Ganahl: The ‘Bob Vila Effect’ — Why Nothing Gets Done

July 27, 2023

by Dennis Ganahl, Ph.D.

For me, 1979 was a big year. I bought my first newspaper, the purchase of which included a farmhouse that needed lots of work. It had an old console TV, so I was able to watch Bob Vila’s first season of This Old House. I also had contracted with my state’s GOP to start and publish a newspaper. There was harmony in my universe. I didn’t have any handyman skills to complete home projects but it didn’t matter. Bob was going to help me fix up my old farmhouse. I wasn’t worried about publishing my newspapers. I knew how to publish.

Having Bob Vila in my life was like having a useful uncle. He was someone with practical skills who would happily work side-by-side kindheartedly showing me how to put a nail in a plaster wall or unclog a septic system that backed up into my basement. Bob didn’t yell at me when I made a mistake. He was understanding, and smiled while he identified the problem, calmly explained how “we” were going to fix the problem, and then fixed the problem.

The state GOP . . . not so much. They were talkers, endlessly debating about things that could or shouldn’t be done. The state party was in disarray. It still is. Elected officials, especially the most powerful, paid little or no attention to the state party once they were elected.

Every week, Bob and I met at my TV console for another work session. Bob would arrive dressed in work clothes ready to do a project that was completed by the end of the show. I was usually laying across my couch sipping a beer watching. Bob’s work crew included the homeowners who were putting in sweat equity. After the dilapidated parts were torn out, the crew rebuilt it like I wanted my farmhouse to look. Fresh and shining.

Meanwhile, meetings with the state party were more painful than having a tooth pulled without anesthesia.

By the end of This Old House’s first season, which was 13 episodes, I hadn’t completed one project on my farmhouse, and I had hired someone to unclog my septic system. All of my pictures were still unhung.  It was the same way with the state GOP. Nothing had gotten done.

Even though I hadn’t done anything to my farmhouse I wasn’t worried. I felt successful with the work that was done watching Bob Vila, and I knew what could be done to my farmhouse with some sweat equity. My discussions with the state party were ongoing, but we hadn’t published a single issue.

This is the situation our politicians and grassroots organizations find themselves in today. I call it the “Bob Vila Effect,” we think knowing is enough. The Bob Vila Effect gives us permission to think we’re being successful by endlessly talking about getting our house in order. It’s the quandary of every think tank. They waste time in unproductive meetings debating and pontificating about what can or can’t be done. By the end of the “work” day, everyone is emotionally spent — exhausted from talking. No one has the time or energy to take on a project and complete it.

But talking isn’t work. It’s time for conservatives to assess their work ethic. Historically, conservatives, and almost everyone else, have organized themselves as an endless litany of clubs and organizations based on outdated hierarchical organization charts. The higher up the chart, it is presumed the more important the person, but what does anyone actually get done? Do they fix up their old house?

Most of our time is spent complaining and arguing about things like taxes that are too high, an education system that doesn’t produce results, an administrative government that values itself more than the tax payers, and extraneous topics with no bearing on future success. Talking is a complete waste of our time.

I say tear up all of the organizational charts. It’s time for a new work ethic. Start a “Do Tank.” Organize groups by projects with specific goals and an expiration date for the group. Either fix up the old house, or get out of the way for someone who will. It’s time to stop talking, and start doing. Knowing isn’t enough. I challenge you to take on one civic project, and do it — like Bob.

Dennis Ganahl, Ph.D., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, is a newspaper publisher, professor, political consultant and author. Ganahl been involved in political campaigns for 52 years, having recently released his political satire, “Don’t Shoot. We Come in Peace,” available at


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