tv Book Discussion on Why Presidents Fail And How They Can Succeed Again CSPAN August 14, 2016 11:00pm-11:42pm EDT
going. so welcome. make yourself comfortable. before we get started, just a few housekeeping notes. if you you could take the time to silence your cell phone. while you have your phone out, you don't have to turn it off. you can follow us on facebook and twitter and instagram. you can sign up for our email newsletter if you haven't already. we would love for you to visit our website. it's kramer.com and on our website, you can find all of our events and sign up for our newsletter so that way you will keep on top of all of the great stuff we have going on like tonight's event. my name is sarah and i'm the events director and is my pleasure to welcome you and my pleasure to welcome alain and her book why presidents fail and how they can succeed. for those of you don't know she is a senior fellow at brookings and the founding director of the center for effective public management.
she's also on the faculty of the harvard school of government. in this new book she argues that presidents today spend too much time talking and not enough time governing. sounds like some people we might know. i'm so glad she is here to share this very timely book with us. please join me in welcoming her. [applause] >> thank you very much. thank you for coming out on this muggy august night. i want to talk briefly about the book and read a couple passages and then take any comments or questions people may have. there are a lot of books written about presidents, how they communicate, communicate, how they campaign, et cetera. there are very few books, and this is one, written about the president's relationship with the bureaucracy or the permanent government. that in fact he or she is in charge in.
this book focuses on that relationship. if you go through a series of failures which i call, and this is a very political political science turn, crash and burn, these are crash and burn failures that i talked about in the book. i talk about, it's totally a bipartisan book. i have two democratic presidents, one republican president and it is not about parties, it is about the job of the president. i talked about, the first thing i talk about is the iranian rescue failure in 1980, some of you here can remember that and i then talk about, that was the carter administration and then i talk about three failures from the bush administration, the 911 and the iraq war and the financial crisis and hurricane katrina.
i talk about two failures from the obama administration, the affordable care act rollout and the failure of the administration to care for our veterans. what runs through all of these is that presidents, modern presidents are so obsessed with talking and campaigning and going places that they failed to take the time to think about the third step of leadership which is implementing policy. in fact, i start start the book with a quote from thomas jefferson, the law is more important than the making of them. if you think of leadership as three tasks, getting the the answer right, the policy right, communicating that and then implementing it, the argument i make in this book is that presidents spend so much time on communication that leaves them them little time to think about
how they are going to implement the policies they want to implement. that involves understanding something that, in the business schools, we call organizational capacity. is the federal government, is the piece that you're giving this job too, is, is it capable, is it up to the job? to give you an example of why there is this disconnect, let me read you a little portion. whenever america gets a new president and vice president, a team of government workers from the general services administration is responsible for taking them the photos of the outgoing photos and putting up photos of the new ones. while the rest of the country is digesting the election results and slowing down for the holidays, this team is working
overtime. they must get official photographs taken of the new leaders, have them reproduced in the thousands and then make plans to put them up in 8603 government and three government offices in the united states, approximately 250 embassies and consulates and between 501,000 u.s. military installations around the world. that's depending on whether were at war and how you count them. this is no small undertaking. as the switch must be accomplished in a short amount of time from just before to just afternoon on inauguration day. the symbolism is immense. on the day after inauguration day, approximately 2.7 million civilians and 1.5 million military personnel who work for uncle sam come to their offices.
the claims adjuster at the social security office in rochester, new york is deputy chief in albania. the first ranger at yellowstone national park, the biologist at the center for disease control in atlanta and the soldier station. they all see the same thing when they arrive. their new boss. they may not have voted for the new boss, in fact they may hate him or her, this new team, this new party but they all know who the boss is and they've all entered government service knowing that whether they liked the president or not, they work for the president. now let's go over to the white house. on the morning after the unnatural festivities, a tired and maybe slightly hung over president and vice president get to work. there are plenty of new people around the workflow.
