Living Well Is The Best Revenge, Global Province Letter, 05 September 2012

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats' feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar
Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion------T. S. Eliot, The Hollow Men

Empty Suit--Someone puffed up with his own importance but really having little effect on the lives of others….The true empty suit, which conjures up the image of a business suit of clothing without a person, really doesn't know what he or she is doing. He or she is ineffectual, perhaps a phony, and is about as relevant or helpful as a suit hanging on a rack.----Urban Dictionary

The Man of a Thousand Faces. David Brooks of The Times truly tickled our funnybones last week, doing a picture-perfect, tongue-in-cheek column on Governor Romney. Ergo, he proved that Mr. Romney is all things to all people, is equipped with every opinion, has worn a hundred hats and blurted out every shopworn truism. About the real Romney, Brooks intones: "After his governorship, Romney suffered through a midlife crisis, during which he became a social conservative. This prepared the way for his presidential run. He barely won the 2012 Republican primaries after a grueling nine-month campaign, running unopposed. At the convention, where his Secret Service nickname is Mannequin, Romney will talk about his real-life record: successful business leader, superb family man, effective governor, devoted community leader and prudent decision-maker. If elected, he promises to bring all Americans together and make them feel inferior."

Brooks is the Times' token conservative columnist. But even he is a bit embarrassed by the zaniness of today's Republican party and the ease with which Mr. Romney shifts stands in order to win the votes and allegiance of the screwiest elements of his party. We have sent the Brooks column to people of every political stripe and color. Many –conservatives, liberals, and apathetic—have responded with knowing laughter. They know well the Republican nominee for President is a chameleon doing his best to put on protective coloration that will appeal to any audience to which he speaks. By a startling number of citizens, he is roundly disliked. Universally, even within his Party, he inspires unease. Nobody knows what he will do. For he is the man whose domestic policy was to bankrupt GM and whose foreign policy is to bomb Iran. Or so it seems. But we must ask ourselves further why he—vapid and tidy—inspires such voluminous disquiet.

How Does Romney Come to be Romney? We are all confused as to who Governor Romney is and not just because he keeps his self deeply under wraps. We would contend that he is an enigma for us because, indeed, he does not know who he is. Self-knowledge has evaded him. He has been correctly called a technocrat or an apparatchik. He's good at getting things done, but not in setting policy, because he has no firm direction. Operators such as Cheney or Romney are useful if kept in their places. They can press levers but they are bloody awful at figuring out where we should be going. As long as these factotums are led by strong, principled leaders, a nation or a company can flourish. Once we mistake them for leaders, we are in for tough times. Since, indeed, something vital is absent in them, they may be AWOL in spirit when crisis strikes.

Men of little or no identity abound in modern times. Governor Romney is no rarity. The so-called brainy white-collar professions, such as law and accountancy, sport many similar types. Consulting and finance, the arenas in which Romney made his mark, are 90% dominated by men and women easily blown by the wind. The old joke about a consultant is that he uses your watch to tell you the time. In our last Global Province Letter, we essayed on how the whole of the financial community appears to have lost any connection with honesty or productive endeavor. Men without moorings waft through our times.

Over the years we have advised 30 or so major money managers and banking organizations and perhaps 10 major consulting firms. Early on we were astounded by the new client presentations put together by their heavyweights. They were lightweight. In particular they were cobbled together so that the presenters could rapidly alter direction and opinion if the room was going against them. Their Powerpoints were maps for speakers with forked tongues.

 If one talks that way long enough, one forgets how to stand for anything. The white-collar trades of knowledge workers are so abstract and so removed from everyday reality that they do not build men of bedrock. And such knowledge workers have become an ever more dominant force in our polity. They dance on quicksand but never sink because they are such featherweights.

Such men rise because they are bereft of belief. What they do quickly is to adopt the tone and nuance of the groups in which they are trying to rise. Their thinking is derivative, entirely dependent on the assumptions motivating the organizations in which they find themselves. At this time the Governor is framed by a rather strange Republican Party where nutty ideas are flourishing. Judge Richard Posner, long a darling of the right, has been moving away from conservative orthodoxy because, he says, Republicans are just getting plain "goofy." Within this tent the Governor turns somersaults almost daily. This is the predicament in general with men of no identity: they lock themselves into the mores of the organization with which they are most involved at any one moment. They lead their troops where they are already headed.

Mortality. Over the weekend, two essays reviewed the parting song of the remarkable Christopher Hitchens called Mortality. The lesser by Christopher Buckley was the cover article in the New York Times Sunday Book Review. What Buckley does manage to touch
upon is the Hitchens who lived life to the fullest, who was riveting and totally present and animated wherever he landed:

Christopher's devoted tigress wife, Carol Blue, contributes a—I've already used up my heart-wrenching quota--- deeply moving afterword, in which she recalls the eight-hour dinners they hosted at their apartment in Washington, when after consuming enough booze to render the entire population of the nation's capital insensible, Christopher would rise and deliver flawless 20-minute recitals of poetry, polemics and jokes, capping it off saying, "How good it is to be us." The truth of that declaration was evident to all who had the good fortune to be present at those dazzling recreations. Bliss it was in those wee hours to be alive and in his company, though the next mornings were usually a bit less blissful.

Hitchens was very, very certain of who he was and extraordinarily convinced of his opinions, even when they were dead wrong. Like Romney he had moved to the right over the last few years, the precipitating catalyst for him being our incursion into Iraq, an adventure in which he quite believed. But there the similarity ends since he moved right out of conviction rather than convenience. What we expect of men to whom we pay admiration is that their inner spirits and beliefs be so radiant that the glow dazzles us, be they saint or sinner, liar or lover, knave or king. We want to share their very warmth.

Henry Allen, an essayist himself, sums up Hitchens in "A Wit Rages Before the Abyss," invoking the spitfire in the man:

The will to live is a power beyond comprehension. To judge from the exuberant intensity of Hitchens's life's work, and the self-prolonged agony of his death, he may have had more of it than some people

Many years ago the chairman of an illustrious New York City firm told us he looked for big people, people who filled a room even if they were small of stature. "You can just see it," he said, "when somebody has that quality." We look for that in leaders.

P.S. John Shad was known as the fastest fatman in Washington. Equipped with both a business school and law degree, he made a fortune in Wall Street. In time he headed the Securities and Exchange Commission. He knew well that the lawyers and business school types who peopled both Wall Street and Washington skated on thin ice ethically. At the last he gave $30 million to Harvard Business School to build some moral muscle in HBS graduates. It did not seem to do much good.

P.P.S. Apparently one has to have a lot of houses to become a Republican candidate for president. John McCain has five or so. Romney's personal real estate includes six homes: one in La Jolla, two in the Boston area, a ski lodge in Utah and two lakeside residences in New Hampshire.

P.P.P.S. Christopher Hitchens was a marvelous debater. Like Bill Buckley, he usually, on points, would win the debate but lose the audience. We loved his "Is God Great?" tete a tete with the Reverend Al Sharpton, who also has a canny feel for the jugular. As best we can tell, nobody won that one.

P.P.P.P.S. "Living Well is the Best Revenge" comes to us from George Herbert. It is taken to mean that the man who lives well not only enjoys himself but that his life serves as a rebuke to those unhappy souls who do not drink from the fulsome cocktail of self expression, ardor, and purpose.


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