 8, 2017 Karen Pence had a medical situation at Camp David and had to be taken to Walter Reed. Jackson got involved and revealed personal medical information about the vice president's wife. When Ms. Pence learned of this she was displeased and told her doctor (who is not identified in the story) to take the issue to the Vice President's Chief of Staff Nick Ayers, who in turn would inform Kelly. This led to charged meetings between the vice president's physician and Jackson, which were detailed in the memos was described Jackson as "unprofessional" and "intimidating."

Forget all the infighting, the VA needs leadership!
The fact that the White House had this information (had had it for months) and yet Jackson was still nominated is just a reminder of how impulsive and utterly unprofessional the president's process of selecting key appointees can be. But we already knew that really?

That's the story.

But what's the story behind this story? Why release this information now, with Jackson's nomination and probably his career dead? What is the vice president up to here?

First, Pence probably had a big problem with Jackson personally, while also recognizing that he would be a big problem politically if he got the nomination. Taking this information to the president would have been useless, since the president was besotted with the handsome doctor who said such nice things about him on the TV box.

But then why didn't these memos about Jackson leak to derail his nomination?

The Vice President must "row to his object with muffled oars." Vice presidents that hope to remain close to the president cannot publicly or semi-publicly oppose or contradict the president. By semi-publicly that means disagreeing with the president in a situation in which it could become public - i.e. a meeting with a large number of attendees. If there are lots of attendees someone can leak it and get away with it. In a small meeting the leaker can be identified and held accountable.

If the memos had come out, the vice president and his office would be the first suspect and then Pence's so far impressive record of absolute loyalty would be lost.

So why leak these memos now? Why kick the dead horse that is Ronny Jackson's career?

Now I'm just theorizing. Leaking the memos is a brilliant move to have it both ways. Pence is now associated with the defeat of the politically radioactive Jackson (cool superhero, no?) He is disassociated with the terrible White House decision-making, and the memos will probably be seen as a signal that it was in fact Pence and his team that provided the information that sank Admiral Jackson (which is probably true.)

Yet, in no way did Pence publicly come out against the President's choice. A neat trick. But, Pence did it before. The one clear issue that Pence can be tied to is firing Flynn.

This seems like a pretty elaborate scheme.

That's not a question, but I think I know what I'm trying to say. First, I don't believe in conspiracies in general. But we are in such a dysfunctional White House that my normal instinct to blame chaos instead of conspiracy may not hold. Also, have you met Nick Ayers?

Pence's chief of staff is a wunderkind and quite a piece of work. He's a genial, charming guy, who has an amazing killer instinct and an knack for walking the line. He's got a knack for ingratiating himself with Trump (probably one of the reasons Pence hired him), but also can keep his distance. If anyone could pull this off, it's Nick Ayers.

There's a follow-up question. 

Pence allies are all over the administration, with a particularly strong presence in health care related positions at HHS, including Secretary Azar (former executive with Indiana based pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly & Co.) as well as Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma.

Does Pence have someone in mind for Secretary for Veterans Affairs?

Monday, February 19, 2018

Presidents Day Special: Interpreting Presidential Rankings

Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia Center for Politics released the results of a poll (conducted with Ipsos) of American ratings of past presidents. Rating presidents is a time honored historical game. There are some generally accepted conclusions – Lincoln was the best, Nixon the worst. There are always fun re-interpretations. Ulysses S Grant has his fans, as does McKinley and Martin Van Buren. Everyone loves Teddy Roosevelt (except H.L. Mencken of course.)

I of course have deep sympathy for all (or almost all) of those who have held our highest office. As Damon Runyon wrote of FDR, “He only did the best he could, no man could have done more.”

Sabato’s poll shows what regular Americans think of the last dozen holders of the office.

Table from Sabato's Silver Ball at UVA Center for Politics
My first thought on reviewing this list is a frightening one – and true. The list is a ranking based on looks. That is why JFK always comes out on top, followed by movie star Reagan, cool hand Barack, and Bill Clinton who was sort of a deep-fried JFK. At the bottom we have our baldest and most bloated president in recent history, followed by LBJ with his outsized facial features, and of course Nixon.

But really, what is the deal with JFK? Not just Democrats, Republicans also love him, rating him ahead of Eisenhower (to say nothing of Ford and Nixon.) He was an immensely attractive man, exemplar of a new generation, who – besides his looks – was witty and appeared to dispatch his office with aplomb. He was blessed with a beautiful and graceful wife and he died tragically and young.

With JFK’s assassination, it seemed America broke. We had the turmoil of the 1960s, the terrible war in Vietnam, and Watergate. In a college science fiction writing class about alternative histories, two stories in a class of a dozen, featured LBJ and the war in Vietnam (one by me.) We had been children when that war ended, but it cast a long shadow.

