The Clinton Playbook: Taylorism on the Campaign Trial

by on June 15, 2015 · 1 comment

in Economy, Election, History, Media, Organizing, Politics, Under the Perfect Sun


By Jim Miller

One of the more interesting pieces amidst the glut of ridiculously early pre-primary news stories floating around the Internet and social media was Ruby Cramer’s largely laudatory profile of Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook. Wonder boy Mook, the story tells us, is all about “a ‘new kind of organizing’” that was “going to change politics.”

More specifically Mook’s “new kind of organizing” seems to be modeled on a somewhat perversely postmodern form of Benjamin Franklin’s “bold and arduous project” of arriving at “moral perfection” which, for Franklin, was all about mastering the virtue “Order” among other things through rigorous time management that he monitored in his little book. While Franklin ironically observed his own weakness and admitted to never being able to master himself, young Mook’s project is, it seems, beyond irony.

Hence, we learn:

Robby Mook provided everyone on the team with a copy of his 175-page training manual. Some staffers‚ the field organizers, received a second item: one standard-issue composition notebook, bound in black-and-white marble, the kind kids use in school.

These were “organizing books.” They were considered vital to the field operation, or asMook called it, “the program.” And like everything pertaining to the program, the organizing books came with a system, and the system with instructions. In this particular case, they could be found in the manual. (Page 110, “Getting Organized.”)

Your notebook should be divided into three sections per day: calendar, notes, and action items…

Every morning began with a new calendar entry — a simple table, two columns. Down the left-hand margin, organizers wrote out 24 timestamps, one for every half-hour interval in the day. (Twelve hours, minimum.)

To the right, they scheduled and recorded their activity.

You will track progress to goal using the tools provided by the campaign including maintaining your organizing notebook…

But, of course, the gods of data would not be pleased if the process stopped with such 19th century devices so, “Organizers went first, entering the results of their day into a finicky computer system called the Donkey. Next, the regional directors. Then the field director. It was his job to take their aggregate data and combine it all into one last report. And that went to Mook.”

And here is where the story moves away from the Franklinian ethos to the twentieth century’s own Fredrick Winslow Taylor, whose ideas in Principles of Scientific Management became the core of the corporate world’s gospel of efficiency and launched a nationwide campaign to systematize labor at the turn of the 20th century.

As Frank Donoghue observes, the power of Taylorism comes from Americans’ readiness to accept “an ethic of productivity for its own sake as the irrefutable measure of success of any kind.” For Corporate America, this has been a useful tool to justify both the relentless discipline of the workplace and the externalization of costs all in the name of efficiency.

Mook, however, cites not Taylor but one of the legions of priests of the gospel of efficiency that followed in his wake, as Cramer notes, “’personal mastery,’ which he preached to some of his staffers. It’s a concept from The Fifth Discipline, a 1990 book by MIT’s Peter Senge. Personal mastery is defined as a lifelong practice, divided into three parts: redefining and deepening your personal vision, focusing your energy, and ‘seeing reality objectively’ as it pertains to others and, most important, to yourself.”

And what this demands, above all else, is surrender to the system:

This is what the culture requires. Everyone in the campaign must give themselves over to the rules; the structure; the rigor of adjustment; the constantly changing goals; the trust in common, sincere shared values; the purpose. Everyone must be accountable and must believe. Everyone must buy in.

Certainly, there is nothing particularly “new” about any of this. These are the core values of the Taylorist worldview. As Neil Postman expertly outlined in his seminal book Technopoly, the essential philosophy of Taylorism is founded on six key assumptions:

[T]hat the primary, if not the only goal of human labor and thought is efficiency; that technical calculation is in all respects superior to human judgment; that, in fact, human judgment cannot be trusted, because it is plagued by laxity, ambiguity, and unnecessary complexity; that subjectivity is an obstacle to clear thinking; that what cannot be measured either does not exist or is of no value; and that the affairs of citizens are best guided and conducted by experts.

Thus it is easy to see how nicely Taylor’s philosophy has come to occupy the heart of the neoliberal worldview with its market fundamentalism, unthinking technophilia, and disdain for all that can not be measured or made part of the totalitarian gospel of efficiency.

And what this means for our politics is that what matters most is not movement building or the exchange of ideas but aggressive marketing.

It does not just make the staff of a campaign cogs in a Taylorist system; it objectifies the voting public and turns our politics into just another enterprise driven by corporate values and a thoroughly unexamined corporatist ideology.

One of the philosophical questions that is never entertained in the practical world of political campaigns is how much do the formal structures of our political campaigns and organizations, progressive or otherwise, consciously or, more importantly, unconsciously, influence our political values. When you run your campaign in a way that mimics the most draconian practices of the corporate workplace, does that tell us anything about how you will govern?

To put it plainly, when you are using the master’s tools, won’t you just keep rebuilding the master’s house?

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Jana June 16, 2015 at 7:58 am

Interesting that this data-driven approach to Marketing Hilary is trying to produce a folksy, populist and progressive version of her, updated to keep a “finger to the wind”, keeping a wary eye out for the real, passionate crowds turning out for Bernie – he who is the Real Deal.


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