Remember when you were learning to play baseball or softball and the coach encouraged, urged, implored you to swing the bat in a full arc – not to stop when you hit the ball but to follow through? Remember when you finally grasped the idea, swung so hard it spun you round then you turned to see that ball fly further than ever before? That’s when you knew the advice worked and it was a wonderful feeling!
Following through is not just a great strategy in sport, it works in every endeavor, including the realm of thinking. It's a component of human curiosity, from the what happens next? division. It keeps us reading to the end of a good book; it prompts us to use Google; it spurs us to ask questions. Following through with thinking not only makes for a stronger argument; if you've drawn viable conclusions from the evidence, it can also make for sound predictive ideas that take you and the reader to a whole different level.
But enough of the preamble – join me beyond the orange synapse for specific instances that better illustrate what I mean.
There is nothing more exasperating than the lack of follow-through in a writer's thinking. We only have to look at the media and their failure to follow through with questioning to know this.
Consider the reporting on the resignation of Eric Cantor. Typical of these reports is this Politico article which concludes with:
He confirmed that he has requested a special election from the governor — “at no additional cost to taxpayers” — so that the district’s new representative can begin in November.You only have to read the comments following these news items at various news sites, including here at Daily Kos, to appreciate the frustration with the lack of follow through by the original reporter of this story. Questions immediately arose that he apparently never thought to ask. Will Gov McAuliffe call this special election for November 4? When will the primaries for this special election be held? What if the primaries are won by different people to those on the general election ballot? Won’t this be confusing for those voting in the general election? All obvious questions yet never asked.
No doubt each of you has a pet peeve or several among the many media reports which failed to follow through. One of mine is Eric Cantor’s decision to step down as majority leader. This was generally hailed by Democrats as fantastic news but how many thought beyond this to who would take over from him and, more to the point, what impact would this person have on an already very dysfunctional House?
It’s a pertinent question yet it was rarely addressed. Had it been, it would have come as no surprise that Kevin McCarthy’s first decision as majority leader of the House Republicans was to pull the their original border bill from the floor and hand it over to none other than Reps Steve King and Michele Bachmann to rewrite. Now that’s an omen for the future that deserves attention.
Articles and diaries regarding John Boehner show a similar truncated swing of the bat. Writers set out with the premise that Boehner is one of the least effective leaders of the modern era. They recount the very slender margin of victory in his last election to Speaker and enumerate his many failings and failures. These well-crafted, articulate articles/diaries fully support their premise then, in conclusion, call for his replacement. That’s it; that’s where it ends.
It’s like stopping the swing the instant you hit the ball whereupon it just trickles down around your feet and goes nowhere. Okay, so you’ve made your point and it’s a very readable article but... where is the follow-through? It’s all very well to say Boehner should be replaced but with whom? What kind of person is needed in this position right now? Who should that be and, even more crucial, who would be the most likely successor and how effective or ineffective would they be? Given Eric Cantor’s successor’s ill-considered judgement, how much worse would it be if McCarthy were to be elected Speaker with tea partier Steve Scalise moving up to the position of majority leader?
I should say at this point that there is a case to be argued for just presenting the known facts without extrapolating from them. Readers will do that for you, if they’ve a mind to, and that’s what the comment section is for. Following through isn’t always appropriate and, where it is possible, the writer may not wish to venture into that territory. Consider the following instance of President Obama’s position with respect to the border crisis.
Having failed to pass a bill in both chambers – or rather, each chamber independently passed very separate and different bills which amounts to the same thing – Congress turned out the lights and went home leaving the President to deal with the crisis alone. The ensuing situation has been characterized as the President’s “problem” or “predicament” or some word to that effect, and the consensus is that he will take executive action by means of the dreaded Executive Order with the generalized expectation that this will incur the wrath of the Republicans. The end.
The lack of follow-through is in the generalization of the Republicans’ reaction which doesn't take into account the divisiveness within their ranks and how conflicting responses will likely impact on their voters. However, the writer may not want to go there. I can certainly understand that, no matter how well you've accrued the facts to support your perspective and conclusions, it is risky territory.
Follow-through in this case is about asking yourself: how great a risk is it? You may be wrong? You may be criticized? Of course you may but learning is trial and error and, weighed against the virtue of broadening the conversation, it may well be worth the risk. Besides, it’s great mental exercise - as I can attest from the experience of writing President Obama has the Republicans Right Where He Wants Them about this very subject.
That’s the thing about following through, it extends the arc of our thinking and opens up new conversations. Not only can it make good writing better but it also invites readers to brainstorm their ideas and who knows what gold that may reveal.