most of them however are in military uniform. they open the door, find a helicopter, lands and sit on top of the white house. with these new employees do not actually do is talk to the president. in fact, on that that first morning after the inauguration, the people most likely to talk to the new president are the same ones who have been talking for the past two years. his closest campaign advisors. there will be some new faces. every morning the cia sons over someone with a briefcase to handcuff to his wrist to present the president's daily brief, a compilation of the most sensitive goings on collected covertly and overtly by american spies. some are undercover and are probably the only federal employees who don't walk into an office on the morning on after election day and see photos of
the new president and vice president. most of the people the president sees every day will be the same people he saw when he was campaigning. right there you see the disconnect that begins very early on relief from the first or of the presidency. but the president will have a hard time understanding, which frankly any human being would is just how large and how complicated the government that they run is. no wonder, being human, presidents like to revert to what they always did before. they campaigned, they talked, they gave speeches, gave speeches, they went on television, they appeared in beautiful settings, custom-made for the camera. what they didn't do is figure out, what is going on in the organization down the street. what is actually happening
across the river. what have people said about them for the past five, six, 30, 40 years? what do i need to know. not surprisingly, presidents don't do that. they keep on doing what they have been doing. in that they miss a couple of important things. two, let me mention right now. one is that with governments this big, somebody always knows the answer. somebody knows the answer. the question is, will the president be able to get the answer. will he or she be able to figure out what the competing explanations are for that complicated question. the second thing that the president doesn't really understand that in a government this big, at any given point time, something is something is going very right and something
is going very wrong. let me read you another short excerpt from a chapter that i called spacewalk and crashing websites. on december 21, 2013, to americans, michael hopkins attached to being an electrical connectors from a malfunctioning cooling pump. this may sound very ordinary until you realize that the two americans were astronauts and the cooling pump they were fixing was part of the international space station 240 miles above the earth. during their five and a half hour spacewalk, they wore suits designed to protect them from the lack of oxygen, the freezing temperatures and the cosmic dust that makes space an inhospitable place for humans, to say the least.
two months earlier on october 1, 2013, millions of americans in search of a subsidized health insurance logged on to the new federal website healthcare.gov hoping to buy insurance as easily as they could buy a plane ticket on expedia.com or a book, or so they thought. instead to to the dismay of many american shopping for health insurance and to the surprise of president obama and his top staff, the websites crash. not once not twice but again and again and again, over a period of two long months. the press erected in a frenzy over the inability of the federal government to build a website at the heart of the health care reform. they were joined by polarized asymmetry, half of whom wanted to buy health insurance and were frustrated and half of who saw the whole episode as more evidence that the government
couldn't organize a two-car funeral. they decided the federal government couldn't do technology. the government was hopeless. yet, no one seemed to notice the technological marvel of men walking in space to repair to repair was accomplished in exactly the same manner as the website was built. several contractors worked with a variety of companies from a little-known company in massachusetts that made this bay suit to boeing that designed and built some of the most sophisticated components of the space station. in another part of the government, the one dealing with healthcare federal employees at the center for medicare and medicaid services had contracted this information technology company in the private sector to build the infamous website.
the success of the spacewalk started to go unnoted while the failure of the website ruin president obama's christmas, pushed his approval rating to new lows and convinced americans ready to be convinced that obama and the government he was in charge of were hopelessly inapt. so, why do we care about this? okay, we care about this because one presidents experience these large-scale governmental failures and two things happen. one is their political capital goes way down. nobody expects president obama to write the code to the website. nobody expected jimmy carter to fly the helicopters into baghdad and rested rescue the hostages, but americans do expect the president to be on top of the apparatus of the government. of course, a lot of these
stories in here have presidents who were just as surprised as everybody else, who chose a dangerous distance from the government they run. second reason we should care is that every time we have a massive government failure, citizens who are ethical about government in the first place become more and more convinced that the government can't do anything right. one of president clinton's favorite sayings, and he still says it, if you hear him on the tv, he will still say it from time to time was most people think the government can't organize a two-car funeral. and it's so true. every time there's one of these big failures, that's what happens. now i'm not arguing in the book that we can prevent all failures. we can't. many of these things happen.
