Doers Versus Talkers

The other day in the comments, there was a brief exchange about the difference between people that do things and people that say things. Nixon used to divide the political world into those in the arena and those who talked about those in the arena. He even wrote a book about it. This is the same formulation you see in sports. Athletes complain all the time about the press, pointing out that few of them ever played the game at any level, so they can only imagine what it is like to be a player.

Another way to think of it, one that I prefer, is the 18th century salon, where men in elaborate costumes boasted to elaborately costumed women about what they would do if they were ever called to action. These were the guys who were “well schooled” in the art of war, but never made it out to camp, much less a battle. Meanwhile, out on the streets, men of action did the hard work of civilization, including the defense of it. These men had no use for theory because they were judged and they judged others by deeds. Doers versus talkers.

As with all models, it is an artificial construct used to better understand the world. George Washington was both a doer and talker. In fact, he was probably better at talking than war fighting. Washington was not a very good general, but he had a knack for saying the perfect thing at the perfect time in order to get other men to act. Most modern politicians do nothing but talk so calling them doers is a bit of a stretch. Paul Ryan, for example, has spent his life in Washington politics. The only thing he has ever done is promote himself up the ladder of party politics.

Even so, The model of the doer versus the talker is a useful one for understanding the world today. A century ago, almost all men in America were doers. In fact, it was hard to be anything but a doer. Even politicians started out as lawyers or businessmen. The scions of rich men could skip the doing and get to the talking, but there was not much of it. Status for men was tied to deeds so even rich guys joined the military, got into business or argued cases before the court. 32 US Presidents had some military experience.

Today, few of our politicians have ever done anything resembling useful work. Those who did some time in the service were almost always JAG officers, meaning the greatest danger they faced was a paper cut. The commentariat is even more divorced from the world of deeds. Look up the resumes of these folks and you see nothing but stops in think tanks and media jobs. Some spent time in government. As Tucker Carlson put it, these are stupid rich kids largely clueless about the world in which the rest of us live.

The American ruling class now resembles that salon where oddly costumed people engage in elaborate ritualized competitions. Deeds mean nothing, because no one does anything in the conventional sense. Instead, status is achieved by accumulating credentials, occupying government positions and winning verbal jousts with the other members of the meritocracy. Barack Obama is in the White House entirely due to his ability to talk about doing stuff. The meritocracy admires him so much, because he is one of them.

It’s also why all sides of the chattering class are in a lather over Donald Trump. He is not a member of the talking class. For all his faults, he is a man, who does things. He has risen to the top of a rough and tumble field that only rewards doers, particularly doers who like risk. Every day of Trump’s life has been about winning deals and making things happen. While Barack Obama has a trophy case full of participation medals, Trump has a trophy room celebrating the buildings he has built and the casinos he started. He even has a trophy wife and a trophy ex-wife.

There’s another aspect to this. In a world in which deeds count for nothing, words count for everything. Every sentence is packed with multiple layers of meaning, because there are no other ways to signal status, piety, achievement and so forth. The great athlete does not have to be a wordsmith because everyone know his status. The guys talking about the great athletes have to establish status by words. The guys talking about guys talking about guys talking about the great athletes are in a world where every comma carries great import.

A guy like Trump, who lacks these verbal skills, is an easy target of mockery from the talking class. The coin of Trump’s realm has no value in the world of modern American politics. Guys like Trump are supposed to write checks and remain silent. In the view of the meritocracy, Trump is a crude vulgarian. He is poor in the things they value most, even though he is rich in deeds. To make matters worse, Trump seems to get this and take some pleasure in vexing these people. He does not respect them and they know it.

It’s easy to admire men of action, but history is full of such men, who came to bad ends. Politics has always been about words at some level. George Washington’s political acumen counted for more than his military prowess. Conversely, the British generals he faced, lacked the political savvy to take advantage of their superiority in arms and material. Similarly, Trump’s stumbles in the game of words could very well unhorse him in the fight against someone’s wife. It’s why the talkers are so invested in his defeat. For most of them, it will be the only thing they have ever done.

newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Piffle4Me
Guest
Piffle4Me

Did Obama’s and Bush’s lack of smooth oratory really stopped them? The real problem is that Trump will not be “handled” by that same class of costumed folks. He’s the CEO of his company and now he’s the President of his campaign. Add to that not being the (D), thus the howls and the mockery. I can’t even imagine Churchill being seen as witty, intelligent person in this toxic media environment.

