Jewish World Review Oct. 13, 2003 / 17 Tishrei, 5764
Dull man walking: Why Gray was too gray
http://www.jewishworldreview.com | I think I know the real reason why Gray Davis didn't survive the recall race in California. Forget about that energy crisis, or the mounting budget deficits or all those hikes in state-college tuition. Those were big problems, but nothing compared to old Gray himself.
I'm sorry to say this, and no offense to the outgoing governor, but Gray was gray. Gray was bland. Gray was dull. Gray couldn't inspire a cricket, which clearly explains why he didn't inspire a majority of California voters.
I once had a friend like Gray. His name was Chip, which you'd think would imply someone pretty chipper. You'd be wrong. Chip didn't talk much and never wanted to do much. It'd be a Friday at college, and I'd shoot half-a-dozen ideas by him for a night on the town (which in the very rural area of southwestern New York, where I went to school, often involved a commute). But no matter, Chip shot 'em all down. Chip was a dip. A good guy, but a boring guy. I'd love to say he was reliable, but he was so damn dull, I couldn't even ascertain that much.
Chip and I went our separate ways. But I think he came back years later, moved to California, and renamed himself Gray. Because this Gray Davis looks and sounds so much like him. Don't get me wrong. There's nothing wrong with being dull. I'm hardly John Kennedy myself. But I do like a laugh now and then. I don't think Gray has ever so much as smiled.
That's not a good thing for a politician, let alone one in a crisis. This is mean to say, but the fact is, people need to be inspired, and the tougher the times, the more they need to be inspired, even coddled.
Franklin Roosevelt knew that very well. He rose to the occasion by reminding folks the sum of their potential was vastly greater than the sum of their fears. He sounded right. He acted right. He was decisive and demanding, during crises far more serious than anything California faces now. No, Franklin (who knew a guy with a name like that could pull it off?) just seemed to have a knack for inspiring his supporters and rattling his competitors.
Old Gray exhibited none of those skills. I found him to be a perfectly amiable bureaucrat. But the crisis in California demanded more than an amiable bureaucrat. Quite frankly, it demanded a cheerleader, and since Gray couldn't smile, imagine his difficulty cheering!
I know I sound cruel, but them there's the facts. When it comes to the upper echelons of politics and business, there should be a sign: no dull people allowed. You can have dull people working for you. In fact, I think it's a good idea to hire a lot of dull people, because a lot of dull people are very hard workers. But if you're the guy in charge of them, you better make sure you can rally them. Because let me tell you something, dull people aren't easily rallied by each other!
This is especially true during crises. Take Jack Welch when he took the reins of General Electric in the early 1980s. Things couldn't have been messier. The company was hemorrhaging money, and its vaunted quality standards had been shot to hell. Old Jack comes in like a tornado with attitude, fires a bunch of people, but inspires enough of them who remain to eventually make the conglomerate the most profitable company on the planet. Not bad for a guy with a thick New England accent, little hair then and virtually no hair later!
But what Jack didn't have on top of his head, he had in his head . . . common sense, and a willingness to take chances and remind his workers and his investors that they were on a grand journey together, taking chances, taking risks, but in the end, all making money!
Lou Gerstner exhibited this same bulldog approach turning around IBM. And who'd have thunk?! A cookie man schooled at R.J. Nabisco who swapped one brand of chips for another, but with the same intensity. He, too, was brash, blunt and hard charging, even rude. But he was never dull. Good people rarely are.
Arnold Schwarzenegger doesn't appear dull, which could send a timely reminder to the many bureaucrats he'll be overseeing. Don't think dull. Don't act dull. Don't give me the same predictable dull solutions.
If he's a fraction of the terror he was in Terminator III,
Californians will be better for it. Tough times call for tough, loud and
angry guys. Guys who are willing to be black and white. And never, ever,
ever . . . Gray.
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10/05/03: Who says we're so depressed?