Score another for Fixers! Exactly as my novel predicted: http://mayorschallenge.bloomberg.org/
Here are two letters written two years apart to Roger Altman, whom I hired at Lehman Brothers and who has gone on to make a great success. These, I think, speak for themselves (the letters, along with other stuff I’ll be posting, turned up in a review-and-discard of old files preparatory to relocating):
Michael M. Thomas
66 Water St. – #5C
Brooklyn, NY 11201
June 27, 2017
Mr. Roger D.Altman
65 East 55 St.
New York, NY 10022
The other night, I was at a party in a very grand apartment in a very grand Manhattan building. The company assembled was pretty much of a certain age, with me (68) being at the younger end of the spectrum. Apart from Arthur Schlesinger, most were people who, I would expect, would vote Republican two times out three. Many owed their high standard of living to inherited wealth; all, I think, would have benefited from the Bush tax cuts.
And yet a funny thing happened. At one point, the President’s name was mentioned, and an audible ripple of disgust and revulsion ran around the room.
While I’m quite aware that it’s dangerous to extrapolate from anecdotal evidence, I think there’s a lesson here for the Kerry campaign, in which I understand you’re involved. It is this: by and large, Bush has made a lot of well-off people in this country ashamed of their advantages.
I’m one of them. But I’m also like a lot of people in my position: horribly worried about the direction the country has been taken since 2001, and not particularly keen to vote for a fellow member of the Fence Club on the basis of his campaign so far. How he voted in the Senate doesn’t concern me. The qualities and behavior patterns that go into making an influential Senator are not necessarily those that make a good or effective President. I don’t know Mr. Kerry; I do know his wife, for whom I have a tremendously high regard (indeed I was at her wedding in Pittsburgh to my late friend John Heinz.)
Reflecting on all of this has emboldened me to send you a short book I wrote in 1992 that was never published, although it was commissioned and paid for by Random House. I expect the ideas therein were considered too radical by Harry Evans’ patrons. But I think it has a number of ideas that you might find useful in helping your candidate articulate a vision of what kind of country this ought to be and how we should get there. Mr. Kerry’s great opportunity, as I see it, lies in just that: to oppose his own overarching vision of America against a President who doesn’t have one. I happen to be related in an Episcopalian fashion to the Bushes (my late godfather Jimmy Walker was G.H.W.B’s uncle,) and I was handpicked by Will Farish for the Zapata Board when G.H.W.B was bailed out, and one thing I do know about that family is that they believe in absolutely nothing other than that someone will always be there with a basket.
Most of what I forecast in the attached has come true. The illustrations may seem out of date, but these can easily be fixed by changing a few names and adding a zero or two to the footings. The larger principles involved- tax as rich what is rich; if we’re going to make the poor sing for their suppers, reward them if they hit the right notes; develop the concept of “the Public Capital” and hammer it home: this is your money, damn it! – might play well politically.
For most of my writing career, I have been exploring what I see as the decline and degeneration of the socioeconomic class into which I (and Mr. Kerry) was born, in which I was educated and in which I first obtained employment. A way of life in which, as I put it in the book, it seldom took more than two phone calls to get what I was after. A way of life that had at its heart the concept of noblesse oblige.
You are not going to win this election talking about tax plans that it will take clever lawyers and accountants fifteen minutes to figure out how to circumvent. Nothing is solved by further complicating what is already too complicated. Bold strokes, a bold vision, a brave new world: these are called for. People are worried about the kind of America their children and grandchildren are going to find themselves living in. Address this.
Anyway, I thought you might find my book useful. I have spent my entire working life learning to think creatively, even if it means cultivating wholly new habits of thought. The Pete Peterson model of dealing with crisis – hold a panel discussion, take out an ad in the Times, on to lunch at the Four Seasons – has proved inefficient, to say the least.
And then this, two years later:
Michael M. Thomas
66 Water St. – Apt. 5C
Brooklyn, NY 11201-1080
718 694 6872 / 347 596 3437
April 17, 2006
Mr. Roger C. Altman
55 East 52 St.
New York, NY 10055
You may recall that I wrote you a couple of years ago in connection with some ideas for the Kerry campaign. I didn’t hear back, which I suppose didn’t surprise me, although now that I think about it, the fact that I gave you your first job in investment banking, from which you have springboarded to ever greater visibility and prominence, might have entitled me to at least the minor courtesy of a rubber-stamp acknowledgement.
