Sunday, October 26, 2008

2008 - The Year of the Outsider

2008 - The Year of the Outsider

“I come from down in the valley, where mister when you’re young, they bring you up to do, what your daddy done”

-Bruce Springsteen

Just like 1932, 2008 is a year when we will realign “Insiders” and “Outsiders.”

Insiders tend to be white, well-educated males from high income backgrounds. Religion, personality and regionalism narrow Insider ranks even further.

2008 will change things. We will either have an African-American President or a female Vice President. Being a Wall Street hotshot doesn’t carry the weight that it did a few months ago. Lobbyists are losing their clout with politicians who can raise money on the Internet.

Outsiders who eventually become Insiders learned to play the game of Life by different rules. They buck conventional wisdom and knock down the doors that are closed to them.

Obama is a good example. He was encouraged to stay in Congress and wait his turn. Instead, he took the risk of running for President after only three years in the Senate.

It was a risk that paid off.

One of the fascinations of Obama’s campaign is that he got the nomination without a lot of Insiders involved.

Win or lose, his campaign changed how modern campaigns are run.

It reminds me of William Jennings Bryan’s presidential campaign in 1896. Bryan ran a campaign that was different from any presidential candidate before him. But every candidate after him copied his style.

Under the new system, there will be a lot of political bosses looking for someone to boss. Candidates can ignore them and still win.

Some people spend their lives trying to be Insiders. They suck up, toe the line and hope that Insiders will tap them to join the ranks.

It’s uncommon for that ‘tap’ to happen. Once earned, power and privilege are rarely given away. Insider status is often handed down from generation to generation.

Unless you want to stay in the same career that your daddy did, you are going to have to buck the system.

Many of my friends are trial lawyers, journalists, and entrepreneurs. Those are natural professions for people who want to change the status quo.

Almost all great musicians are Outsiders. Rock and roll, country and rap have their roots in rebellion.

Outsiders are the driving forces in almost every profession. It took an Outsider like Bill Gates to go against the establishment at IBM. Then Google came after Gates when Microsoft became the Insider.

There is one group that I have never understood -- people who are Outsiders but think they are Insiders.

I know a young, disabled couple who identify deeply with the establishment. The couple has no money and no hope of getting any. They get every kind of government benefit available.

One of their hobbies is to call into talk radio programs. They rail for lower taxes, despite the fact that they don’t pay any. They get incited about estate taxes, although no one in their family has a taxable estate. They vote for political candidates who want to take away their benefits and their right to the jury system.

There are thousands like them, but I suspect that number is diminishing.

Most people do not like to rock the boat. It is easier to act the same way as everyone around you. It takes a crisis to get people to switch.

1932 was our last great economic crisis. It also broke some long standing political habits.

Up until 1932, African-Americans overwhelming supported the Republican Party. The Republican Party has always been seen as the party closer to Big Money, but that really was the case in the 1920’s.

Although few African-Americans in 1932 had wealth, the Republicans were the party of Lincoln. It took the Great Depression to put a dent in that voting pattern.

Bringing in Outsiders does not always make things better. Insiders have experience and knowledge that is difficult to replace. There is also the chance, like in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, that the Outsiders take on so many of the Insiders’ characteristics that it is impossible to tell them apart.

We will soon learn how it plays out.

Don McNay is the Chairman of the Board for McNay Settlement Group and the author of Son of a Son of a Gambler. Winners, Losers and What to Do When You Win the Lottery. You can write to him at or read other things he has written at

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