what i am arguing is that if presidents spent a little more time on governing and a little less time on talking, they might reduce the probability of failure. so as we go through the case studies in the book, in each instance the following thing happens. there are multiple warning signs that the piece of the government that the president gave the job to, whatever the job was, there are multiple warning signs that that organization was in trouble. it was just simply in trouble. it was not up to the job. poor president carter was confronted with the military where, for four decades before the attempted rescue mission higher-level military commissions had in fact argued that the government as constituted could not do joint
exercises and could not put forth a joint plan. also what happened is that all the special forces were dismantled in the decade before jimmy carter became president. so he then proceeds to order a rescue mission which is dependent on the three branches of the military cooperating with each other and with no real special forces command. there wasn't, now we have a full-scale command. that failure was one of those big crash and burn failures, because it happened in president carter's first term, in fact he lost the election to reagan, it happened in april and he lost big-time in november and the fact is, if there were so many warning signs along the way. in each of the stories that i tell in the book, there are
plenty of warning signs that failure is likely to happen. so let me just pause by going to the second part of the book and how they can succeed again. i want to talk about two things here. one is the organization of the white house itself. the white house is not organized to understand the government they run. it gives lots of attention to communications, lots of attention to politics, lots of attention to the formulation of policy that is the presidential priority but very little attention to the executive branch of the government which is massive and which i argue in this book, presidents need to understand. the first recommendation of how they can succeed again is a very organizational one which is they
have to bebop the department of fares, stop thinking of cabinet secretaries as people who go out and make speeches on the message of the day which is frankly of what they think of in the white house and understand that cabinet secretaries are there ambassadors to this mammoth organization. secondly, along those lines is that i advocate an early warning system set up in the white house so that presidents can understand what might be going wrong out there because it doesn't matter. when one of these things blow up, it doesn't matter if it started under the other guy. the current president takes the hit. the current president is the one that gets all the complaints and loses political capital and can't pass the rest of their agenda and sometimes loses the midterm election or general election. it doesn't really matter when it
started. what matters is when it blows up. an early warning system would prevent that. finally apropos to what were living through today, we have a a primary system, a nomination system that has many good aspects to it, but it differs from the old-fashioned nomination system in one critical way. we use to nominate presidents within political parties by conventions composed only of those superdelegates. for most of american history, that is how we, primaries if they were held at all didn't matter. roosevelt was nominated by super delegates, et cetera. when we moved to a system of primaries, many advantages advantages to that, it was much more open but we lost something. what we lost was what i call peer-reviewed.
in other words, the electorate was not in the same business of government and governing whereas in the old system, people were in the same business. i like to tell the following imaginary story. in 1960, jack kennedy had to win the support of governor lawrence of pennsylvania in order to win the nomination. he controlled all the delegates from pennsylvania. you can imagine that between kennedy and bobby kennedy, there are money filled rooms with cigars and brown liquid being consumed. you can imagine that they talked about real things. they talk about could he win, they they talk about could he govern, et cetera. i want you to imagine donald trump being in a room with the equivalence of governor lawrence and lighting a cigar and drinking his whiskey and saying,
zero yeah, i'm in a a bill the wall and make mexico pay for. the governor would say, being being a person who runs a government, what? what are you smoking in that cigar? it just wouldn't pass the smell test. we've lost something of peer-reviewed. the only peer review that we have, and this is a very close, is it press these days, but the press has fallen victim to the quick bait society where they just want clicks and clicks and clicks and so they're not very interested in drilling on what a candidate knows or how realistic his or her plans are. i don't have as clear in answer to that problem as i do to the first one, to organizing the white house, but it is clear that we have to do a better job of evaluating not just what
presidents say, but can they do it. when they can't do it, when they fail to implement, those failures are so big that all the spinmeisters in the world and all the bad people and great television producers cannot get them out of trouble. that's what these failures tell us about recent american history. thank you very much and i will take comments and questions. [applause] >> yes, ray here. >> alina, i'm writing a book about about the 1960 democratic. >> oh my gosh. it's nice to have you here. >> through the eyes. >> oh my goodness. >> in doing that, i interviewed a fellow who was chief of staff
to sam rayburn. he gave me a great quote. he said, he reminded me that the currency of politics is your word, i mean here's the guy who changes his word not only every week or every month, but every hour. he also doesn't show any interest in government, as you pointed out. if david lawrence was in the room with him and he couldn't keep his word, i mean for professional politician where they rely on your word to make a grievance, the quickness of events, as you know from your days of the white house. >> that's great. i can't wait to see this book.
