October 2004
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Day October 1, 2004

Switching horses in mid-stream: the silliest meme

When I hear people voice their concern about “switching horses” in mid-stream, I can’t help but reflect on how deeply the administration’s talking points have penetrated the general consciousness. Lincoln’s slogan was a tactic, not a logical argument — whether applied to one of our nation’s greatest Presidents, or to the current incumbent.

Because out in the real world, nobody really believes that “switching horses midstream” is a bad idea. Corporations fire underperforming CEOs (as with Craig Conway being fired from PeopleSoft). Companies fire under-performing employees, after giving them a chance to improve. When your Internet provider gives you terrible performance and even worse customer service, you escalate your complaint and then find another ISP. You get the idea.

In a democratic republic, we operate on the same principle. We call it by different names, but it’s important to remember that we interview candidates for a job, and then select the most popular candidate (whom we hope is also the best) for the job. The new employee gets a contract: four years for a President, six years for a Senator, and so on. When their contract expires, we evaluate their performance, and if they’ve performed badly, we pick somebody new.

A healthy company depends on creating a spiral of constant improvement — in ideas, and in people. Keeping an underperforming CEO or business plan isn’t how companies succeed in a competitive market. To succeed, they learn from mistakes, hire talent, and fire underperformers when necessary.

Scale it up into global terms and nothing changes. Healthy democracy and a strong, competitive nation depend on a spiral of constant improvement — in ideas and of people. Not “switching horse mid-stream” is little more than the plea of the employee that knows they haven’t been performing well.

And the incumbent has little to offer except “more of the same,” and a flimsy attempt to scare us by touting the dangers of “switching horses midstream.” Well, I for one, don’t buy it.