Six Years Ago I Wrote About Where Mr. Bush Clocked Out on the Timepiece of Presidential Candidates. I Continue to Think It Was a Timely Reading.

Goofing around the other day in the jazillion or so bytes of information stored on my hard drive, I came across an item I wrote as an op-end piece in the fall of 2000, during the U.S. presidential election run-up. Well, it was intended to be an op-ed piece. As it turned out, it was a stop-ed piece, because it ended up unpublished.

Re-reading the effort six years later, I think it not half-bad. No, actually, I think it rather good. Prescient, in fact.

I titled my piece “A Campaign Clockworks: How the Candidates’ Thinking Differs.” If it has any value six years later, it is to remind us that the policy and performance disasters that are threatening to drop Mr. Bush’s approval rates in the polls into the 20s shouldn’t at all be surprising. Anyone who was paying attention to how the man thinks could, from the start, see the genuine likelihood for real trouble. The point I was making was that in electing presidents, American voters are well-advised to pay attention to how their candidates think, no matter what they say. My observations again, six years later:

You need eyes wide shut to not realize that this American presidential race of 2000 has turned into an all-consuming 24/7 obsessional kind of circus. Or not to see that turning politics into total, continuous theater badly damages our ability to make informed judgments. How can we possibly predict what candidates will do if elected versus what they say they will do while campaigning?

We suggest making eyes-wide-open assessments of their thinking patterns and skills. Because the lifelong pattern of how a person thinks is the one thing that can help you make sense of the spin-doctors’ sound bites and half-factoids, of the real values and intents that lay hidden underneath the hyperbole, rhetoric and spin.

Let’s think of a clock face. And let’s start at 12 o’clock high—with Bill Clinton.

The kind of thinking found at 12 o’clock is, for most of us, strangely visionary and oddly disquieting in ways we don’t fully understand. When you get a complex leader who thinks at 12 o’clock—outside the box—they always make it appear that traditional values are crumbling.

There is a mountain of evidence that thinking at 12 o’clock invariably breeds a special kind of self-confidence and arrogance. And so in significant ways, “Slick Willie” has been the dominant personality of this campaign even though he’s not running. For many Americans, Clinton’s sordid extramarital behavior stands as Exhibit No 1 that the nation’s deepest values are under siege.

Since neither George W. Bush nor Al Gore thinks at 12 o’clock, no matter who is elected, that in itself will provide traditional values with a certain surcease from the pounding of the past eight years.

On the thinking clock face, George Bush is almost a mirror opposite to Mr. Clinton. For much of his life, Mr. Bush has been thinking at 6 o’clock, not 12. At age 12, in the lobby of the Nonantum Hotel in Kennebunkport, he was swearing and smoking cigarettes and outrageously chatting up the ladies like they were barmaids. At the Bush family Christmas 1972, a short time before he left for Harvard Business School, he invited his dad to go mano a mano when upbraided for rowdiness. And many was the time in his father’s election campaign in 1987 when he walked into meetings bearing a paper cup as spittoon, totally oblivious to appearances.

At 6 o’clock, this isn’t arrogance so much as impulsiveness, unpretentiousness and naiveté. At 6 o’clock you live in the moment.

Today, we believe Bush spends most of his time at about 7:30, not 6. (It is possible to migrate on the thinking clock face.) At 7:30, there is a passion to push events rather than to ride impulsively along with them. To be seen as decisive, quick-reacting, risk-taking. As being an unpredictable opponent and a consummate brinkmanship player—just the sort, you might say, who would try and score points against his opponent by challenging precedent and the rules, such as those set by the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates. At 7:30, you often do what you do calculatedly but you always do it to win.

At 7:30, then, your thinking equips you to make things happen. You come to recognize, as the former President Bush has observed of his son, the candidate, “how to give a little to get a lot.” If you are good at thinking here, you can develop, as George W. Bush has, a disarming charm to go with a sometimes ill-advised and surprising insouciance simply because you are so candid and action-oriented.

7:30 is not a complicated place to think, so we know that Al Gore doesn’t think there. Gore is a complicated man, according to Presidential scholar Richard Neustadt. Gore’s ex-Harvard professor suggests that his former pupil is perhaps outshone only by Theodore Roosevelt when his keen mind is compared to keen-minded presidents of the past century.

Our analysis suggests Gore thinks at about 10:30, where the passion is not so much to do or to believe but to know—and in the knowing to feel that you are genuinely and completely in control.

Thinking at 10:30 has caused Gore no little anguish in his life. He agonized after his return from the war about the meaning of Vietnam. He agonized about his father’s Senatorial campaign defeat. He has agonized about “Earth in the Balance” (the title of his book). For a time this kind of thinking looked like it might sink his campaign altogether, because of the constant agonizing desire to reinvent it.

At 10:30 you don’t do anything—even kiss your wife—haphazardly. You analyze your choices dispassionately. You agonize about your options, even with reporters, even when you know you are on the record. You go searching in your family history for precisely the right anecdote so you can show your distracters that you do, too, understand the importance of a well-turned story in communicating who you are to the public.

When you reinvent yourself at 10:30, it takes so long and is so obvious, everybody eventually notices. It is enough to make you go searching elsewhere on the dial for a running mate.

Mr. Gore also needed a vaccination against the out-of-the-box proclivities of Mr. Clinton, and with much deliberation and perhaps because his oldest daughter told him to, he went to 4:30 or so and found Mr. Lieberman. In the Senator’s neck of the thinking clock woods, conventional morality is highly prized, and he had said so in one of the Senate’s most memorable speeches ever, one condemning Mr. Clinton’s 12 o’clock shortcomings. There was no need for Joe Lieberman to reinvent himself. A Jewish politician pioneering on a national ticket, son of a bakery truck driver, a former Mississippi Freedom Rider, a very conventionally moral man, he is perfect just the way he is.

For his ticket, Mr. Bush, who has run only Texas and some have said not all that well, desperately needed the look of gravitas. Calculatedly and perhaps because his daddy told him to, he went to 9 o’clock or a little past and found Dick Cheney. At 9 o’clock, people are known as good commanders of tasks, particularly complex ones. Cheney had a reputation as a no-nonsense master of getting complicated things done, especially concerning foreign affairs, military issues and the workings of Congress. Of course, no-nonsense, performance-minded thinkers aren’t always attuned closely to nuances, so intent are they on getting the results they seek. This almost assured that there would be some rocky moments for the Bush ticket when the press took a closer look at issues (as it has turned out) like Cheney’s history of voting, both in Congress and at the ballot box, and his charitable donations.

So what does the thinking clock face suggest about the realities of this election?

It is immediately apparent that the two Democratic candidates’ thinking and core values take in a much broader spectrum of the clock face than their opponents’ thinking and values.

It is also clear that the Republican candidates are both closely identified with the part of the clock face where Gore and Lieberman are weakest. And that they themselves are weakest on the parts of the clock face where Lieberman’s thinking reigns supreme.

So whichever ticket wins, the clock face demolishes the idea there is little difference between the two tickets or the individuals running on them. And it cleans the clock of the idea that no matter who wins, it will make little difference in how they govern. The fact is that the “issues” are not really the issue. The real issue is how the candidates think.

This time around, voters have some very clear choices if they will but take a look at the clock face and see what time it is for the chief personalities on the ballot.

The thinking clock isn’t easily fooled. It’s hardwired into the candidates’ natures, and all the spin in the world can’t change that.

(Those of my readers who are familiar with the thinking skills models developed at Brain Technologies will probably realize that this is the Asset Report® model, superimposed on a clock face. For anyone curious, additional details are here: ” Asset Report: The Book of You” But we have been warned against ignoring how our politicians think at least since Graham Wallas’s seminal work, “Human Nature in Politics,” first published in 1908. For a copy of that, go here: “Human Nature in Politics.”

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