Rasslin’ With Power

Perhaps the two most tawdry spectacles in America are politics and professional wrestling, and president-elect Donald Trump has managed to merge them into something tawdrier yet. Trump has been a past performer in the professional rasslin’ ring, having famously shaved the head of World Wrestling Entertainment owner Vince McMahon following their “Battle of the Billionaires” at “Wrestlemania XXIII,” and now he’s recruited his past faux foe’s wife and business partner to run the Small Business Administration.
Linda McMahon is not without qualifications for the job, we must admit. Say what you will about the WWE, the McMahons have brought it from a small time local circuit to a big money-making global monopoly, and she’s also the founder and chief executive of Women’s Leadership Live, which advises independent businesswomen. In addition, she has some political experience from running a failed race for a Senate seat in Connecticut, where the “tea party” wave of 2010 didn’t quite reach, and she once staged a slapping match with her daughter for the entertainment of a crowd and has survived being kicked and body-slammed by Steve “Stone Cold” Austin‘and “tombstoned” by a behemoth named Kane, so at least she acts like she fights.
More pertinent selling points, we’re guessing, include her longstanding business relationship with Trump, the $6.5 million she contributed to his campaign, and the $5 million she’s contributed to the Trump Foundation, which supports such worthy causes as the reelection campaign of that Florida Attorney General who decided shortly after the check cleared to not pursue a case against Trump University. Trump frequently boasted during the campaign of all the favors he’d bought from politicians during his dazzling career, on the other hand, so perhaps he just considered the contributions another example of the business savvy McMahon will bring to the job, which is the very logic that got him elected.
In any case, we hold to a firm belief in the separation of politics and political wrestling, and contend that if only the founding fathers had been more farsighted they would have surely put something about in the Constitution. The last time the two came together was back in ’98 when Jesse “The Body” Ventura beat out Hubert Humphrey’s son and a perfectly reasonable Republican to become governor of Minnesota, and that did not end well. His crazy proposals for a unicameral legislature and instant run-off voting were rejected by both parties, 45 of the bills that did get passed were vetoed, he was bogged down a recall effort that focused on his use of state funds for a promotional book tour, and he left after one contentious term blaming everything on the media. Since then he’s been best known for peddling crackpot conspiracies and getting in bar fights with war heroes, and Minnesotans are still trying to remember what they were so fired-up angry about when electing him.
At the risk of sounding unfashionably elitist, we’d prefer that people in positions of political power have an innate sense of dignity that precludes them prancing around a ring in a feather boa, as “The Body” used to do, or shaving an opponent’s head, as “The Donald” once did, or getting “tombstoned” by some one-named giant in leotards or slap-fighting a daughter, as “The New Head of the Small Business Administration” has done. Presidents and their highest appointees were once recruited from the best of industry, academia, the military, sometimes the arts, oftentimes those who had proved themselves over long careers in politics, and although they frequently failed at least they did so with a certain dignified bearing. This is an age when reality shows and fake fights are all the rage, though, and with everyone so fired-up angry about something we suppose that the WWE’s newfound political was bound to happen.

— Bud Norman

The Re-Organization Man

Work for an organization of any size for any length of time and you will eventually be re-organized.

Over many years in the newspaper business we went through it often enough to notice two kinds of re-organizations. The first kind, and by far the most fearsome, was forced by economic necessity. With revenues shrinking due to those darned internet sites and other changes in the news industry, these re-organizations involved significant numbers of lay-offs and forced the remaining staff to either do more with less or, as on most occasions, simply do less. The other kind, relatively benign and more easily survived, is motivated by some manager’s desire to fool the higher-ups into thinking that he’s actually doing something. These re-organizations mostly involve a change of nomenclature, such as calling the various departments “teams” rather than “departments,” and usually wind up with the same people doing the same things but with new business cards.

The plan announced Friday by President Barack Obama to re-organize a small portion of the federal government — or “streamline” it, as CNN’s headline approvingly phrased it — strikes us as one of the latter kind of re-organizations. With $15 trillion in debt and a bigger payroll than ever, the government so obviously requires downsizing that even such a devotee of big government as Obama can see it. Obama’s proposal is considerably smaller than what is necessary, however, and there is reason to believe that he might not be serious about making even such minor changes.

The plan would eliminate the Commerce Department, something conservatives have long fantasized about, but replace it with a new and as yet unnamed agency that would retain almost all of the old bureaucracy and also include the U.S. Trade Representative, the Export-Import Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corp., the Trade and Development Agency, and the Small Business Administration. By the White House’s own reckoning the plan would cut only 1,000 to 2,000 jobs — all through attrition, meaning that people with jobs that don’t need to be done can stay at work until they decide to take their generous pensions — and save only $3 billion over 10 years, which is about one-third of a day’s spending by the government. All of which spoils the conservative fantasy while upsetting liberals with a special interest in one of the affected agencies, meaning that the plan is unlikely to win approval from congress.

This suggests that Obama is merely trying to make his bosses, meaning the voters mulling whether to renew his contract or not, think that he’s doing something. The plan allows Obama to claim he’s not really the big government devotee that the past three years and $4 trillion have made him seem, and instead pose as a ruthlessly efficient manager paring down a bloated bureaucracy. If the plan doesn’t pass because of bi-partisan opposition, he can still claim to be doing with a battle with a “do-nothing” congress while counting on the support of the placated Democrats who voted against him.

The generally administration-friendly National Journal goes so far as to say that the president is trying to “Out-Romney Romney,” which exposes the flaw in his re-election strategy. Obama will dearly want to attack likely Republican nominee Mitt Romney as a ruthless downsizer who laid off workers in the name of mere economic efficiency during his days with the Bain Capital firm, an argument that will come from his community organizer’s heart, but it would be starkly inconsistent for him to do so while boasting of his own ruthless downsizing.

Our guess is that he’ll go ahead and do both, inconsistency be damned, and hope that nobody notices.

— Bud Norman