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Designated Survivor versus The Unelected President

Posted by John T. Reed on

I just set my DVR to record the new TV series “Designated Survivor” on ABC at 10PM on Wednesday. The review in today’s paper said it’a fantastic.
My new book The Unelected President is supposed to arrive today. Both Unelected President and Designated Survivor are about a non-politician suddenly and unexpectedly becoming President of the United States.
The review buttressed my impression from watching the trailer. The Designated Survivor guy, “Tom Kirkman” is bewildered at becoming president, and remains so for a long time. My guy, “Mike Medlock,” is shocked, but gets over it in minutes.
The review says the Survivor is rushed to a bunker. They try to rush Medlock to a bunker. They insist. He tells them that he, not they, is the President and he will damned well give the orders, not the Secret Service. He does NOT go to a bunker.
The review says “Kirkman” is “not much of a take-charge guy.” That is the opposite of Medlock although Medlock has not been a platoon leader and company commander since his early twenties. So his take-charge-ness was only latent, not non-existent like Kirkman’s.
Kirkman was an academic before becoming Secretary of HUD. I really think a middle-aged academic who never commanded or supervised anyone is not credible to become Commander in Chief and head of the Executive Branch. But Designated was written by a pro teleplay writer so I expect they did a good job with the process of his becoming an effective Leader of the Free World through on-the-job training.
Novel heroes need to have internal conflict. Kirkman’s apparently is that he does not have a clue about core policy values or how to lead men. Medlock’s is that he originally intended a career as an Army officer, but was totally disgusted by the reality of that and vowed to never have anything to do with bureaucracy again, now he’s head of the US military and the biggest bureaucracy in the world.
Being the top guy is quite different from being lower—the top guy can fix the problems of bureaucracy—but leading bureaucrats is still something Medlock does not like, did little of, but now must master.
The review says, “[Kirkman] doesn’t want this new role, knows he’s not prepared for it in any way, but there’s no getting out of it.” Medlock did not seek it, but feels he has a patriotic duty to “take out the national trash” accumulated by the politicians before he leaves, and feels he cannot let the ultra-Left Speaker become President, which is what would happen if he resigned. I have not yet seen the explanation of why “Kirkman” cannot simply appoint a qualified VP and resign.
Once he gets oriented as to what power he has and does not have, Medlock is a fearless and ferocious activist President. I surmise the “middle-age academic” turns into something like that in Designated Survivor. I am curious as to how they make that credible with a guy who has never shown any such proclivity or had any such training or experience.
I would not be surprised if Designated Survivor had an effect on the presidential race. Unelected President could also if enough people read it, but since I self-distribute, no large amount of people will read it before the election.

The take-charge issue and the different ways I and Designated treated it intrigues me. Like Mike Medlock, I am a West Point grad, Harvard MBA, former platoon leader and company commander, coach of 35 athletic teams, former landlord of a cumulative thousands of tenants, business boss. Before I went through all that, I was not a take-charge guy.

At West Point they make you lead calisthenics, drill troops, learn command voice, hold leadership positions 11 months a year. At Harvard Business, every case puts you in the position of CEO or some other top executive and confronts you with a business situation in which you are the guy in charge and have to make the decision.

West Point freshmen and sophomores tend to be shy about giving commands and being in charge, but by the time you graduate, you have done it many times. At Harvard, students initially like to analyze, but just say on the one hand this and on the other hand that. Then the professor asks, “So what’re you gonna do?” “Well, someone would have to make a decision on that.” “Yes,” the professor says, “You!”

Rookie landlord and coaches are too soft, too lenient, too aw shucks “I don’t know any more about this than you fellows,” too accommodating, too inclined to try to be friends with subordinates. Some are too nice; others are too hard-ass or bossy or imperious.

Those are all of the sorts of mistakes rookie leaders make. Now the authors of Designated Survivor are telling me they are going to put a guy with no such training or experience in charge of four million military and civilian employees, dealing with the 320 million americans and 535 Congresspersons, and he’s going to figure it out on the run? Not likely.
If they did an accurate portrayal of such a President, I expect he would commit one basic leadership blunder after another all in high-stakes situations. I’m guessing the teleplay writer for Designated also has no leadership training or experience.

Actually, we currently have a President of that nature—Obama. He, however, is an excellent public speaker and that has essentially hidden all his leadership versus presidential theater inadequacies.

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