LetsPlay
Member
LetsPlay

Very nice piece ZMan! I’ve always referred to it as “Style over Substance.” And that is why in my comments I put so much emphasis on “character” of an individual. Maybe as we just discussed in your previous post, people are so used to low expectations that the minute you mention something like “Character’ right away some kind of ‘standard’ of performance is expected or available for comparison. No one wants to use the Ten Commandments, or any other kind of judging. So it is just Laissez-faire “do as you please” without any real consequences so long as you fulfill… Read more »

Uncola
Guest
Uncola

I read this line and heard Don Pardo’s voice:

“In a world in which deeds count for nothing, words count for everything”.

Yes! In this world: The garrulously redundant decide that which is clamorously crucial.

Everyone’s a critic and the pen is mightier than the sword.

Black lives and opinions matter.

Facts are relative, and narratives true.

And may the best spinners always win.

Uncola
Guest
Uncola

Actually, in retrospect, it wasn’t Don Pardo. It was Don Lafontaine’s voice I was hearing:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PjWKE-IJ4R8

meema
Member

Well done is better than well said. – Ben Franklin

Uncola
Guest
Uncola

If I had a do-over on my initial comment above – I would have said: “Where everyone’s a critic and the mouth is mightier than both the pen and sword.

Pens and swords require action. Mouths, not so much.

Member

This goes along with the whole cloud/dirt thing. Other ways of looking at it are Plato/Aristotle, realist universalism/nominalism, aprioristic deduction/empiricism, ratio/intellectus. In each former category the protagonist relies on some abstraction to gain a hegemony of some kind or deal with the world, and in the latter the emphasis is on gained experience as a guide to the here and now as well as the future. Note the difference in emphasis: the one who relies on experience tends not to be one seeking dominance for an idea. In fact ideas are not his primary mode of thinking. Plato had the… Read more »

LetsPlay
Member
LetsPlay

“I think that emphases in forms of thinking go through cycles in history and that we are reaching a peak in the hegemony of analytical thinking.” Not quite sure what you are getting at here. Do you mean technocrats dominate thinking today? I find it very hard to believe that much “analytical” thinking or critical thinking goes on in general. Sure we have technocrats managing financial systems, weapons development and warcraft, and the general gaming of societal systems for personal gain, but not much towards benefit of mankind on the whole. Take the Clinton Crime Syndicate. They are one big… Read more »

Member

This is an historical problem. Gradually through the centuries analytical thinking has been conflated with reason, to the point where people consider them to be the same thing. They are not. Analytical thinking involves breaking down something into its component parts and reconstructing it in order to understand it. Non-analytical reasoning looks at things in the whole and uses past experience, knowledge and other undefined aspects in order to understand. That word “understand” is important. It is used in translating Greek and Latin to describe what was called “intellectus” by ancient and medieval philosophers. A simple example as to how… Read more »

LetsPlay
Member
LetsPlay

Thanks for the clarification. I’ve never cared for Tim Burton’s stuff so I don’t know that analogy. But seems like you are talking about “anal retentives” to a large degree, or those who can’t see the forest for the trees. What was missing before, even though you mention Aristotle and Plato, was the word “reason.”

Member

Whoops! My bad.

Let me say tangentially as a card-carrying member of the talkative class that I appreciate everything the doers do to let me (and everybody else) enjoy this world, and in my talking life I try to see things from the point of view of the doers. Oddly enough, this perspective often puts me at an advantage over the talkers, who frequently have the strangest notions of how the world supposedly works. The anti-intellectual joke that some things are so stupid only an academic could believe them is sometimes all too true…

guest
Guest
guest

Trump seems weird to them, just like 99% beef burgers taste funny to high schoolers who only ever had pink slime mystery patties for school lunch. When asked a question, Trump just answers, what the hell? No pre canned focus group tested grape drink answers, wtf? It’s like Dave Chappelle having juice for the first time, people are trippin’!