i will read it. thank you. >> can you summarize his comment? >> okay so this gentleman is writing a book about the 1960 presidential campaign through the eyes of the stevenson organization and he makes two critical points wishes that politicians have to keep their word and politicians have to know something about governing and those certain politicians named donald trump doesn't know about either one of them and i think that's an astute observation. this is a really big american problem because people believe in the people running for president and they have consistently not delivered. it's a bipartisan problem. there's no question about it. so what you get is you get this disenchantment with our electoral system and a lack of
trust. it's corrosive. it's terribly corrosive. i'm hoping maybe we've reached the nadir of it and we can start to come back after this election. >> yes. >> the new yorker ran an article recently on obama's failure to close guantánamo. did you read it? >> no. >> well it delves into the history and all the different facets and bureaucracy. i just wondered if you had no opinion on whether obama had seen those warning signs beforehand. in eight years, or almost eight years, maybe it's going to happen. >> that is a great example of what it's like to be bipartisan. that's a great example of presidents for presidents to be not having any sense of what the actual problems were in doing that. you could have known that, it was noble. part of the argument i make in the book is that a lot of the
things that go wrong are not acts of god. they are knowable and has a time somebody knows something about the government and they know what's written about the government. this is maybe the clearest example. here we are maybe seven half years into the administration and we haven't closed guantánamo a lot of this, no offense to speechwriters who my i love, but a lot of this are these lines that they come up with are so wonderful sometimes. they're so compelling and nothing differentiated barack obama from george bush more than i'm going to close guantánamo. everybody at the time was saying, no you're not. who's going to take these people. are you really going to put them in maximum-security prisons? one the communities go crazy mark i mean it was on and on and
on. it was all kind of noble. that's one of the things i talk about in the book. if you understand the government your running, you won't be able to avoid failure but you may be able to limit failure. >> i wouldn't use communication, i would use marketing because i think it could become marketing strategies that have nothing to do with politics. as i listened i got more more uncomfortable because what's the role of the citizen once the president gets elected? it seems like the pictures are the elite yale, harvard, stanford, as a labor organizer, i don't want to go to those schools but i'm not going to go to those schools and the people i work with and organize have different interests than these
insiders do. as dangerous as trump is, he's tapping into the fear and the disorientation and all the broken promises, but it seems you want to eliminate citizens or reduce us to choosing a president every four years and then going back into the woodwork until we have another marketing strategy where we choose between the conservative hillary clinton establishment or overhear you have bernie sanders and there's a lot in there but i'm really worried citizens are disappearing to the elite. >> no i'm thing quite the opposite which is i think voters need to be more exposed to how they debate and watch in the press. they need to be more exposed to the problems of governing so
they can make better choices and they won't fall and have expectations that are constantly bashed. they need to be asking candidates, that sounds great, how are you going to do it? has it going to happen? the citizens are asking that. the press isn't asking that. they are the ones that ultimately hold the president accountable for the failures. :
[inaudible conversations] [inaudible] more public citizens -- >> let's start with ronald reagan. we think of ronald reagan as a movie actor and the second term when he was beginning to show signs of alzheimer's. we forget and have to go back. ronald reagan was the leader of the conservative movement in the united states. he had a coherent view of government and politics which he
brought with him to the white house, and he was a two-term governor of california, the biggest state in the union that's the size of many countries in the world. in other words, when reagan came to office, he had behind him a rich background in actually trying to implement his conservative philosophy. so he had a philosophy and some experience to try to make that philosophy actually happen so that as a way t is a way to loou have to look at the whole package. what about this person, this candidate makes us think that he or she can deliver what they are saying and that's one of the please i'm making in the buck. >> it's an extreme example