Watergate, the outgrowth of JFK’s GOP foil, may make another Kennedyesque Camelot impossible. JFK was a deeply flawed man. Besides the compulsive womanizing, he had severe health problems that left him in great pain and were controlled with significant pharmaceuticals. The press knew, but allowed the president’s private life to remain private. After Nixon, that was no longer possible. The presidency was brought out of the shadows.

We mourn the man, but we also mourn the moment.

Somehow in our collective memory JFK sits alongside Lincoln in our imaginary Mount Rushmore, while other figures – truly giant – have begun to fade.

Splitting Differences
It is interesting to compare the splits between the ratings by party. The average partisan difference is 2.07. The largest splits are over Obama and Trump, both over 5. Somehow this is not a surprise. The Democrats' rating of Obama is the highest rating of any president by any partisan group and their rating of Trump is the lowest. The Republican rating of Trump is the third highest of any president by partisan group (after Obama by Democrats and Reagan by Republicans). The Republican rating of Obama is the third lowest rating of any president by a partisan group (beating out only Nixon and Trump among Democrats.)

I made this Table, using the UVA/Ipsos poll.
The second largest partisan splits are over Reagan and Clinton at 2.88. The smallest partisan split is over LBJ, only .31 (more on him below.)

The Democrats appear to be easier on rating Republicans than vice-versa. The Democrats rate LBJ as the worst president from their party, and rate four Republicans ahead of him. Besides Reagan, the Bushes and Eisenhower are all rated just a bit below average.

The GOP only rates JFK ahead of Nixon (the Republican they rate lowest). Interestingly, Republican respondents go somewhat easy on LBJ, rating him middle of the pack as far as Democrats go – only a little worse than Democrats rate him. LBJ is interesting because (like Ford) Independents rate both of them significantly lower than the opposing party. This highlights the observation above, that for many people Johnson is where things started to go wrong for the United States.

It was Reagan who said the 11th commandment was, “Thou shalt not speak ill of they fellow Republican.” Perhaps a bit of that party discipline shows here the lockstep Republican preference for Republicans.

Gender and Generations
The poll also broke down ratings of presidents by gender and generation. On the gender side, there were several cases of men distinctly rating certain presidents higher than women did. Eisenhower has the strongest split, possibly men think – well he was a general so he must be ok. The male preference for Trump is hardly unknown, but there are comparable male preferences for LBJ and Nixon. Lest one think it is because women blanched at their homeliness, men also preferred JFK and Reagan. I have no idea why men rated these presidents higher than women.
Table from Sabato's Silver Ball at the UVA Center for Politics

The only president women rated higher than men did was Obama. Perhaps his model, modern marriage in which his wife was clearly outspoken and engaged (after the demure Laura Bush) was appealing.

The breakdowns of different generations’ presidential ratings is particularly interesting and may be the most significant of the survey. The survey notes that actually remembering presidents may play a significant role in rating them. The 55+ bracket overall rates presidents at 5.67, their lowest rating is Nixon at 4.36 (not bad considering they remember Watergate!) Except for Obama and Clinton, the 55+ cohort rates presidents from both parties higher than the other cohorts. And their ratings of Obama and Clinton, while the lowest, are not that low at about 5.5.

The 18-34 cohort has at best blah ratings for presidents outside their living memory except for JFK (that magic really has lived.) They are huge outliers on Reagan, seeing him as a bit below average.

Can I just say that it kills me that fully formed adults with jobs and advanced degrees were born after Reagan left office – time is inexorable!

Overall the farther back you go, the more my generation (35-54, caught in the middle) converges with the 18-34 cohort. On more recent presidents they are closer to the elders. In overall ratings, my generation’s average ratings are 5.07 while the 18-34s is 4.64. The only recent presidents they rate as above average are Clinton and Obama (who comes in at a whopping 6.96 – they really liked him.)

The obvious interpretation is, as I mentioned, that simply remembering who presidents were. But it is also possible, that having entered the workforce in the face of a huge recession and watching their nation struggle with a pair of endless wars, they maybe younger generations are more skeptical of authority and their national leadership. But their tremendous affection for Obama and their continuing to carry the Kennedy flame suggests that they are not so cynical that they cannot be inspired.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

VPWriting6: (Increments + Exponents)Impact = Excrement

I am still struck by my observation the other day at how a mere 500 words a day can amount to serious output. It makes it seem like being a writer should be easy. If you wander over to TerrorWonk (or right here on VeepCritique) you'll find a number of my entries, usually 500 words-ish, most of which I can crank out in an hour.

Hail the awesome power of increments!!!

