01/04/2007 05:13 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Zen Lessons for Mrs. Clinton's Staff (and for the Rest of Us)

Last night, I read the Healy/Nagourney NYT article on Senator Clinton and her meetings in New Hampshire. There was moment in the piece, however, that stood out to me. Maybe it's a small moment, but one I wish her staff would take to heart:

"Mrs. Clinton has gone to great lengths to try to keep these meetings private. She and her aides have strongly asked Democrats not to report what has taken place there, from what she says to what she eats, and where (she had the lamb at Ruth's Chris Steak House in Washington, the Dover sole at the Four Seasons in New York)."

Not everyone follows orders, it seems.

I understand the desire to keep talks private, and the need to have some discipline among the ranks. But were participants truly asked not to reveal location and menu? If I were there and a staffer had that talk with me, my first thought would be, wow, you've got to be kidding. I've heard of Secret Squirrel, but come on, Dover sole? Some things you've got to let go. For your health!

And for the health of this candidacy.

This is a small moment that begs a larger question: when you're running for President, how controlling is too controlling?

I personally don't like political life because I don't like living in fear. I don't like having my "danger danger!" grid activated all the time, so that I perpetually feel that there's a bear about to eat me, or that my plane dropped twenty feet in mid-air. I don't like worrying that something I did in my past is going to be the stuff of prurient tabloid coverage tomorrow. In whatever I do, I try to do the best job I can and be at peace with the outcomes. But since the goal of political work--be it controlling a candidate's image, or pushing voters to do what you want them to do--is to actually engineer outcomes (to the furthest extent of the law), no one is going to want you if go around singing "Let it be."

Hence my preferred day job as creative writing teacher to kids.

Watching from the sidelines though, I feel for Mrs. Clinton's staff. The Senator is staffed by am army of brilliant and beautiful women and men who give 200% every day of the week, many of whom have devoted their careers to her works and ideals. I can only imagine what it's like to be in their skins right now. This freight train is moving fast and in one direction. How they must be filled with fear, the fear of making the mistake, the fear of making the move that will send this whole thing crashing. Hence the need for control. For strict control.

The danger lies, however, in the loss of perspective. That by micromanaging the wrong details, by exerting control over unnecessary things, you exhaust the good-will of supporters. Or worse, you create ill-will among the very people you need to court. They start to extrapolate, and wonder what this will mean in terms of White House management style. We've had six-years to witness the Bush Fear & Loyalty Robots in action. Don't think we want a Dem version of that anytime soon.

The NYT piece revealed a staffer's inability to wrap tentacles around every single factor and squeeze them into submission. Not only did a staffer's attempt to enforce silence fail, the minute the staffer ended the talking-to there was surely snickering and eye-rolling, and a sense of "who are these people?" and perhaps a wonder if other candidates also rule by fear, and perhaps, force. What a staffer thought was CYA or doing her job in the end might have left scorched earth.

So what was my zen lesson from this passage?

Get wise about your need to control; acquiescence doesn't equal support. And if you're trying to enforce discipline (read=shut people up) and they do it, know you've only achieved a closed mouth. Not a closed mind. We have a primary system. People have a choice.