GWU Issues Management

A blog established for the George Washington University School of Political Management's Issues Management course.

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Location: Washington, D.C., United States

A middle aged white guy, who likes to think, talk and, too infrequently, write about politics, religion and gadgets.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

What We've Learned

You've read Rage for Justice. You've heard from Ben Palumbo. What have you learned? What does the life of Phil Burton teach us about issues management? You may find yourself on the inside, trying to move legislation on behalf of a Member of Congress with whom you work. You might be on the outside, trying to influence policy for your organization or your client. What insights have you gained that might make you a more effective advocate?


Blogger chitown_grrrl said...

I think that personally, the major lesson I took from the book and from Mr. Palumbo was that it will be important to develop a thick skin to do well in politics. When he asked the question regarding whether we would like to work for someone like Phil Burton, I was very hesitant, as I tend personally to back away from personalities such as Burtons. But on the other hand, Burton had so much to offer politically with his brilliant career. I think in politics it is vital to develop a way to handle people and personalities that you aren't immediately comfortable with.
Professionally, I think I have realized from tonight's class that flexibility is vital. I think that ultimately, Burton's greatest strength was also his greatest weakness. Burton drew great power from his mastery of the issues surrounding congress and each member. However, the control and intensity that allowed him to gather his knowledge and excercise his power also hindered his ability to be effective. He was so in control that he lost all ability to delegate and allow others to help. In addition to his rigidity surrounding apologies and admitting past mistakes, his desire to always be in control seemed ultimately to cause him to lose the Speaker campaign.
Overall, both the book and the speaker were very illuminating.

9:12 PM  
Blogger Princeton Dem said...

I completely agree with the previous comment that the question about whether or not I would like to work with Congressman Burton cuts right to the heart of our whole discussion. People of Phil Burton's genius and personality are successful in almost every walk of life and in every realm of politics; they are not confined to the Hill.

At least for me personally, it's also a very difficult question to answer. I think we would all like to think that we're smart enough and can work hard enough, and block out our personal lives to the point where we could be a part of that Burton-esque experience (with the success and power that comes with it).

But, and I won't presume to speak for anyone else on this, I'm still in the process of finding out whether or not I could keep up with a talent of Burton's level. I think the biggest lesson from last night, and the whole study of Burton, is that it may take a whole career to learn the answer to such a soul-searching question, but if you're interested in professional politics, it's a question that should always be in the back of your mind.

6:10 AM  
Blogger ajyass said...

From the book and Mr. Palumbo, it seems that there are two main ways to be a politician; you can either be flexible and likeable or you can be a steamroller. Burton and Wright illustrate these types to me. I would think that the best politicians would be some combination of the two. Burton did himself a great disservice by only sticking to his one way of doing things. While he accomplished a lot in his career, I feel that there are things he lost out on needlessly just by ignoring advice and help from others (the majority leader postion). Politicians need to know when to be flexible and make allies that they can use later when they want to be a steamroller.

In response to the question about working for a person like Burton, in thinking about it since class last night I have come to realize that no I don't think I could work for a Burton. It doesn't have anything to do with the drinking or the foul language either. I don't agree with the way Burton chose to get things done (similar to the Young Democrats president that Mr. Palumbo mentioned)and I wouldn't want to support or help that way of operating.

6:43 AM  
Blogger roscoe p coldchain said...

The life and career of Phil Burton makes for an interesting case study. I think one thing that I have learned through the reading and from hearing Mr. Palumbo speak, is that talent, desire, drive, and intelligence can take one very far and lead to many successess. But, to completely maximize one's potential, you must have the ability to make others want to work for and with you and the ability to trust other people to be as competent as you are.

As far as issues management lessons, I think Burton's experiences show that you can have complete understanding of an issue and still fail to manage it properly. Being able to work with others, bring disparate sides together, and compromise are all key parts of issues management.

12:14 PM  
Blogger Boston Dem said...

