Metaphors Be With You

I’ve been meaning to blog about the discussion around the “Stock Ticker and the Superjumbo” – the interesting article by Rick Perlstein, but it was promptly covered by most of the rest of the world, but in case you missed it, he argues, in short, that Boeing was a great company because it worked to ‘break the model’ with planes like the 747. It then became stalled as it trimmed it’s strategy to the quarterly flow of the markets, and drifted.

I think that’s a useful model, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which his that I think that what people want is a sense of being led toward a vision in which they could share, and that leaders who had integral visions, and could articulate them, had the chance to break open the day-to-day tactical struggle in business or politics and reshape the world.

I like that metaphor, and believe strongly that the Democratic Party is going to be a opposition party until they get that pesky vision thing down and have a vision that is more concrete than “speak truth to power” “peace” “justice” and “impeach Bush.” Those phrases bring back warm fuzzy memories of my own youth, but even then on my most pot- and jug wine addled nights I never expected anyone to actually run a country based on them.Reihan (who’s really smart and you should be reading, BTW) challenges this notion, and points out that Boeing has, once again ‘broken the model’ with the 787 Dreamliner, which appears to be beating Airbus up, eating their lunch and then making them do the dishes to boot.

Conveniently, the ad copy neglects to mention that Perlstein hangs his analysis on the many failures of Boeing, a company relentlessly focused on the “stock ticker” — i.e., short-term financial gains — as against Airbus, for decades a government-backed consortium that engaged in all of that “long-term planning,” what some might call crony capitalism, Atari Democrats loved in days past. Old habits die hard. It’s a compelling narrative. Old Europe is teaching Boeing a few new tricks, or so Perlstein, clearly not a very keen student of political economy, would have you believe. The trouble is that Boeing is kicking Airbus’s ass.

Reiohan,’s a metaphor. It’s not meant as a literal model for how the Democrats should be (Make the Democratic Party more like Airbus Industrie!!…no). It’s a useful way to explain the difference between what the Democratic Party actually does – which it to set policy by some arcane combination of scrivening of entrails (sadly, not those of the political consultants who keep leading it off cliffs) and a secret Esalen encounter group between interest group leaders – and what it should be doing, which is to sit down and craft an explicit vision of how it will make life better and more secure for the vast majority of Americans who are looking down the barrel of unstoppable globalization. Or something, anything that implies a solid connection to the future.

5 thoughts on “Metaphors Be With You”

  1. Here’s more of Rick Perlstein and his Boeing metaphor. Now we can take a test flight and see how Rick’s dream aircraft performs!

    RICK: It was around the time the CEO of Boeing brought on a short-term boost in his company’s fortunes by announcing that he was canceling plans to design a superjumbo … That would be Bill Clinton, declaring that “the age of big government is over” in his 1996 State of the Union Address.

    Jeez, the very first thing we had to do after takeoff was shove Bill Clinton out without a parachute. A trifle drastic, but this will save fuel.

    RICK: We are in the middle of a presidential election now, and I pray that the Democrats win it.

    Knock that off, Rick. Praying on an aircraft in flight is bad luck.

    RICK: The Democratic Party needs to start “getting tough” … they need bolder leaders, better slogans, bigger ideas; that they have to learn how to mobilize their “base.”

    Roger that. Whoa. I pushed the Dean switch, and the left wing banked up. We’re inverted now.

    RICK: Isn’t it also logical to hypothesize that the Democrats lost Congress not for proposing health care, but for losing on health care?

    Okay, I engaged the Hillary Health Care Proposal, and the emergency oxygen masks just deployed. I think our Radio Distress Beacon came on, too.

    RICK: Greenberg had his focus groups write imaginary postcards to President Bush and his Democratic opponent. The most poignant comes from a Florida swing voter, who wrote, plaintively: “Dear Democratic Nominee, What can you actually do better. What happened to the health care programs you promised us 8 years ago?”

    I changed my mind about the praying. Rick, put your imaginary poignant-plaintive postcards down for a minute and pray with me, okay?

    RICK: Martin Wattenberg, who has demonstrated that “registered nonvoters in 1994 were consistently more pro-Democratic than were voters on a variety of measures of partisanship.”

    Thank God. I’m switching over to Non-voter control … Wait a minute, there is no Non-voter control.

