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Corporate Speak and the World of Politics

tom_honig_s“Let’s say what we mean; mean what we say and let’s get it done.” —Gubernatorial Candidate Meg Whitman

We the electorate have been attacked by Silicon Valley business-speak. The above quote has been tacked on to former eBay CEO Meg Whitman’s many television commercials as she gears up for a run for governor.

I feel like hiding. Both the business world and the political world have been overtaken by soundbites and messaging.

It used to be in the business world that the damage stopped with vacuous but inoffensive mission statements like “We (fill in the organization) are the leading providers of (fill in the product) as we provide our customers with the best products and services on the market.”

What was good about mission statements is that they went into the drawer and nobody ever saw them again, except for maybe on the bulletin board where you can also find the phone number for OSHA.

Alas, both the political and business world have discovered that no one paid attention to these unwieldy statements, and now, like annoying commercial jingles, they’re turning into earworms. I can’t get that miserable Meg Whitman tag line out of my head.

Whitman isn’t the only campaigner who’s going to do this. The likely Democratic candidate, Jerry Brown, will also have one himself (remember his annoying 1-800 number that he created when he ran for president all those years ago?)

But Whitman is the one who claims to reject the habits of the “professional politician.” Remember, government service is the only line of work in which those applying for jobs—in other words, candidates—brag about it when they have no experience at all.

What’s particularly irritating about her message is that last part—“Let’s get it done.” Please. Get what done? This is not eBay. “Get It Done,” there, probably has to do with increasing revenue, but my guess is that Whitman’s “Get It Done” probably doesn’t have much to do with raising taxes in a revenue-poor state like California.

I was recently reading a website that had advice for young job-seekers, and the first item on a list of suggestions was to acquire a snappy answer to the question “Why did you leave your last job?”

Coming up with soundbites apparently is now part of everyone’s daily life. It’s certainly part of the job-application process. Admittedly, with cutbacks and layoffs all around us, it does make sense for job seekers to have good answers to what might not have been a good work experience.

I know a little about answering that “Why did you leave?” question. After all, I pulled the plug after 35 years at the Santa Cruz Sentinel, so answering that question is something I faced several times a day there for a while. I came up with my answers, although I wonder if people figured out that my answer was different depending on who asked, or my mood, or whether they were friendly or not. The actual answer was that there were many factors, but no one would sit still long enough for me to drone on about the changing world of journalism or my own myriad disillusionments.

So I came up with soundbites of my own. They were accurate enough, but didn’t really tell the whole story. That’s because the real story involved feelings, nuance and attitudes that were neither positive nor optimistic.

And that wouldn’t work in politics.  Whitman’s “Get It Done” is an action phrase. It’s a “can-do” sort of comment that denotes competence and energy. But it also doesn’t mean anything. Will “Get It Done” mean firing state workers? Will it mean tossing people off welfare? Will it mean cutting back on benefits to the disabled? Her “Get It Done” is one of those wonderful phrases that sounds positive and optimistic but actually is just the opposite.

Of course, Whitman’s potential opponents aren’t exactly pristine, either. State Democrats are dusting off an old Gray Davis strategy by airing commercials taking aim at Whitman in an attempt to build up her Republican opponent, Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner. She has a 30-point lead over Poizner, so the Democrats figure they should act now in order to weaken the leading candidate. That’s exactly what former Gov. Davis did in 1998, when his ads helped defeat Republican Richard Riordan in the primary, giving Davis a weaker GOP candidate, Bill Simon.

In this case, Whitman had better hope that the Democratic strategy doesn’t “Get It Done.” Contact Tom Honig at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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