“Values” And Political Candidates — How to Evaluate What You See and Hear This Election Season

This commentary was originally posted in May 2017 as the political season moved into high gear.  I updated this in late-Fall 2017 as Secretary Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were about to square off at Hofstra University for their presidential debate.

And it is worth reading again after last night’s State of the Union presentation to the Congress by President Donald Trump (January 30, 2018).  This was a different persona for the chief of state, not the harsh tones of the Twitter-ing that he does every day; not the campaign rally insults and pointing out the dangers posed “by the other” of us; not the nastiness in general of his off-the-cuff commentary.

The “SOTU” was polished, well presented, with some flourishes here and there, and with some policies laid out with details and others brush-stroked for the lawmakers (to fill in the blanks).  Overall for President Trump, a good night.

The Democratic Party response by Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III was also excellent and perhaps a good example for us in the context of the Aristotelean model that I outlined in 2017 in the commentary i re-present here.

Given all of the above, I think the content is worth re-reading and keeping in mind as we move into the campaigning for the November 2018 election.

Commentary by Hank Boerner

Back in May 2017, as the primary season was in full roar, the two main contenders were steadily emerging in the leader position in their respective parties —  Donald Trump and Secretary Hillary Clinton. Tonight the two square off at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York (about 20 miles east of Manhattan).

Are you tuning in? Estimates are that perhaps 100 million people will be watching on broadcast, cable and social media. We are a long, long way from the first televised presidential debate, between U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy and then-VP Richard M. Nixon. That was a very polite and real debate, with issues front and center and the two contenders exchanging compliments (about the other).

The two contenders today are absolute opposites and lightning rods in their own right  for serious criticism — and at the same time heaped with praise by their fiercely fervent followers.

So how do we cut through the bombast and probably the insults hurled, and barbs exchanged and other snide-ery to take the true measure of each of the contenders?

For sure, both are strong-minded, power-projecting personalities whose first names are front-of-mind in every corner of our country.

Back in May, as the two contenders were moving ahead in the polling, I shared thoughts on how to judge the “values” of the Republican and Democratic front-runner.

Update: Here is my May 2016 commentary — hope that it is helpful for you.

The nation is being perceived at home and abroad perceived as being deeply divided on many issues. Labels abound — signifying “I’m right / you are wrong” on many issues.

Labels:  Right-Left. Liberal-Conservative. New York City & Hollywood and the rest of the USA. The One Percent and the rest of us (the 99%).  Republican-Democrat, or at least by the labels of what that used to mean.

Look at the messages we have been hearing:

Let’s put up a big wall (a beautiful wall, 60-feet tall with a beautiful door) to keep “them” out [vs.] a more liberal immigration policy.

No Muslims allowed [vs.] we cannot discriminate and the basis of religious or ethnic origin. (Remember that powerful First Amendment!)

Tear up NAFTA [vs.] those advocating for free trade polices.

Free tuition – for all in public universities. No more student loans. [vs.] everyone should pay their own way.

And on and on and on. If you own stock in ABC-TV (that is, in parent The Walt Disney Company stock, the corporate owner)– or perhaps CNN (parent Time Warner) — or MSNBC (Comcast) or Fox (News Corp), you should be pleased.

The ad campaign dollars have been flowing in and the best is yet to come in the general election cycle.

If you are the “average” American (whatever definition that is today), and you are trying to decide who to vote for, perhaps volunteer for, maybe click the payment button on the candidate web site to send money…well, you are not alone if you are anxious, confused, angry, disappointed, disgusted, hopeful, and more.

So I will briefly share some of my speech-coaching techniques here that may help you to better evaluate “who” is deserving of your support and vote. (And DO vote this November; a lot is at stake!).

About “The Rhetoric” — Not a Bad Word

We often toss around the term, “rhetoric” (as in, oh, that’s just political rhetoric) but the concept is very important. Here’s why.

Over the years in my professional life, and even in my personal dealings with leadership (when I volunteer to do so), my coaching for speech-making and more effective campaigning goes back about many centuries, to Ancient Greece and in the years of  300’s B.C.

We owe thanks to Ancient Greece for introducing us the first western concept of democracy. Think Demos in Ancient  Greece  the People.

Greece was a direct form (not representative form) of democracy.

Rhetoric was as a system devised by the wise men to help the citizens (and not everyone was one) to understand politics and politicking (Polity, derived from the Greek word for citizen…politics should be all about the work of citizens in governing themselves in the democracy.)

The perfecter of the system of rhetoric was the great teacher,  Aristotle, He was born about 384 B.C. and died at age 62 in 322 B.C. He is credited with greatly influencing western philosophy, Islam and Judaism, and many philosophers and deep thinkers who would follow.

Aristotle is often credited with being the first true scientist; creator of “logic” as we know it; was one of the most honored citizens and teachers of his time.

The important teaching relevant to this essay is about rhetoric  —  in the the Ancient Greek, the making of magnificent orator, a teacher.

