Turf Wars and Winning-at-all-costs:Chrysler and Falwell

I hear that people are tired of the
win-at-all-cost behavior and turf wars.

Someone said to me recently, “Don’t you get tired of turf battles?” I must admit I do. Another conversation pointed out that the public discourse today has devolved to a win-at-all-cost strategy. The speaker said the idea of discourse itself is being re-defined by behavior that makes winners and losers. No room for compromise. Two different issues, but both affect our lives in community. As I read the analysis of the Chrysler purchase and the epitaphs of Rev. Jerry Falwell, I thought about how the two really do affect us personally.

I recall an op-ed by Matt Miller several months ago in which he said “90% of political conversation today amounts to dueling talking points.” And he asks, “Is persuasion dead?”

If it is, we can’t hold much hope for our civic life because this is an alienating state of existence. It’s a constant state of battle in which one side must win by defeating the other with no room in the middle for considered discussion. As an old debater, this is a sad state. I know it dates me, but I recall when debate really meant assembling data and presenting a compelling case with the goal of influencing a moderate, thoughtful audience to accept it. It was informational give-and-take that was persuasive as well. It’s hard to find that today. And we’re more polarized as a society because of it.

Turf wars are common, and they are fought tenaciously. Even when they bring down the organization, people hold on to their turf. I read the USA Today coverage of the buy-out of Chrysler by Cerberus and the first point one analyst makes is Chrysler must: “Have the guts to ax anybody more interested in turf than success.”

Apparently turf continues to be an issue even as the company implodes and its future is threatened. Daimler paying to get free of an automaker is quite a remarkable statement about the internal state of Chrysler’s culture, even to those of us on the outside who don’t have all the information.

The Boston Globe analysis “Creative destruction at Chrysler,” puts it only slightly differently.

The Globe attributes the company’s downfall to union demands and the costs of pensions and health care. But underneath these, according to the analysis, is the unwillingness of executives to give up management of health care and discuss alternatives. Turf.

The death of Rev. Jerry Falwell has also presented an interesting variety of public “epitaphs.” One headlined him as a “uniter and divider.” Rev. Falwell saw his role to vocalize the precepts of his faith and he chose tactics that created unwavering support or complete rejection. In such a polarized debate, to be in the middle is to be counted as enemy. I find that sad, among other things.

I hoping–no, I’m praying–that we will see the error of this kind of public discourse and management style, and enough of us who are tired of both will work to re-establish a different quality to the national conversation and to our civic life. We have ample evidence that turf wars can bring down even powerful corporations when they take focus off the core purpose of the organization. And winner-take-all tactics can split great religious communities and leave us broken even as we speak of our desire for healing and to become whole. Two different issues, but each affects us very directly. Makes me wonder, Haven’t we seen enough? Isn’t it time for change?

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