Mr. Palumbo's lecture was extremely enlightening in terms of understanding Phil Burton and his ability to get things moved through Congress. Burton was certainly a very talented legislator who was incredibly adept at moving his agenda. I was happy to hear Mr. Palumbo talk specifically about Burton's efforts to build relationships with those who he worked with in Congress. I think that many people often forget that politics is about working with and for people rather than advancing one’s own self interest. Burton certainly had a keen understanding that this was the case. What is ironic about Burton is that he understood the importance of relationship building yet it was his poor maintenance of these relationships that got in the way of his ability to become the majority leader of his party. Burton is a fascinating case study in issues management and how style and personality are pivotal to getting or destroying your desired legislative or public relations outcome.

9:28 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

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6:17 PM  
Blogger ABPITT said...

It was most interesting to hear Mr. Palumbo's emphasis on the importance of style in characterizing someone like Burton. It was equally interesting to me that what had made Burton so successful, also came back to hurt his political interests. Mr. Palumbo's description of Burton's meticulousness in cutting out newspaper clippings, etc., really highlighted to me what makes someone stand out. His mastery of issues and of bargaining clearly allowed him to accomplish a lot; however, his failure to build relationships hindered him and cost him leadership positions. I would like to think that I could work for a man like Burton and that simply being around someone that was so intelligent and masterful at what he did would bew reward enough, but I am hesitant. Like many of his colleagues, I need to develop relationships with someone in order to feel the sense of loyalty necessary to work for someone like Burton.

10:34 AM  
Blogger BlueGirl said...

Phil Burton was a fascinating man. It was incredibly surreal to have read the book and to hear from Mr. Palumbo, a man who knew Phil Burton personally.

Phil Burton mastered the rules, learned the issues, and knew what mattered to people. He used those 3 rules to his advantage. Burton was able to manipulate the system and control it in such a way, that he and those who helped him, would be rewarded.

I think one of the most important lessons I took away from Phil Burton is to know all the rules of the game being played. When you know every facet of the House rules, or every aspect of a congressional district - you have knowledege, which gives you power. Additionally, it is an asset to have a style and personality, but one must beware of that style comes across to others. Like in Burton's case, you never know who is watching and what reprecussions one may face as a result.

2:19 PM  
Blogger green elephant said...

Burton's life teaches us that ambition and strong personality can move an issue unlike anything else. For an organization promoting a position, one strategy could be to seek out someone close to Burton's calibre and allow them, with some guidance, to use the issue to fight their way to power. Of course, Burton was a true rarity and conditions in the House are a lot different now, but it may be a way to get legislation moving when other means fail. Burton seemed to love possessing enough knowledge to scare his opponents and pummel those against him with whatever power he had at the time. He played the game like few could, yet what the game was over didn't matter nearly as much as winning and moving closer to the top. The environmental organizations in the book were truly lucky that Burton ended up on their committee. Who else would have come up with such massive parkbarreling?

He made many enemies by being so aggressive, but his rise to the top was halted just as critically by the hubris of the power he had already one. He assumed he had several members' votes without taking the time to find out if he actually had their loyalty. As it was pointed out in the book, it could have all been different if he had paid attention to few individuals' uncertainties. This part of the story teaches us to give each decision-maker at least a little attention.

1:43 PM  
Blogger Johnny Utah said...

The key lesson to take from Burton, as communicated by Rage and by Palumbo, is to know as much as you can about an issue. Be the smartest guy in the room. Do your homework. The anecdote of Burton sitting in his office, reading political clippings about his colleagues, or excusing himself from a dinner party to review polling data, underscores how valuable information is. But you must also know when and how to use it, something at which Burton was clearly a master. All of these lessons can be applied to advocating for your client/interest/issue.

11:20 AM  
Blogger SoCal Girl said...

Phil Burton was an incredibly inteligent man who was great at what he did. From the way Mr. Palumbo spoke of him though, it seems as though he could have mastered anything. If there's anything important that I learned from Burton it would be to stay informed. There is so much information out there and more is added each day, especially in this business.

2:28 PM  

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