Saturday, September 20, 2008

Fighter Pilot or Commander in Chief?

In combat, a fighter pilot must make split-second life-and-death decisions. It's often better to make the wrong decision fast than the right one slowly. The commander-in-chief, by contrast, almost always has plenty of time to make decisions, at least a day or two and often months. However, bad decisions don't mean disaster for one man, they mean disaster for the whole nation.

John McCain was a fighter pilot (1) and appears to make his decisions like a fighter pilot. When faced with the current financial crisis, one day he said the economy was 'fundamentally sound,' the next day said he'd fire the head of the SEC (2), he then railed against greed on Wall Street and called for a taxpayer supported entity to take over bad debt. McCain also abandoned his Republican decades-old commitment to deregulation. McCain is twisting and turning like a fighter pilot evading a missile; but with one difference, Bush actually controls the plane and McCain is getting in the way.

Obama typically makes decisions by gathering the relevant facts, consulting with top-notch people who disagree with him, thinking things through, and choosing a course of action consistent with his core beliefs and principles. For example, Obama responded to the financial crisis by noting that this is the logical consequence of Republican economic philosophy (3), taking some time to think through the issues, meeting with men like Warren Buffet, and postponing publicizing his plans to avoid causing problems for the Bush administration who, however unfortunately, are actually in control and make the decisions until January. The whole time, Obama stayed consistent with the major principles he enunciated in major economic speeches he gave months ago.

Which approach do you think will work best for a commander-in-chief?


(1) Although apparently not a very good one. He lost three aircraft in peacetime accidents, one in a wartime accident, and one in combat.

(2) Interestingly, although the President appoints the head of the SEC, the President cannot fire him as the SEC is an independent agency.

(3) Get the government out of the way and let the markets do their thing.

No comments: