September 25, 2004

Attention to detail.

Adam Nagourney and Jodi Wilgoren paint an unflattering picture of John Kerry's management style in tomorrow's NYT. Most telling revelation:
[Kerry] spent four weeks mulling the design of his campaign logo, consulting associates about what font it should use and whether it should include an American flag.


UPDATE: The Times story about Kerry set people thinking: That sounds like what they used so say about ...

Poliblog writes that it sounds like what they said about Al Gore, who took it upon himself to redraw the campaign logos overriding the work of the graphic artists assigned to the task.

An emailer wrote: "[T]the Times description of Kerry called to mind for me Jimmy Carter. My recollection is that many faulted Carter for trying to master all the intricate details of an issue--instead of allowing his aides or other experts to do this--and so was distracted. In this way, he was contrasted w/ Ronald Reagan."

It's hard to find a link to back up that statement about Carter, but I seem to remember that sort of thing being said. Nevertheless, let me add, that I think there is some tendency to overdo the classification of personality types. I don't think we should classify people into the "attention to detail" types and the "big picture" types. Any competent person must be capable of multiple levels of perception as well as good judgment about when it's big picture time and when you have focus on the details. We ought to worry about a candidate who can't or won't adjust his level of attention wisely and in tune with the circumstances. It's easy to make Kerry look foolish for "mulling" over the font for four weeks, and if he did nothing else in those weeks, he'd be frighteningly incompetent, especially if he really became lost in mental dithering. But it's likely that he only spent a total of an hour's time thinking about the font and also that he got some pleasure and recreation out of the project. (Jeez, am I going into Champion-of-the-Underdog mode?)

Elsewhere, Instapundit also singled out the mulling-over-the-fonts story for comment, and he compliments Kerry on the good design.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Poliblogger continues the discussion. Also, an emailer sends a good link for the info about Jimmy Carter, an old article by James Fallows in The Atlantic, but you've got to be a paid subscriber: here's the link. Here's a good passage from the article:
If there is any constant in the literature of presidential performance, it is that the President must husband his time. If he is distracted from the big choices by the torrent of petty details, the big choices will not get made—or will be resolved by their own internal logic, not by the wishes of those who have been elected to lead. Carter came into office determined to set a rational plan for his time, but soon showed in practice that he was still the detail-man used to running his own warehouse, the perfectionist accustomed to thinking that to do a job right you must do it yourself. He would leave for a weekend at Camp David laden with thick briefing books, would pore over budget tables to check the arithmetic, and, during his first six months in office, would personally review all requests to use the White House tennis court. (Although he flatly denied to Bill Moyers in his November 1978 interview that he had ever stooped to such labors, the in-house tennis enthusiasts, of whom I was perhaps the most shameless, dispatched brief notes through his secretary asking to use the court on Tuesday afternoons while he was at a congressional briefing, or a Saturday morning, while he was away. I always provided spaces where he could check Yes or No; Carter would make his decision and send the note back, initialed J.)

After six months had passed, Carter learned that this was ridiculous, as he learned about other details he would have to pass by if he was to use his time well. But his preference was still to try to do it all—to complain that he was receiving too many memos and that they were too long, but to act nonetheless on everything that reached his desk.

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