Ace Rimmer
Guest
Ace Rimmer

At this juncture, the job of the media is to sell “no, he can’t win, don’t be silly” to the chattering classes (i.e. – each other), so they can sleep soundly in their beds at night. We won’t really know anything about what’s really going on today behind the scenes until most of the principals are dead and gone.

The proof is in the pudding. Here’s another spoonful (reads of another policeman execution in [fill in blank]).

Bon appetit!

Karl Horst (Germany)
Guest
Karl Horst (Germany)

I was surprised you had to go as far back as Gen. Washington for a historical reference. Gen. D. Eisenhower is in my mind, the most recent example an American president who was both a doer and sayer. Even President Regan, who was at least governor of California before becoming president, didn’t have nearly the leadership credentials or accomplishments that Gen. Eisenhower had when he came into office. I should also mention that the reason you have such a great highway system is because Gen. Eisenhower brought back first hand knowledge of our four-lane autobahn system. “The old convoy had… Read more »

Severian
Guest

I had a liberal buddy get quite literally angry — flushed, balled fists, sweating, the works — when I told him I don’t particularly care how “smart” the President is, and can’t really comprehend how anyone else would.* I quoted somebody, I forget who, to the effect that Disraeli went to the races and played cards while Nicholas II went to the opera and played chess, and who would you rather have running your country? But nope, George W. Bush was an “idiot,” so of course raw raging IQ was the one and only qualification for high office back then….… Read more »

Member

+1 on Nixon. He was clearly very intelligent; high IQ. That didn’t matter one wit to the Dems. They were out to get him and he finally gave them the chance. It was a coup, and we were sold a story.

Member

Makers, takers and fakers, the pendulum moves between them and combines them in odd ways.

I fear that right now the takers and fakers are running the joint.

Buckaroo Banzai
Guest
Buckaroo Banzai

ZMan, excellent essay. But I’d disagree with your premise that Trump “stumbles in the game of words”. Trump simply uses words to play a different game than most modern politicians. Trump understands that the media is his principle adversary, and that they will deliberately distort everything he says. Knowing this, his goal is to draw attention to their distortions, and make them look as dishonest and foolish as possible. So his strategy is to make a vague statement, let the media work itself into a Two-Minute Hate frenzy, and then issue an amplification or clarification that makes him look reasonable… Read more »

Member

Yeah, and the media are on this… they are effectively, ( for now) neutering this tactic by Trump by blowing everything up to scandal and crazy-talk. Of course that works in the short term, but it also feeds the tactic that the Clintons have always used… to flood the press with so many stories that people shut down, and see a wall of accusations… and then the Clintons claim conspiracy or these things are old after avoiding them for a couple of cycles. It works for the Clintons because the media allow it. With Trump, the media are trashing him… Read more »

Member

You make an excellent point. It would take an infinite number of NRO columnists backed by an infinite number of big donors to produce anything remotely as insightful. To elaborate on your point, I would also say given the nature of Trump’s adversary we will never really be able to judge whether his strategy is successful until the votes are counted in November. This 2nd Amendment flap is a good example. Cankles’s operatives invite the father of a mass murderer to one of her rallies and the media needs to cover for her. They search around for any excuse to… Read more »

Leslie Oliver
Guest

The real question that needs to be addressed is, are the ideas that are being expressed by those who ‘talk’ or by those who ‘do’ measuring up a higher standard?. Trump’s ‘doing’ is that of a iiar. He has poisoned the underlying ideal of what America stands for with a coarse and racist theme reminiscent of Nazi Germany. Hilary of course is no better. But the most frightening part of this discussion is the willingness of Americans to accept either despot as legitimate or in any way adequate to lead. Is this the standard we accept in both the doers… Read more »

Uncola
Guest
Uncola

Let’s talk about “liars”, shall we?

Consider the Disgraced Globalist Tool, Dan Rather, as he vilifies Trump for his Second Amendment comments while ignoring Julian Assange’s revelations regarding the death of a DNC staffer and the subsequent cover-up by the Democratic Party in blaming Russia.