You may also recall that I sent along a copy of an unpublished book I wrote back in 1992 about where I thought this country was headed wrong and what to do about it. That the book never saw publication looks in retrospect to have been a pity, since all of the more dire prognostications I laid out have come true. To make these required no genius on my part, although it did take a form of thinking conspicuously absent in what I then described as the American “overclass”: intellectual honesty – not to mention a touch of moral imagination.
In the book I also put forward a number of prescriptive notions, some radical in fact, others only so in perception, that basically involved the application of common sense both to the way we live now and to the way we seem quite happy to see others live. Among these were suggestions regarding Congressional pay and staffing, a sensible tax structure, market-based incentives for individual educational accomplishment and so on.
My purpose in writing that book was to suggest, by example if you will, that it is no longer practical, even if eminently feasible, to attack the ills that beset this great Republic with further dosages of bullshit, although I recognize that in some circles this substance, of which Prof. Frankfurt has written with uncommon eloquence, is thought to have the same therapeutic effect on overclass social guilt that Zoloft does on clinical depression.
And that brings me to the Hamilton Project, the Wall Street Journal report on which prompted me to look up your website and download the mission statement. This I read with great interest, several times, and what I read prompts me now to write to urge that you and your colleagues in this amazingly self-congratulatory undertaking cease and desist.
I say this in a kindly, even condolatory way. The “Project” has absolutely no chance of success – unless, of course, you equate (and it occurs to me that by now you may) a certain measure of PR exposure with achievement. For one thing, there are no new ideas in the statement. “Economic security and economic growth can be mutually reinforcing” is not a new idea, nor is any to be found in the page-long gloss that follows the enunciation of this bold new “principle.” If I may paraphrase Churchill’s well-known apothegm on the late Soviet Union, what we have here is platitude wrapped in cliché inside bromide – over and over and over. And this begs the question, for this nation at least, of a nation-fixing mission statement that nowhere (unless I am blind) includes the word “immigration.”
Another reason that the Project has absolutely no chance of success is – how am I going to put this gently? – the people behind it. Your Advisory Council consists of 25 individuals. Of these, twelve come from Wall Street, broadly considered. I cannot say for sure whether experience in grossly-overpaid lines of work such as hedge funds and derivatives trading and private equity and giving merger advice, which do not in the ordinary course of their business concern themselves with such matters as how to get a job, pay the doctor, put food on the table, equips one to understand, let alone deal with the vexations faced by the people in this country we need to worry about, but it seems conjectural at best.
Another ten members of your Advisory Council come from Academe, which requires no further comment, a consideration that also applies to the member who comes from the Never-Neverland of management consulting. Two others make their home in think tanks, and the last is in publishing. At a time when enterprises like General Motors and Ford are back to wall, one might have thought some representation from the “make and do and hire and fire” sectors of American commerce would have proved helpful, even insightful. Perhaps even someone from Wal-Mart.
That said, I have no doubt that the Project will achieve its real goals. It will commission studies, enable consultants, stage conferences and symposia and panels, publish full-page newspaper ads, generate press coverage and the like, in the same inspiring manner as its ancestor in blather, the Concord Coalition of blessed memory.
But is this really the point? If there were some way to monetize self-congratulation, or to convert into BTUs the energy released by stroking the chin while gravely pursing the lips, I would argue otherwise. But the chances seem twofold: slim and none. The sad truth seems to be, at least in the eyes of one who has spent enough time at the Four Seasons to have a sense of how this stuff works, that this really isn’t a program about helping the less-advantaged or getting the country straightened out in a fiscal and intellectual sense, this is an advertisement for a government-in-waiting.
In conclusion, let me say that this letter is written in darkest self-interest. The day you receive this letter I shall turn 70. Years ago, I took my design for living from a famous New Yorker cartoon, in which a very fancy mother says to her son, “Eat your broccoli, dear,” and the lad, after inspecting his plate dubiously, replies, “I say it’s spinach and I say the hell with it!” The sun will soon enough go down for the last time for me, and already the chances are that its final twinkling rays will be blotted out by the giant mounds of spinach with which the American landscape has been heaped by self-aggrandizing Panglosses in pinstripes. I beg you not to add to the pile.
It should go without saying that neither letter received a reply.
This makes a lot of sense to me: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/06/26/trump-president-style-mayor-215294
Read the first two posts: http://wallstreetonparade.com/