The “vision thing” is a phrase that is famously associated with President George H.W. Bush from his time as vice president to Ronald Reagan.
Origin of the “Vision Thing”
It originated from a 1987 profile in Time magazine when, as Vice President, Bush was considering a run for the presidency.
When pressed about what his potential agenda might be, he referred to the need for a broad, defining purpose or political agenda as “the vision thing.”
He had probably intended to follow Ronald Reagan’s example of repeatedly invoking the imagery of a “city upon a hill.”
However, Bush’s mention of “the vision thing” was widely interpreted as an admission of his struggle to articulate a grand, inspiring, and overarching theme or vision for his presidency.
Critics often pointed to this perceived lack of vision as a weakness in his leadership style, as opposed to the highly thematic and narrative-driven presidencies of Ronald Reagan, his predecessor, and Bill Clinton, his successor.
In political parlance, “the vision thing” has since been used to refer to a politician’s ability or, more often, inability to outline a compelling, coherent, and persuasive vision that inspires constituents and sets a broad direction for policy and action.
It underscores the importance of not just detailed policy knowledge and practical governance skills, but also the ability to connect with voters on an emotional level and to provide a sense of purpose and direction.
While Bush was known for his deep experience, pragmatism, and careful, methodical decision-making, the phrase “the vision thing” has somewhat overshadowed these traits, underscoring the lasting importance of a clear and inspirational vision in political leadership.
His presidency was marked by significant events like the end of the Cold War and the Gulf War, but it often lacked a unifying theme or narrative that voters could latch onto, which is what “the vision thing” represents.
Use of the “Vision Thing” in a sentence
- Despite her extensive knowledge on policy details and diplomatic relations, the candidate struggled with “the vision thing”, failing to outline a comprehensive and inspiring plan for the nation’s future.
- While the mayor had successfully implemented practical policies, his reelection campaign faltered as he grappled with “the vision thing”, finding it challenging to inspire the city with a compelling narrative of progress and change.
- Even though the senator’s pragmatic approach to problem-solving was widely respected, critics often pointed out his struggle with “the vision thing”, arguing that he lacked an overarching philosophy that could unite and galvanize his constituents.
Taegan Goddard is the creator of the Political Dictionary.
Goddard spent more than a decade on Wall Street as managing director and chief operating officer of a prominent investment firm in New York City. Previously, he also served as a policy adviser to a U.S. Senator and Governor.
Goddard is also co-author of You Won – Now What?: How Americans Can Make Democracy Work from City Hall to the White House, a political management book hailed by prominent journalists and politicians from both parties.
His essays on politics and public policy have appeared in dozens of newspapers and magazines across the country.
Goddard earned degrees from Vassar College and Harvard University.
He lives in New York with his wife and three sons.