Friday, March 26, 2010

Phases of a crisis

The suicide machine known as the Republican Party should be facing a massive recall right about now, the better to find a way to stop the episodes of unintended acceleration that make the GOP vulnerable to going over a cliff between now and November.

There doesn’t seem to be an emergency brake or kill switch anywhere in the machinery. In their inexorable drive toward unswerving ideological purity, conservatives are imposing what amount to loyalty oaths on their followers, and woe unto those apostates who wander too far off the grounds.

David Frum can testify to that. Frum, author, former Bush 41 speechwriter and a true believer in conservative principles, was “terminated” yesterday from his staff position at the American Enterprise Institute, after Frum made on-air comments on MSNBC, and wrote an opinion piece for finding fault with the failed Republican strategy for derailing the health-care legislation that is now the law of the land. In the CNN column, Frum said the health care issue had proven to been a sad turnabout of last year’s conservative confidence:

“The ‘Waterloo’ threatened by [South Carolina Senator] Jim DeMint last year regarding Obama and health care has finally arrived all right: Only it turns out to be our own.”

Frum may also have been cashiered for putting talk-radio Rottweiler and former recreational pharmaceutical enthusiast Rush Limbaugh in his place. Also from the CNN piece:

“When Rush Limbaugh said that he wanted Obama to fail, he was intelligently explaining his own interests. What he omitted to say -- but what is equally true -- is that he also wants Republicans to fail.

“If Republicans succeed -- if they govern successfully in office and negotiate attractive compromises out of office -- Rush's listeners get less angry. And if they are less angry, they listen to the radio less and hear fewer ads for Sleep Number beds.”

Then, in another rare burst of conservative candor, Frum said on ABC’s “Nightline” that the right-wing ideological bent of Fox news, and the Republican Party’s dance with that network was damaging to the credibility of the party.

"We're discovering we work for Fox," he told ABC.

Frum has insisted the excommunication was his idea, after AEI leadership offered him the chance to stay and work for free. It’s hard out there for everyone, even conservative columnists. No doubt disenchanted with making pro bono work a part of his résumé, Frum announced his departure. “Premises will be vacated no later than April 9,” he wrote in a letter to AEI president Arthur Brooks.

Ja Car commented at The Huffington Post: "Somebody forgot to tell Frum AEI is a 'we tell you what to think tank.'"

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It’s more evidence (like you need any more) that the Republican Party is experiencing the kind of existential crisis that occurs in large corporations and other unwieldy human enterprises, and for at least some of the same reasons. There’s insight from the corporate world that’s easily analogized to the travails of the GOP.

The American Press Institute held a conference of CEOs from various media concerns in November 2008. The conference had, among things, the mission of discussing survival options and timetables for the newspaper industry in a time of unprecedented challenge, and crisis, for print journalism.

In a summary, one that made use of the graph you see here, the Institute entertained the advice of a business turnaround specialist and professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, who determined that companies under such stress “should start [course correction] by plotting their place on a ‘Phases of a Crisis’ chart. The earliest stage is indicated by a company essentially blind to eroding conditions undermining its business. This is followed by acknowledgement but inaction, followed by faulty action in hopes of a quick fix, followed by full-blown crisis and finally dissolution of the enterprise.”

According to the specialist, “[F]ailure to take action at any point on the curve means the enterprise inexorably moves to the next point. As an organization moves down the crisis curve, it will find executing a recovery plan more difficult, and will have less time to do it.”

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Where the Republican Party is on this hypothetically relentless downhill trajectory is open to debate. Trying to get a sense of “rock bottom” is hard to do when the rocks that are presumably at the bottom keep moving under your feet. Some observers will say the GOP is at the top of this poison wave — somewhere in the vicinity of the P1 value: “Blinded,” unable to look past ideology in order to see the ruinous course it’s on. Others will say the grim slide is well underway, and that the GOP is leaving the P3 zone (“faulty action”) and headed straight for P4 — full-on “crisis.”

Recent behavior by Republicans suggests that they’re on the outskirts of crisis this minute. The leadership would do well to look into this. Despite the fact that the graph was prepared to address problems in a completely different organizational structure, the Phases of Crisis graph looks to be as applicable for a rudderless political party as it is for a newspaper business, another concern that hasn't kept pace with a changing world.

Image credits: David Frum: NBC News. Limbaugh, October 2009: NBC News. Phases of a Crisis graph: American Press Institute/Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University.

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