making promises. if she doesn't make those promises people will not get elected so how are you suggesting the reality? >> you have to balance that. hillary clinton was great coming to the college position because she knew all the problems with it including the fact that it could end up being a great big giveaway. that is a problem with it. she was getting there and made a political judgment and obviously when she gets into judgment she has to figure out how do i do this, how do i make good on most of this promise and make sure that everybody can go to college
without spending so much money on kids going to harvard and yale and that's going to be her challenge in governing. the question is how unrealistic are they. it is a panoply of real things. that's one. there are much worse the presidential candidates have made. most of them don't understand the government they run. i think hillary clinton does. and if the citizens have been divorced from this, from being given a realistic consensus because as the gentleman said it is so body. we are selling stuff without anybody seriously saying can you really do that, how would you do that, do you want to do that.
the center for medicare and medicaid services which were given the affordable care act, can they actually do what you are asking them to do and i think that is something that is missing in our politics. it is more difficult getting into it. >> i don't want to be simplistic i will come up here so all of you can hear. we have an example of the elected officials being elected to sell their ideas but a higher city managers and i'm just wondering if federal government
implementers the politics would have to deflate with so the president could have a chief of staff as well as a city manager. >> in great britain or canada, they have their senior civil servant in the government who interacts directly with the minister. we have layere have later been a cabinet secretary and senior civil servants who know where all the bodies are buried and what works and what doesn't work. we have layered a lot of people including a lot of smart young people who worked in the campaigns to get these jobs. they never last very long and they come to the school of harvard or go to law school because they are bored to death and don't know what they are doing. and we have only aired them in n
between the cabinet secretary and senior civil service who should be getting heard and don't. so one thing i would do is send that out and i think that there are people like most in the government have been there for decades. they know it's going to work. they know a lot of this stuff. there is resistance to change which every president has to cope with. the senior civil servants also know if they just wait, everything will start all over again. so there is a problem with that. but it is the layering that has magnified the problem the president has going and which is the problem of spending all of their time in a marketing campaign or communications
campaign and not enough time actually making what they promised pathing. >> [inaudible] does it account for this dynam dynamic? >> i'm less interested in communications in this book and more interested in implementing policy. interestingly enough, the liberals or progressives, this is important because liberals and progressives want the government to work and want the
government to help people and get rid of inequality and provide opportunity, etc.. it's important ironically for conservatives. only they have such reflexive hostility and the government that they don't get it. conservatives want to cut the government. we started in 1994 with the gingrich revolution and we had plenty of very conservative presidents. we have many years now and that conservative house of representatives and the government is no smaller than it was in their primary mission they have failed. one of the reasons they have failed is the art of allergic so they need to figure out what is it we need the government to do and that we can give to the state court stop doing whatever. so they just lost everything off the top.
then what happens, we don't have enough air traffic controllers from everybody's mad and then congress says what are you doing and they give back the money. so ironically they are used to liberals caring about governme government. they have been failures as their stated objectives of making government smaller and part of it is this inattentiveness to the actual functioning of what many people call the bureaucracy and i like to call it the permanent government because it is more or less permanent. [applause] please help us by folding up
your chairs, come up, say hello. and [inaudible conversations] when i tune in on the weekends usually it is authors sharing new releases. >> watching nonfiction authors on booktv is the best television for serious readers. on c-span they can have a longer conversation and to delve into the subject. >> booktv weekends, they bring