The vision thing, and how we get out of all this mess

The former US President George Bush (father of the current President, George W. Bush) is said to have suggested during the campaign that won him the presidency in 1988 that he was not good at, or much attracted to, what he called ‘the vision thing’. According to the report, what he called the ‘vision thing’ was some sort of strategy for taking his country forward. Bush was more interested in the nuts and bolts of government, and his formula for good government was to have good people in charge; what substantive policies they should pursue didn’t interest him half as much.

Competency as the slogan on your campaign posters is fine, until things start to go wrong. At that point people want to know where you would like to take them and what you can see on the further horizon, and if a political leader cannot give them a sense of that they lose confidence in them. Four years into the elder Bush’s presidency, at a time of economic uncertainty, the American people voted him out and brought in Bill Clinton.

In Ireland in late 2008, we are desperately short of sightings of the vision thing, and this is reflected in the various ambivalent messages coming out of opinion polls, and may also be contributing to the low level of economic confidence. Of course we must all be brought face to face with the problems that we currently face, but continuing doses of pessimism and doom, and the drip-drip of bad news stories without any rallying cries or encouragement to get out and do something, is killing off the determination and optimism which are needed for recovery. It is not just that the government – surprisingly in my view – seems mesmerised by all the problems and crises, the opposition also isn’t helping either when its political adrenalin seems to be flowing only from continuing to build up the worst possible picture of our prospects.

The government appears to have managed the feat of producing insufficient public expenditure cuts while at the same time persuading the public that it has savagely removed the material supports for disadvantage and old age; while the opposition seem completely stuck in the thesaurus trying to find yet more spine-chilling synonyms for ‘disaster’ and ‘catastrophe’.  Lack of confidence may not be entirely what got us here, but it is (if we can find it) what will get us out. And to achieve that our politicians and other public figures need to find, and quickly, a capacity to communicate the strategy for bold innovation: the vision thing.

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2 Comments on “The vision thing, and how we get out of all this mess”

  1. Ultan Says:

    Unfortunately political culture and concepts of dreams and visions don’t travel well when they’re decontextualized. What goes on in America does not mean it applies elswhere. We don’t have a presidential institution of any real social or political consequence, for example.

    Plus, I don’t think much has changed since the insights of Basil Chubb’s old political science lectures decades ago – Irish politicians are not strategic visionaries, they’re essentially low-level “fixers”; a reflection of the political culture. You pretty much get what you vote for.

    It may be that looking to politicians to provide some kind of “vision” in this country is not what we need at all. They are, after all, responsible for a situation where the average public sector wage is 46K euros per annum, while the private sector is about 10K less than that (Eurostat 2004). Who can afford to do business or come here to do business here now? Instead, Ireland is fourth dearest country according to this price survey:

    If it’s essentially an economic mess we’re in, then I think we should look to the likes of Irish’s best businessmen, Michael O’Leary being a case in point, to provide the guiding light on how things should be done. I watched him on the Late Late Show last week and he acquitted himself very well.

    The last thing we want are the denizens of the Dail bar having more visions IMHO.

  2. Iain Says:

    Why not look to the Universities for the “vision thing”. Isn;t this an ideal opportunity for higher education to demonstrate its cultural worth to a nation by raising the level of public debate, particularly in these difficult times? I know that institutions will be busy fighting for their survival and responding to budgetary cutbacks, etc, but why miss this opportunity? If we can’t shed light and suggest alternative paths to the future, then do we deserve the respect we seem to crave from society?

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