    RICK: The old ’60s bugaboos no longer keep people from voting for Democrats because so many voters are too young to remember, or care.

    Okay, Rick. We’ve eliminated one possible reason for the fact that we’re losing altitude. Losing altitude really really fast now, Rick. Not due to bugaboos, check.

    RICK: I understand why it might be hard for baby-boomer Democrats to shed the sense that they have to look a little more like the Republican Party in order to restore voters’ trust: getting spurned by Reagan Democrats was the shock that defined their political lives.

    Speaking of shedding things, I think we’re losing the wing surfaces now, Rick.

    RICK: Which brings us back to the question of stock tickers and superjumbos. Who wants to identify with an unfocused, disorganized, leaderless, sidelined, fumbling, confused, losing, scared organization?

    I’m kind of starting to identify with them right now, Rick.

    RICK: So what’s the alternative? What should the Democrats’ consistent, long-term message consist of?

    What, Rick? WHAT IS IT, RICK?

    RICK: I will avoid prescribing what it should be, other than to note that for reasons of history and structure it must tend to the work of economic equality.

    YOU CRAZY SON OF A [Expletive deleted]! YOU STUPID STUPID [Expletive deleted]!

  2. Actually, I think the metaphor works VERY well, just in total reverse.

    Boeing is a for-profit company, dependent yes on government contracts, but not OWNED by various governments. This makes it fundamentally different from Airbus which is part owned by a variety of European Governments.

    Airbus’s latest Jumbo is constructed all over Europe, and Japan, for a variety of mostly political reasons. The main aim of Airbus is not to satisfy their “customers” i.e. the buyers of airplanes, but the various political constituents in the home countries. This is why wing modules are made in isolated parts of France and barged, trucked, and otherwise transported to a central assembly area elsewhere on the continent. Add in various components in Spain, Germany, Italy, and the UK and you get a measure of the manufacturing inefficiency. Boeing also has some component parts made abroad, but nowhere near the degree that Airbus does. This allows it to operate more efficiently and produce greater levels of quality which is critical in an airplane. For example, Airbus has a specially designed plane JUST to move component parts to the central assembly area.

    Dems need to be more like BOEING, in being focused on their end customer, the voters, and a lot less like AIRBUS focused on appeasing various interest groups. They need to think, “gee what economic problem can I solve for the voter, and so get his/her vote?” This would be things like a national version of Zell Miller’s Project Hope scholarships, or homebuying assistance to first time homebuyers, or say curbing illegal immigration with the explicit promise to raise wages (along with forbidding outsourcing and requiring “American Content”). Put money in people’s pockets and they’ll vote for you.

    Along with that, they need to discard the hostility towards policing and military action. Crime imposes it’s own real costs on ordinary people, so does terrorist attacks, or the risk of one. Dems need to solve THAT problem better than the opposition and they’ll get the winning votes. As long as they are not responsive to that need, they won’t. Simple as that.

  3. A.L.,

    Can you name any Dem think tanks not funded by or aligned with Soros, Bing and/or Lewis? Can you identify a source of funding avilable to support a think tank to take up the issues you raise?

    The SBL, Ltd. design group has selected the Lockheed Constellation as the model to carry the Dems clear to the end. There are more seats available every day, even with the cutback in the number of flights.

    I’m having a little trouble parsing this: “for the vast majority of Americans who are looking down the barrel of unstoppable globalization.” You’re speaking of the vast majority of that fraction of the workforce affected by globalization, right?

  4. I’m getting a giggle out of the idea that the worst two things about the Bush administration is that George Bush supposedly won’t listen to the world but will trade with it.

    And of course, the corollary which is that what we ought to do is listen more to the world’s opinion of our foreign policy while denying them the ability to sell their goods to us.

    Its just not sinking in to my feeble mind …

  5. I was right with you Rockford until you got to the America can’t compete part. i.e. sourcing laws, which because we can’t get our inputs from the low cost producer makes us less competitive.

    What a brilliant idea.


    Note to left: until you get economics you are dead in the water.

    Economic growth will do more to lift people out of poverty than any government program. Problem for the Dems is that growth creates more inequality.

    What to do?

    Nothing until socialism is gone from the bones.

    How do you live for a while with no bones? Tricky.



    Ignorance of economics is the key.

    The Republicans have their own socialisms (the drug war) but they tend to be isolated rather than universal.

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