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Politics and Analogies

Mark Mzyk | November 6, 2012

Today is Tuesday, November 6th, 2012. Election day in the United States. Last night, my local PBS station aired the Frontline episode The Choice, which is about the biographies of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney and how they found themselves at this point, running for election to be the President of the United States. The episode was fascinating and made me think deeply. I thought I’d share some thoughts here, with an analogy that came into my head today. Like all analogies, it isn’t perfect, but I think it is illustrative.

First though, if you’re a citizen of the United States and you are allowed to do so, go vote. If you dislike Obama and Romney, you can vote for the third party candidate, Gary Johnson, if he is on the ballot in your state (he is on the ballot in most states). You can even skip the presidental election if you so choose and vote for the other offices. Local elected officials have a huge impact on your life – you should vote.

Now that the PSA is out of the way, some thoughts and the analogy. If you have time, I recommend you watch the Frontline episode. It presents a look at the candidates and what has shaped them that I hadn’t seen anywhere else. The episode clocks in at around two hours.

What struck me, after watching the episode, was how Obama and Romney both faced one major criticism from their time in office (Obama for the Presidency and Romney for the Governorship of Massachusetts) and that was that neither is good at connecting with other lawmakers. Neither one has the back slapping, make you feel good personality that the likes of Lyndon B. Johnson had in spades that makes bipartisanship easier. This implies that even if Romney replaces Obama the personal dynamics of Washington aren’t likely going to change.

For examples of both failing to reach across the aisle, see Barack Obama failing to get a single Republican vote for health care or failing to achieve a debt ceiling deal. While you can argue that Republican’s bear some (perhaps even a lot) of responsibility, some blame does go to Barack Obama for not being more effective in reaching out. As for Mitt Romney, I was surprised to learn that while governor of Massachusetts he vetoed over 800 bills. That’s a phenomenal amount of bills to veto over a four year period. Many were apparently then overturned by the legislature. Romney’s biggest achievement came when he decided he need a big achievement so he worked to pass the health care bill, which was something Democrat’s wanted to pass. In passing this Romney was very effective and seemed to have learned a lesson from all the vetos. The amount of vetos is still staggering though.

I was also struck by how much Romney’s business experience has shaped him. He appears to lead his life as if it is one large consultancy, where he comes in as the outsider, prescribes the solution and puts it into place. Romney has been very successful at doing this and I gained a respect for him that I hadn’t had before. That said, there are caveats to his success. His business experience is in the consultancy/investment world, which is not the same as building a product business. I don’t know that experience in one of these worlds translates into the other (or the Presidency).

The other knock on Romney running his life as a consultancy is that he changes his message to fit what he thinks will make the sell. It remains very difficult to figure out what he truly believes, although I think he does have beliefs. He just hasn’t communicated them well. Conversely, Obama has not done a good job communicating his plans for a second term that well either.

On to the analogy I’ve promised:

Barack Obama is Apple, while Mitt Romney is Microsoft.

Why is this?

Obama is Apple because he has had a career defined by huge success and has a massive signature product (Health Care) much as Apple has the iPod/iPad. Obama is very stylized, like Apple products. They do one thing and they do it well, generally. However, Apple has its duds too (such as the Newton and Mac Cube). Obama has experienced his own recent failures, after a string of successes. Can Obama come back like Apple did after Steve Jobs returned?

Romney is Microsoft because he’s achieved huge success  – running Bain Capital, becoming Governor of Massachusetts, rescuing the Salt Lake Games. From these successes he’s built up a massive amount of wealth, which Romney uses to sustain himself while he tries to generate new success, like Microsoft uses the money it has built up from Windows and Office to try and enter new markets. Romney is trying to be everything to everyone and generally failing to achieve new success. Like the Microsoft Surface Tablet, Romney generates interest for a while, but then it’s not clear if that short term interest will change into long term success.

This analogy isn’t perfect, as both men and both companies are complicated. I’m sure it’s possible to to come up with an analogy where Romney is Apple and Obama is Microsoft. I do think the analogy I’ve laid out fits though.

I don’t mean this post as a knock on either candidate, but as a reflection of what I’ve come to see in them and what I learned from the Frontline episode. I am an Obama supporter, but watching the Frontline episode gave me an appreciation for Romney and what he has achieved.

And now that this is done I’ll be going back to my regularly scheduled tech topics.

A note on comments: no vitriol please. I welcome all constructive criticism, but attacks on other’s character or uncalled for comments will be policed and deleted. Fair warning, since I don’t know what type of reaction this post will generate.