Surely You Can’t Be Serious

by Norman Horowitz

Ted Striker: Surely you can’t be serious.

Dr. Rumack: I am serious…and don’t call me Shirley.

— Airplane! (1980)

Today’s Yiddish word of the day is sechel. Loosely translated, it means “just plain smarts, a grasp on what really is and really counts, that cuts and sees through it all, that guides you to do the right thing the right way at the right time, to size up what’s really going on, to see where someone really comes from, to understand what does and doesn’t matter.” A modern-day synonym might be “street smarts.”

I enlisted in the Air Force in 1952 at the age of 19. I spent 4 years assuming that somehow in the upper echelons of the Command Structure there was “brilliance” because there sure was no sign of it that I could see. There was a good deal of “smart” around me but without any of the brilliance that I expected to see.  

Starting in 1956, I worked for a variety of entertainment companies, all of them either “very large” or “enormous.” I worked for Columbia Pictures twice, CBS, Polygram, and MGM/UA. During this time, I came across plenty of “smart people,” yet little if any of the brilliance I would have expected from people paid millions of dollars a year to run enormous companies.

Although I was invariably surrounded by well-educated lawyers and MBAs, most of them lacked operating experience. They lacked sechel.

In my hardly-ever-humble opinion, we have introduced a relatively new breed of a management class of people who are devoid of any “operating experience.” What a quaint notion it is that a properly operated company may require some sort of operating experience to run it. Most people I reported to never understood this.

When having “issues” with my managements, I would often ask if they would have cardio vascular surgery provided by an intern who had no experience. They weren’t very happy when I asked that.

I’ve never been politically active, but I have nevertheless concluded that the process of achieving elected office only requires that one has the ability of getting elected and little of nothing else.

Whenever I was hired by an “entertainment company,” it was because they perceived that I had the experience and ability to do a particular job. They actually expected me to do certain work that they themselves had no clue how to do.

Actually doing a job is not an issue that concerns Republicans or Democrats or politicians in general.

The poster child for this “I’ve been elected before” is Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota. The notion that people mention her name in the context of the Presidency of the United States is incredible to me. What is there in her background that would qualify her (or almost every other candidate) to run an organization of more than 1.8 million civilians who work for the federal government? Also there are minor obligations concerning wars and relationships with other nations, but who needs to know anything about that stuff?

Bachmann has already made some high-profile gaffes, including declaring late last month that the opening shots of the Revolutionary War took place in New Hampshire, not Massachusetts.

According to the New York Times:

There is no other potential Republican candidate who delivers more crowd-pleasing one-liners — usually at President Obama’s expense. They come in a rapid-fire staccato with barely enough time for the applause to fade between punch lines.

Naïve person that I am, I would think that the President of the United States needs a little more than an ability to deliver one liners.

Remember the 1972 movie The Candidate? Robert Redford plays a guy who was never interested in politics but, because he’s attractive and charming, winds up winning a big Senate race. At the end, he turns to his campaign manager and says, “Marvin… What do we do now?”

Attractive and charming matters when running for office, but you need to have a background that allows you to make decisions that are in the best interest of the electorate.

To run, easy. To properly serve, not so easy.