Know why you are successful

If you want to keep being successful, you need to understand the underlying reasons for your success.  Too often people get credit for winning when defeat was never really a possibility.  Several things had me thinking about this today.  First there was Sunday's Sac Bee article on the Mod squad (just don't call them that).  Then there were the recent stories about Toyota moving to Texas and the Governor signing tax credits for the private space flight industry.

And finally there was the top two conference last week which referenced the Chamber of Commerce's success pushing its agenda (or at least killing other people's agenda).  Certainly the Chamber deserves credit for its tactics, both in the Capitol and in the campaigns.  But they also had two big advantages giving them a significant head start.

First, there was the global economic meltdown.  In the 90's Republicans used the culture wars to great effect to get working class voters to vote against their own economic interests.  But those arguments have slowly lost saliency.  Further changing demographic trends have revealed the fundamental weakness of this strategy: They can help you win an individual election, but they absolutely kill you in the long term. 

Thus the best sword the GOP has in California is its perception of being more fiscally disciplined and better for business.  This sword got sharper with everyone becoming more nervous about their personal economic security over the last six years.  Thus the "jobs" argument got a lot more powerful.  Why Al Muratsuchi is probably suffering from whip lash this week.  It is also why the "job killer" moniker became so effective.  Now the Chamber deserves credit for recognizing the opportunity and exploiting it.   But if we were in the middle of the economic boom of the Clinton years their scorecard would not look nearly as impressive.

Second, there is the general uncertainty surrounding the Capitol.  Between redistricting, top two, term limits, members simply don't know where the safe ground lies.  And humans are inherently risk adverse (tend to overestimate risk and underestimate benefits).  So when we are unsure of our surroundings and what to do the default position is to do nothing.  The same dynamic that causes unsure voters to vote no on propositions is the same one that causes unsure legislators to vote no on bills when they are unsure of the repercussions.  That environment inherently favors groups like the Chamber who find the bulk of their success blocking rather than promoting legislation.  But a few years from now, as the impact of term limits kick in and members become more secure in themselves, this dynamic could easily shift.

So all this is a long winded way of setting up one of those fundamental lessons of life that is particularly apt in politics: Adapt or die.  There is no third path.