Why do some always complain regarding the Trump Forest while missing the Establishment Trees?

Can you help me understand, especially, in light of your aforementioned “higher standards”?

Leslie Oliver
Guest

I think it is obvious that Dan Rather is simply another tool of the NWO as is Trump. As is Hilary. They appear to be on opposing sides but are not. This is what is so remarkable. Everything is believed. Even AFTER the likes of the murdering Clintons took office, the scoundrels from the Bush family brought the Patriot Act and after Obama did EXACTLY the OPPOSITE of ALL he promised. Yet the American people STILL continue to believe that these candidates [psychopaths] are not ALL following the SAME agenda? It is almost laughable if it wasn’t so sad at… Read more »

Member

What a specious description of Guantanamo. Incredible.

Leslie Oliver
Guest

Yes, torture is a specious description. LOL.
May what you and others condone for another be your just rewards.

Jeff
Guest

Z – You mentioned the other day in a post that you see your material on other peoples sites yet they they never asked permission for the material. I have been using your stuff for awhile now, without your okie dokie. So I respectfully request your permission to use some of your material on my site, including some from this post. I always provide a link back so I hope that is satisfactory.

Let me know….jeff

Member

Jeff, glad you brought that up. I find material and when I post (usually a short excerpt or quote) I include a link to the original. Once upon a time when I linked a corresponding backtrace popped up on the other site. I rarely see that now. Changes in WordPress or my browser?

Like Jeff, I’m asking is there a request tab or something (nice word when I don’t know what to call it) I should be clicking?

Member

Excellent, and to the point. No one, regardless of word-smithery could withstand the scrutiny that is being applied to Trump. This it the press and critics going after Romney times 50. Trump is being parsed from inside the party and from outside, with Hillary’s campaign feigning offense at every comical innuendo. … and the press report straight up, and the GOPe’s faint in their chair. At least it’s clear who have agendas and all the masks have pretty much dropped. The do-nothing- class is threatened … the folks that decide what is offensive or not and the lobbyist who steer… Read more »

Anon
Guest
Anon

Well put.

Exasperated
Guest
Exasperated

When I can, I prefer to vote for candidates that have a track record of success in the private sector and I try to avoid voting for anyone who has been at the public trough for their entire adult life. It’s very gratifying. I do not understand the awe of Wonks, those who read and regurgitate white papers, unless they have had real world, hands on, in the trenches experience. One thing I have noticed is that though they may be glib, they can’t seem to wrap their minds around the Law of Diminishing Returns, among other things. Recently there… Read more »

Exasperated
Guest
Exasperated

I should have pointed out that a lot of what passes as Innovation is just the “Takers”, justifying their existence and their jobs; they don’t always add anything beneficial; they’re just solving a problem that didn’t exist. For example, a union worker, was observed for several hours by a safety officer who decided that the workers would have to wear full gloves to protect their hands from an acid splash back. Up until now, if they splashed acid on themselves , they just went and rinsed off their skin. Note that they already have to wear uncomfortable gloves, but up… Read more »

TrumpMonster
Guest

“… someone’s wife”, great line. I’ll have to steal it

Sam J.
Guest
Sam J.

I think one thing Trumps doing is giving the left back what they throw. For decades now the left has been calling conservatives the most horrible things, stupid, racist, Nazi on and on yet no one tells them this is undignified. No one tells them they are coarse for doing so because they hate conservatives. What Trump has said is not any worse than that which they have been slinging at conservatives for decades. They can dish it out but they can’t take it.

A. Ames
Guest
A. Ames

Zman: Thank you for the epiphany. I had noticed over the years, particularly in my Massachusetts town meeting, that there are people who seemed to know nothing about “doing” only about “feeling”. I had been using that distinction to rationalize conservatives vs. liberals, but “doers” vs. “talkers” does a much better job of explaining our current bipartisan situation. It also explains a large part of the difference between cities and country or “red” vs. “blue”. “Doers” usually wade in and start shoveling, whereas “talkers” want a committee meeting first.