However, to take one of these blog entries and make it publishable requires a lot, lot more. The increase is exponential. I would need to triple check references, verify the soundness of my arguments, and really polish the language. Further, there is an additional time investment on both the front end and on the back end. On the front end, I need to keep up on various issues to write thoughtfully about them. If I just dash something off, that's fine, but if I want to get it published then I really need to make sure I'm writing something worth reading. On the back end, to get something published one needs to engage editors. That includes finding appropriate publications, scanning them for content to make sure I'm not saying what has already been said and finally pitching editors. This last, crucial bit goes better if you actually have a relationship with said editors. That too, takes time.

This process also involves triggering the all-powerful self-doubt that most writers recognize - which makes slow going even slower.

So getting something published for real turns a one hour project into a day. I have an hour in the morning for writing, but not a whole day. Now, if my ambition were simply to knock out a decent op-ed a week I could do it. Alternately, I could blog volumes!

But, I have ideas for books and they take time. If I could put down a solid thousand words a week towards a book I could have one done in a year or so. I think that's optimistic because if my writing time is about 10 hours a week and I need to do research, this strikes me as very difficult (the exponents I just mentioned), but maybe. People do it.

But this brings us to the final factor.

No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.
Dr. Samuel Johnson
Would I like my written work to have some impact on the affairs of the day? Yes.
I would also like to get something out of it. I can get an academic book published. I've heard them described as very heavy business cards. If you want your book to sell and have impact you need to publicize it. At the same time if you are using your book as a business card (a very plausible strategy by the way) then it is marketing you - in which case it is part of your efforts at promotion.

What I mean is, if any of what I write is going to matter to the world or to me, I need to be marketing it, I need to promote it. I clearly stink at this.

One part of marketing would be to write short articles so that people start to see my name, so that editors are familiar with me, so that people start to follow me on social media.

I can blog away, and I don't plan to quit, but I will literally have a half-dozen readers. But if my outside writing is taken up by finishing the books, when does the promotional activity happen? (Remember, I have a day job!)

When I say excrement I don't mean my writing is bad. It's fine. It's that multiplied by zero impact it really all adds up to not much of anything.

Of course, it doesn't help that I spent my writing morning puttering around with a blog entry about how much trouble I have writing... that's on me.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

VPWriting 5: Bad Writing Days

I took Tuesday off and had three goals for the day. I accomplished two of them, so in some ways that’s a win. I went to Costco (which is a pretty heavy duty endeavor) and I got on the treadmill and ran. I did not finish a draft of a proposal for a third book idea I have. I couldn’t get up early, just exhausted, and then after the Costco trip and lunch with me wife (who was working from home) I was wiped. I just couldn’t get the writing going.

Pixabay has great free pics. I liked this one and seems to fit this post.
The proposal was due today. I lost a lot of motivation to get it in when I saw the stipend. It would get me a few months off to write – not that year I need. But I still wanted to get it submitted, because you never know and the exercise is worth doing in its own right.

Wednesday, I had my wife drive morning carpool so I could go into work late. The writing came along nicely. I had a decent working draft of the proposal (I finished it up today.) Of course at work on Wednesday the work writing was dry. I have a not an ongoing paper that I simply could not untangle. Today I had some other stuff to attend to but I’ll try again tomorrow. However, I have another work paper that I really need to get cracking on.


Sunday, January 28, 2018

VPWriting4: Apt & Updated Phrasing for the #MeToo Era

The other day I gave a short presentation where I attempted to summarize my ideas for my third book. (Not sharing any details just yet - but I have a proposal due soon: it's a long-shot!)

It is at my local Toastmasters, where I'm an active member. Unlike most Toastmasters, I didn't join because I'm petrified of speaking but rather because I love it and don't get to do it enough. I use it as comedians use Open Mike Nights (a blast from my past), that is a chance to work out new material.

I was talking about presidents and was about to observe what to me is a seminal issue in studying politics and history: is it the man or is it the moment?

We like to focus on personalities and tactics, but quite often the issues are deeply structural. Jimmy Carter wasn't a lousy politician because he was a technocratic engineer. He was actually a fantastic politician - he came out of nowhere to capture the presidency by finding a message that resonated and meeting huge numbers of people and impressing the hell out of them. He just picked the wrong time to be president.

But this post is not an extended discussion of Skowronek's work on Presidential Time. This post is about writing.

I was about to say, "Is it the man or is it the moment?" Then I realized it is sexist. So I said, "Is it the person or is it the moment?" That line doesn't resonate. It has no poetry.

Politically Correct or Courteous
First, let's consider the political correctness factor. Am I just being a wimp to PC thugs? I don't think so. The phrase I used effectively wipes women out of history. I was once schooled when I reflexively referred to scientists as "he." This is an even bigger matter.

One could tell women to be a little less sensitive, and not assume that an off-hand remark was yet another mark of the patriarchy. But when considering the vast and often off-hand discrimination and devaluation that women face, one should in fact make every possible effort to be sensitive.

