Not Ready For Prime Time

Brett O’Donnell, who received (perhaps wrongly) a lot of credit for Romney’s performance in the Florida debates, has been fired by the campaign.  There is, as they say, an app a saying for that:

1.  First-rate people hire first-rate people.

2.  Second-rate people hire third-rate people.

Whatever one thinks about Barack Obama, he seems comfortable in his own skin.  Mitt Romney is not.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

16 thoughts on “Not Ready For Prime Time”

  1. Mitt Romney would do well to remember that if he’d just tell the truth, he wouldn’t have to try so hard to remember what he’s already said!

  2. 1. I thought that this was usually expressed as a square law: first-rate people hire first-rate people; second-rate people hire fourth-rate people; etc.
    2. It’s not always true. Mario Cuomo was a first-rater, but he surrounded himself with a pathetic set of hacks. His son, at least as far as I can tell, does not make the same mistake. Or on the other hand, neither JFK nor FDR were great minds, but they surrounded themselves with really smart people. I guess that is one advantage to being to the manor born. (But there is George Bush as a counterexample.)
    3. As far as I can tell, Romney’s Svengali’s sin was that he went public, undercutting his Trilby. I don’t think he was fired for excessive competence. In politics, witch doctors are supposed to be heard, not seen.

  3. Brings to mind one of those stories about Lincoln, of which an infinite number exists. It seems that someone warned Lincoln against bring Stanton and Chase onto his cabinet. “They both think they are a great deal bigger than you,” said this person.

    Lincoln asked “Do you know of any other men who think they are a great deal bigger than me?”

    The other person said “I’m not sure. Why?”

    “Because,” said Lincoln, “I want to put them all in my cabinet.”

    To paraphrase a certain clear-eyed member of Congress – Governor Romney, you’re no Abe Lincoln.

    1. “Because,” said Lincoln, “I want to put them all in my cabinet.”

      Better to have them in the tent, pissing out, than outside the tent, pissing in?

  4. ===
    David Z
    Lincoln asked “Do you know of any other men who think they are a great deal bigger than me?”

    The other person said “I’m not sure. Why?”

    “Because,” said Lincoln, “I want to put them all in my cabinet.”

    Well, there was a lot of talk by people “around” Obama’s transition staff about the “team of rivals” thing. But the actuality turned out to be that Obama is very uncomfortable being challenged and only wants very good people who agree with his preconceptions. Try to find the White House rival to the ‘Social Security must be chopped’ line of thinking, for example, or the rival to Geithner, and you’ll be looking for a long time.


    1. Stanton and Chase were his Republican party rivals, but were any of them challenging his preconceptions? Mostly they just tried to scheme around Lincoln or usurp his authority. Stanton prosecuted the war and Chase funded it, and neither every seemed to question the general ideas. They were his ‘rivals’ because they wanted his job; Chase even put his own face on all the fiat money that the state was issuing.
      And speaking of challengers, when Chase threatened to resign when he didn’t get his way (for the 4th time), Lincoln called him on it and gave him the boot (he had already secured renomination by the Republicans, so did not need his votes anymore).

  5. Second rate people think they hire first rate people; Or at worst third rate people. In reality, “heck of a job Brownie”

  6. Ebeneezer’s point 3 is key. Staff don’t get to brag about how awesome they are a campaign. There are only so many positive stories that’ll be written about Romney and his campaign. Waste one of them on how awesome the debate prep guy is, and you diminish the value of the debate performance you’re so proud of.

    In a campaign, message discipline is part of the job, for everybody. If you’ve got to much of an ego to stay on message, you’re not first rate, no matter how brilliant you are.

    1. Sure, but is publicly firing him a good solution? Now he’s not only damaged the good stories about Romney’s debate turnaround (by stealing the limelight), he’s generated a new sort of negative story (by being fired). I think there were probably better ways to handle the situation, politically speaking.

      1. Reminds me of the old truism that there is nothing more dangerous than doing the King a favor.

  7. I’d heard it as “Second-rate people hire first rate people; third-rate people hire fourth-rate people”, from a manager who was the only non-Ph.D. at the company, at the time.

  8. The banyan style of leadership – shading out possible competitors, as with Mario Cuomo above – is all too common. I agree also that some second-raters have the knack of surrounding themselves with talent – the extreme example is Louis XIII, who delegated most of his authority first to Richelieu and then to Mazarin. Jonathan’s saw fits his case, but it’s only a weak correlation in general. I’m predicting that Apple will decline, and Microsoft survive, because of the difference between Gates’ and Jobs’ leadership styles.

  9. “Thin-skinned prick” is what I thought of as I read the article — and boy, I wonder how many of us have worked with this type! I think this is another key if subtle difference between the world of business and politics. In the world of some kinds of business it is vitally important (for your next promotion, bonus, etc.) for you to grab as much credit as you possibly can, whether you deserve it or not. However, in the world of politics, where it is vitally important that other people become as committed to your advancement as you are, whether they are 2nd, 3rd or 4th rate, sharing credit where credit is due is one of the things that separates first rate leaders from the pack. Naturally, Romney doesn’t get this.

  10. You know, someone can be a first rate something and a fifth rate something else. It’s almost always a relative designation that pertains to someone’s ability at a particular job, not to them personally.

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