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The Multi-Task Candidate

10/16/2012 03:11 pm 15:11:45 | Updated Dec 16, 2012

I am a little late to the party this week. I could not really choose between baseball and the vice-presidential debate last Thursday. So I had half an eye on each.

These days, that is called multi-tasking.

A lot of folks are very proud of their ability to multi-task, and they let you know it. When you complain about requests to do more than two things at once, the multi-taskers upbraid the singularly focused. Multi-taskers are vigorous, dynamic, engaged. Those who resist are lazy, static, uninvolved. Multi-taskers create the impression they are problem solvers, always willing to add a puzzle to their plate and have at it. Their opposites avoid those opportunities, compulsing a single trial or tribulation to death. Multi-taskers embrace the speed of light pace of our post-quantum world. They count in nano-seconds.

Everyone else is ponderous.

Lots of businessmen are constantly multi-tasking. And even when they aren't doing it, their demeanor evokes it. Just take a look at Jack Welch, GE's former CEO. In the space of about five minutes last week, he was for Romney, against the Bureau of Labor Statistics and their lower-than-8 percent unemployment rate, for the notion that this constituted a conspiracy, and then against the notion he was "blaming" anyone for the conspiracy he pretended to unearth.

All at the same time.

A multi-tasking home run, if you will.

Mitt Romney is a multi-tasker. All those pundits lambasting Mitt for his lack of specifics, or for his herculean ability to completely change his mind in the space of, if not a moment, then most certainly an election cycle, are missing the point of the man. It's not hypocrisy, or the greasy wheel of a false politics that promises what can't be delivered. It's not even the re-awakening of an erstwhile moderate self (though Bill Clinton did have a lot of fun with that possibility). It's none of that. What it is ... is ...

Multi-tasking run amok.

Multi-taskers never get criticized for this, but their real problem is that they cannot focus. They have very short attention spans. My guess is that, were you to assemble a statistically valid sample of multi-taskers, a group diagnosis of Attention Deficit Disorder would not be far behind. It, of course, flies in the face of conventional wisdom to suggest that CEO Mitt or any of his successful confreres can't focus; that is ostensibly what they are paid to do, and the better they do it, the more they make. But run that reel a second time and look carefully. The Mitts of the world are not the ones doing the focus-ing. That work is being done by the brilliant back office guys and gals. Mitt is only the "closer," the guy they send in to seal the deal at the end.

Probably can do a bunch of them in a morning.

After all the non-multi-taskers have crunched the numbers and spent their all-nighters in the weeds.

Multi-taskers, however, make bad presidents. Bush II was a multi-tasker. You could tell given his love affair with his schedule. He ran the White House by the clock and was never late for the next meeting, regardless of what went on in the last one. That's discipline. The discipline of a multi-tasker ... who multi-tasked us to a near disaster.

Clinton -- contrary to appearances -- was not a multi-tasker. It's not that Clinton did not get a whole host of things done in a single day. He did. But he took his time on each. He is even like that when he campaigns. Just ask his scheduler. If Clinton meets you -- and I have met him at least three times -- he focuses and the watch stops. By the time you're done, he'll remember your name two years later.

A multi-tasker can promise a 20 percent across the board tax cut that doesn't add up. Or a $2 trillion defense increase that doesn't increase the deficit. Or a ban on exclusions for pre-existing conditions that doesn't require a mandate or raise premium prices. He (or she) can do this because, by the time he has to confront the contradictions he has embraced, indeed even while confronting them, he is on to the next ... problem.

While some aide is cleaning up the mess.

That's multi-tasking. Doing two or more things at once ...

Poorly.