“Don’t believe your own press.” It is good advice that migrated from the theater to the realm of political theater. If only more people here in the Imperial City would heed it.
Since I last wrote to you, political posturing and high-level personnel changes in Washington have dominated the news and are shaping what policy changes are possible. As a result of the dramatic – Sen. John McCain’s last-minute vote to maintain Obamacare – and the grotesque (Dare I say it? Scaramucci), the momentum for lasting policy change has slowed in the past month.
But we have soldiered on. Optimism is both an outlook and a shield against paralyzing do-nothing fatalism. At CEI we take this path because it is a calling, not because it is a duty. The reason for CEI existing is to achieve lasting policy changes, specifically, in the regulatory arena.
Like most policy warriors, at CEI we like recognition too. But unlike a typical U.S. Senator or even member of the White House staff, we try to separate recognition and ego from our primary objectives. For example, we want to see more media attention for CEI proposals because it makes it more likely that we will persuade policymakers to adopt and champion them – not just because we like seeing our faces on TV.
The ancient Greeks linked their understanding of recognition with love. To understand Greek thought on the meaning of love, turn to Plato’s Phaedrus. It is also where he organizes the soul into three parts: logos, eros, and thymos. Reason (logos) and desire (eros) are straightforward. It is the third aspect, thymos, or the drive for recognition, that illuminates our politics today. Socrates’ explains that thymos is both universal and cause of so many social problems.
As a manager, I’m cognizant of praise and recognition as tools. It is a political tactic, surely, to allow a lawmaker to “claim credit” for a great idea or new research. But it is critical to remember why we do these things. We do so because of the love. It is the love inherent in our attachment to CEI’s mission. It is the love of success and achievement, because ambition is not a dirty word. And, it is the love of the people who will benefit from the policy changes that we advocate.
For these reasons, I’m not surprised the ancients placed understanding of the human desire for recognition within the context of one of the greatest dialogues ever produced on love.
I won’t pretend to tell you everything that motivates people at the White House or in Congress. But like any student of public choice, I believe that one of the most important motives is one they share with people everywhere – recognition for achievement. Ultimately, that belief will be a key to our continued success at CEI.