Saturday, December 03, 2005

PowerPoint Presidency

Finally, I'm getting around to writing an actual thought on the blog...

Two days ago, President Bush gave a "major" speech on the war in Iraq. Reaction to it seems to be mixed. In language, it seemed no different than any other speech on the war he has given. Others have said that it finally does hint at the fact that we are negotiating with the enemy (as we should be). But what is most striking is the National Strategy for Victory In Iraq document that accompanied the speech.

Paul Krugman assailed the document in his column in the New York Times yesterday. It's a pure PowerPoint document, filled with mindless buzzwords and little actual content. It's 38 pages of bullet points! No continuous line of thought lasts for more than about 5 or 6 sentences. Throughout the document are highlighted buzzwords like "increase", "political", "irresponsible", and "engage". Ultimately, the strategy comes down to "we will win because we have to." I also find it funny that the document has an "Executive Summary" at the beginning. Here's a smaller list of bullet points summarizing a slightly longer list of bullet points.

This "embarrassing" document, as Krugman called it, may have one of two origins, neither of which reflect well on the administration. First, it could be that this administration holds both the public and the media in such contempt that they feel that something as important as a national war strategy has to be dumbed down to this level. It isn't surprising, though, given the way they have treated the press and the rest of the "reality-based" community. This entire war effort, which did actually have reasonable strategic thinking around it, has from the beginning been dumbed down and packaged to appeal only to people's senses of fear. This administration has focused so much on the marketing and publicity that they have forgotten that you have to have a real and meaningful product that you are selling or else you are left with meaningless rhetoric.

An alternative explanation is that such information-less PowerPoint documents are actually what the President uses. This would not be surprising either. This is not unique to the president, rather it is ubiquitous across the business and military worlds. PowerPoint bullets have replaced clearly written narrative documents. In 2000, then-candidate Bush campaigned on a promise to bring a "C.E.O-style" presidency. Most people assumed that this would mean efficient and effective management that Harvard Business School graduates like Mr. Bush claim to provide to the companies that pay them enormous salaries. Instead, we've seen a classic example of managers who have no clue what happens under them, who ignore the advise of experienced professionals, and who reduce complicated subjects into color glossy handouts of a few bullet points.

If this kind of document is made with the public in mind, then I am insulted by this document. If it is written this way at the request of the president, then I am appalled that matters of war and peace are reduced to such mindless PowerPoint junk.


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