Side-note, I'm a white guy. I'm Jewish, but really that has not been a big source of discrimination in my life - I am hesitant to claim that my experience puts me in a camp with African-Americans, women or any of the groups in America that suffer from serious institutionalized and social discrimination. My wife, by the way is Latina, and that at times is eye opening for me. I hope it has made me more sensitive.

But, back to me, as a white guy, the whole system works in my favor. It is just that simple. Now, I suffer from imposter syndrome and bouts of self-doubt to a huge degree - and that's with society telling me I'm great. Imagine if on top of the crippling doubt, I had society shouting at me, denigrating me, or harassing me. I'd crawl into a fetal position. Props to all the terrific women I know (including my wife) who have accomplished so much despite these obstacles.
Words. Words. Words.

My point is that this is not about political correctness, it is about courtesy.

Finding a Phrase
But now I face a writing problem. The phrase "is it the man or the moment" is so very apt. The phrase "is it the person or is it the moment" is meh. You lose the alliteration and hard p sound at the beginning ruins the flow.

My first crack at an alternative was "is it the person or is it the period?"

We've got our alliteration back, but there are too many hard sounds. I particularly don't like the d at the end. It needs to end soft, because the idea is an opening not a closing. Also, moment is a specific thing, period is less clear.

We can fix it a little by switching and saying, "is it the period or is it the person?"

Not great, but it actually sounds ok. Except that the point of the phrase "is it the man or is it the moment," is that we think of the key person first but then realize it is really about the context in which they operated. "Is it the period or is it the person," reverses this in a way that defeats the point.

I came up with another alternative: "Is it the actor or is it the scene?"

I really like it. Scene is simply a wonderful word, great sound and nicely evocative. Actor too is specific and nails down an idea. The problem is that a great actor can make a lousy scene, and a lousy actor can ruin a great one. If the point is that in many cases great leaders had the fortune to lead at the right time, does this version give the person side of the equation too much credit and agency?


Saturday, January 20, 2018

VPWriting3: Front Burner

I'm really appreciating Van Jackson's writing blog Nuke Your Darlings more and more. I keep finding myself in the same place that he's in.

I took the holiday week off to restart my efforts to turn my dissertation into a book. I didn't make as much progress as I would have liked, but I made some.

But I sort of have too many projects and - as Jones noted - one fight at a time.

But I prefer cooking metaphors (not that I cook.) What's on the front burner being stirred and what on the back burner simmering.

Let me break it down. 

Work Writing
I have writing for work. There's a paper on regulating robotics that is 90% done. One big knot, some editing, and an ExSum are all that's left. I've been puttering with it for well over a year. Then I have another paper due mid-March on risk communications and robotics. I'll be presenting it at WeRobot2018. Right now at work, I'm trying to finish paper one and read for paper two (stacking ammo as Jackson would say.) It's a lot, but if I finish paper one next week and start writing in February, at 500 words a day I'll have my paper by the end of the month.

Implementation of this plan may not go so neatly, but, we'll see.

I have a third, fourth, fifth, and sixth paper in mind afterwards - we'll see.

Work works, I have dedicated time for it.

But my side-writing...

Besides my VP book, I have an idea for another book. It's timely, but not super urgent. Still, I should get it going. So, wake up early and write for an hour before heading to work. On the day I telework and on Sunday I write longer. At night do background reading - stacking ammo - for the second book. That works. Except it leaves no time for other projects.

And I have lots of ideas.

Also, there’s another book. I need to finish up a book on Pakistan that I was writing for my last job. The book is 90% done, but 10% of a book is still a lot of work. And it just needs to get finished.

And some deadlines came up for my third book - American Political Science Association conference and a Fellowship. I'm not ready to start writing, but this is pretty critical spadework and it requires time.

So, VP book gets pushed to the back burner. Pakistan book (which in part relies on a co-author - when I get stuff to edit, I turn it around right away) goes to the front, but I crunch on an upcoming deadline for the third book (that's in a week and a half.)

Hopefully Pakistan book is done in a month or so, then back to the VP book. Hopefully, I finish it up in a few months and can turn to the third book (assuming it is accepting for the conference or the fellowship proposal.)

But meanwhile, I have a bunch of op-eds I want to write. I have this idea about the State Department, and what about a one year review of the Pence Vice Presidency, oh and the Future of AI Commission. Sigh. But all of this takes time.

I guess I should take Van Jackson's advice, (derived from the fifth rule of Fight Club): one book at a time!

So, poking at the long-simmering third book for just a bit. Then Pakistan book up front, and the VP book will have to simmer. Op-eds etc. will just have to wait.

But even still, it is a lot of stuff to cram into my side-hustle. Plus carpool, commuting and just life. I'm kind of secretly hoping the government shuts down for a little and I can focus on this stuff...