David Frum: Hopes and Worries for John McCain

Question: What are your hopes and worries for Candidate McCain?

David Frum: John McCain offers something very exciting to the Republican Party. That is, he offers the possibility of reform and change and transformation. That's really what his career as a politician has been about.

The downside, the weakness of his candidacy, is that, as fervent as he is about the need for change, the actual content of the things he offers has always been a little thin.

John McCain has brought his greatest reforming energy to issues about which people tend to care very little. And he also has a very weak screen for sorting good ideas from bad. So in campaign finance, for example, he became tremendously infatuated with a series of solutions that almost everyone else who looked at them said, "These solutions are going to make worse all the problems that you say you care about. And if what you're concerned about is a kind of bias of the political system toward the wealthy and powerful, then McCain-Feingold is going to make that problem a lot worse"--as indeed it's done. So I worry about that.

I served very briefly in government, and not in a very important job, but that short experience created in me an even greater respect than I already felt for the importance of executive management, the ability to make things work. Those are very particular human skills and they are not developed by a career in the Senate. Nor is the Senate a good place to become a close student of the consequences, both intended and unintended, of the bright ideas that occur to you.

Question: What defines great leadership?

David Frum: I don't think there is such a thing as leadership in the general sense.

You see all these books on the bookshelves that will say, "Leadership Secrets of Joan of Arc." Now, the kind of leadership that inspired a mob of semi-literate French soldier peasants to fight a foreign invader five hundred years ago, those are not necessarily the same techniques you use to organize the company softball team.

John McCain tries to draw a distinction between leadership and management, but usually what happens when people talk about leadership is they end up describing themselves. All the characteristics that they have, all the good points they have, they say that is the essence of leadership and they set aside all the things they don't have as not important.

To run the U.S. government effectively requires tremendous attention to detail, it requires tremendous follow-through.  The government is a tremendously resistant machine. It is very hard to make it do the things you want it to do. It's never enough to set broad goals and it's never enough to inspire people. You actually have to manage the beast day by day by day. And to make it go in a direction in which it's not already going, that requires not just the exciting quality of the orator or the exciting qualities of the visionary, that requires some of the very daily humdrum qualities of the manager, of the person who checks that the job is being done, follows through, holds people accountable.

Recorded on: May 5 2008

 

 

 

Reform, change and transformation are hopes. Obsession with the wrong issues, like campaign finance reform, are worries.

A dark matter hurricane is crashing into Earth

Giving our solar system a "slap in the face"

Surprising Science
  • A stream of galactic debris is hurtling at us, pulling dark matter along with it
  • It's traveling so quickly it's been described as a hurricane of dark matter
  • Scientists are excited to set their particle detectors at the onslffaught
Keep reading Show less

Science confirms: Earth has more than one 'moon'

Two massive clouds of dust in orbit around the Earth have been discussed for years and finally proven to exist.

J. Sliz-Balogh, A. Barta and G. Horvath
Surprising Science
  • Hungarian astronomers have proven the existence of two "pseudo-satellites" in orbit around the earth.
  • These dust clouds were first discovered in the sixties, but are so difficult to spot that scientists have debated their existence since then.
  • The findings may be used to decide where to put satellites in the future and will have to be considered when interplanetary space missions are undertaken.
Keep reading Show less

New study reveals what time we burn the most calories

Once again, our circadian rhythm points the way.

Photo: Victor Freitas / Unsplash
Surprising Science
  • Seven individuals were locked inside a windowless, internetless room for 37 days.
  • While at rest, they burned 130 more calories at 5 p.m. than at 5 a.m.
  • Morning time again shown not to be the best time to eat.
Keep reading Show less