My 73 Minutes as a Political Commentator


Photo by Ana Flávia | Unsplash

Photo by Ana Flávia | Unsplash

It began innocently enough – just a couple of lines in Mark Halperin’s “Wide World of News.” Halperin was looking for Wisconsin voters willing to be in a focus group, and I thought it sounded fun. I could join a political discussion with a professional analyst and display my political mastery honed through hours of listening to Michael Smerconish, broad-based reading, and daily experience running a private-public-partnership.


It was easy to take the plunge, and the run-up to the recording was exhilarating. The qualifying questions, the sound checks, and the details of appearing on-camera unfolding over several weeks showed me many of the behind-the-scenes details of a well-executed show. These people were serious, and I was ready to be a valuable panelist – maybe even be invited back for another appearance!


I knew it would be tough. My beliefs are much more purple than red or blue. Still, how much harder could it be than my day job? As the CEO of the Wisconsin Center for Manufacturing and Productivity, I regularly work to build support with spirited politicians from across the spectrum for small and medium-sized manufacturers to provide practical solutions to their operational problems. I have trouble buying into partisan arguments and try to go where the facts lead me – “evidentiary thinking,” some would say.


Being an introvert doesn’t help, either. I like thinking through comments and carefully considering my response, which takes time. It’s not in my nature to interrupt or forcefully argue with a stranger. Still, preparation, practice, and a willingness to lean into the discussion should carry the day.


Preparation began in earnest – more listening, more reading, and more than a few visits to statistical sources to strengthen my perspectives. Thorough preparation would allow me to react quickly, construct insightful comments, and be ready when it was my turn.


They warned us that time would go quickly during the taping.  Warp-speed was a better definition.


Even so, the pre-game seemed a bit slow. There were infinite adjustments to positioning cameras and setting sound levels. Who knew it was so hard to look into the camera, stay centered in the frame, and speak clearly at the same time? The discussions about the show’s segments – “blocks” as we call them in the business – were routine. Even the warm-up questions and instructions were a bit tedious and pedantic. I just wanted to get into the discussion and show; I was ready for prime time.


Then, the taping started, and we went from “slow and careful” to “let ‘er rip” in a millisecond! A video lead-in, then a discussion, a quick break, and rinse-and-repeat…twice. I’m still not sure how they did almost an hour’s worth of recording in eight minutes. It blew past me – the comments, the votes, the admonitions to speak into the camera. Most of the time, I listened and waited to join politely, struggling to find the words – or the will – to jump into the middle of a spirited discussion. It was exciting, challenging, and aggravating all at the same time.


And then it was over.


The nuggets about manufacturing that I wanted to share were unused. Opportunities to turn the discussion to more reasoned places missed. The chance to make an impression gone. It always feels a little deflating to realize that expertise in one area doesn’t promise success in another.


Still, it was great fun. I made new friends (Hi Audra!) and got a brief peek behind the curtain of the television world. To Mark Halperin and Michael Smerconish: Congratulations on what you do and making it look so easy! Keep it up! Many of us depend on your efforts.


Now, when you want to know about manufacturing, give me a call!

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