Saturday, November 24, 2007



In today's Washington Post Michael Kinsley ask how important experience is for presidential candidates. On paper Bill Richardson has the best resume but he and two very experienced U.S. Senators, a good one (Chris Dodd) and an exceptionally bad one (Joe Biden) don't seem to be gaining much traction anywhere.

After 7 years of excruciating misrule by one of the-- if not the-- least experienced, worst equipped, least competent men ever elected to find himself in the White House, voters want something more, something better. Kinsley, an Obama supporter, talks about the valuable life experience racked up by Obama and McCain. As usual, his column is superficial and trite. But he does point out an interesting perspective he got from Warren Buffett. "[W]hen people tell him that they've learned from experience, that the trick is to learn from other people's experience. George W. Bush will leave behind a rich compost heap of experience for his successor to sort through and learn from."

The worst-- and most valuable in many ways-- experiences I ever had in the music business was when I worked with the most corporate of record companies, CBS (now SONY). Coming from an idealistic indie label in San Francisco, where all workers and artists were like family, I found CBS' corporate culture foreign and toxic. It didn't take me long to realize that it was inherently catastrophic for the kind of alternative artists I was signing and that it would be impossible for their music to ever receive a fair shot through CBS. I couldn't wait to get out of there. Finally, after watching the inevitable destruction of one artist after another, I decided to go live in Peru. At that moment Seymour Stein offered me a job as general manager of Sire Records.

The CBS experience taught me everything I needed to know about what to never do to any artist. I learned about hubris and I learned about selfishness, greed, craven politics and a lack of respect and humility. I think the years working with CBS made me a far better executive for Sire and Warner Bros. I also agree with Kinsley-- if this is what he meant-- that after 2 terms of George Bush, Americans willing to learn will have gained invaluable experience about electing leaders and about holding them accountable.

A few days ago Don Hazen of Alternet interviewed author Naomi Wolf, someone who is not new to the lessons about Bush. Wolf's new book The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot makes a case for why it is imperative for Americans to start learning from history. (Watch the video of her talking about the how fascism can so easily replace, step by step, fragile democracy when citizens take everything for granted.)
in some ways it is human nature to be in denial ... but Americans have our own special version, which is profoundly dangerous. Europeans know democracies are fragile, and they could close. They had closed. Bismarckian Germany was not a democracy.

But here we're walking around... we usually have that sense that somehow our air will sustain us, even when no one else's air does. And we don't have to do anything about it. We have this like bubble, that somehow democracy will just take care of us, and we don't have to fight to protect democracy.

They can mow down democracies all over the world, but somehow we'll be just fine. But what's so ironic about that is that the Founding Fathers drafted the Bill of Rights in fear. They knew that you had to have checks and balances, because it's human nature to abuse power, no matter who you are. They knew the damage that the army could do breaking into your home... they knew that democracy is fragile, and the default is tyranny. They knew that. And that's why they created the system of checks and balances.

Wolf's entire chat with Hazen is well worth reading and I recommend it heartily-- far more, in fact, than Merle Haggard's song about Hillary Clinton's experience and why he seems to be supporting her:

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At 11:32 PM, Blogger N said...

Thanks for the link to the Wolf talk. I'm about to start her new book.

And in terms of experience, I'm now convinced it's more about judgment.

At 4:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a great picture.

At 4:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just purchased Wolf's book and saw the interview on C-SPAN recently. How timely it is and how frightening that we are so apathetic!


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