Here are brief highlights of what my partners  and I  adopted in our leadership coaching from the Aristotle’s teachings on rhetoric.  Aristotle believed there were three means of persuasion in the democracy:  reason, character and emotion.  These are all on display in campaign 2016 in the U.S.A.

Ethics and Values Come First

First — consider ethos – from this our modern day term ” ethics” has descended. It’s about the values of the orator. What are his/her personal values, beliefs, actions, ethical behaviors? They are on display in the speaker up there on the podium, derived in great measure from the actions (walking the talk) as well as the pronouncements.

Second — consider pathos — from this we get modern day sympathy, empathy. It is about the connection with the audience (the “hearer,” the receiver of the oration]. Is the speaker connecting with the audience? Are they feeling connected with him/her?  Do they share values?  Do you share the values of the candidate(s) that you prefer in 2016?

Third — consider logos — the word comes as well from the Ancient Greek. We think of “logo” in terms of the familiar corporate branding but it means more. It is the word/words — the signs — coming from the speaker to the audience.  And other signals sent, some silent. (Does she look you in the eye?  Does he seem uncomfortable up there?  Do you have a feeling that what the speaker is saying isn’t ringing true with you?)

Putting It All Together

So simply put, does the orator (1) demonstrate the values that the audience appreciates, agrees with, shares with the speaker? (2) Is the speaker connecting with the audience in powerful ways? (The best of our preachers know well how to do this on Sunday mornings.) And (3) are the words coming forth (the logos) resonating…creating empathy…”ringing true” with those listening?

This is the system of persuasive rhetoric. And in the end, if all this works, we achieve mythos…a powerful, memorable, moving story that will ripple out way beyond that immediate audience. In the Ancient Greek, it was about a teaching a fable. But we clearly remember childhood fables, don’t we? The turtle and the hare. Jack and the Beanstalk. Little Red Riding Hood and “grandma” Wolf.

And the mythos created by a candidate is very powerful. Think of President Ronald Reagan — the Great Communicator. President Theodore RooseveltSpeak Softly and Carry the Big Stick. Give the Common Man a Square Deal!  

President Franklin RooseveltWe Have Nothing to Fear But Fear Itself!  Give the Common Man a New Deal.

President John KennedyAsk Not What Your Country Can Do For You!

These logos became the enduring embodiment and capture the legacy of many presidents.

And so whether conscious or not of the power of the system of rhetoric, we the listeners will no doubt be making up our minds on candidates in 2016 based on their rhetoric.

The two front runners now — Donald Trump and Secretary Hillary Clinton — have mastered some forms of rhetoric, whether by conscious means or not.  You can like them or not — based on the system of rhetoric I’ve just set out for your use.

I am writing this summary for you, dear friend and voter, not the candidates. They have their own advisors. I’m sharing this so that you can watch and listen to the candidates and the campaigns as these unfold, and put the ethos-pathos-logos together and see if the mythos (story) adds up and matches your own story. (Every one of our lives and those of our loved ones, near and departed, is a story, right?  A story we tell over and over in various ways.}

It may be that you think you will have to hold your nose or avert your eyes and cast your vote. Or, happily, a candidate may really touch you and their mythos resonates with you and others.

So far, the two political party outsiders — Senator Bernie Sanders and The Donald — have done a really good job of creating their stories, mostly anti-establishment, anti-status quo. Their rhetoric is resonating with enthusiastic, cheering audiences.

What are your issues? What keeps you up at night? What are your daily worries? Think about the ethos — the values of the candidate(s) — and think hard: do they match your feelings about key issues, etc.?

Having coached corporate executives, public officials, heads of activist organizations, and others in the Aristotlean method of the rhetoric, I must listen to the candidates through this lens. And so can you.

And, (sigh) since we are a very divided nation on so many issues, I am finding it challenging to nail down the mythos that most appeals to me. I think that many Americans are in the same boat.

As my colleague and friend Larry Checco (a brilliant essayist) writes, this year it’s not about political party anymore — it’s about COUNTRY! in this election cycle.  You can see his essay at Accountability Central .com

And the 40% of the electorate that is reputed to be “independent” of party label or affiliation will be the determining factor in November.

When you hear “rhetoric,” keep in mind now that it is an ancient yet very powerful system to motivate you, the voter.  Use this guide in evaluating who should get your very precious gift in November – your vote!

Good luck to us all!

Personal footnote: My growin’ up hometown is Hempstead, New York (and semi-rural East Hempstead). How great it is for this hometown boy to see Hometown Hempstead and Hofstra University in the headlines ’round the clock!

Candidate Bernie Says – Free College Tuition — The Appeal is to….Seniors?

by Hank Boerner – May 2, 2016

Feel the Bern” — and many younger voters or would-be voters like what they hear and see when Senator Bernie Sanders called for “free tuition” to public colleges and universities. So what’s not to like if you seek a higher education and get your ticket stamped to enter the world-of-work with credentials and a solid education? Without a great debt burden?

The total student debt outstanding in the USA now exceeds $1 trillion. The debt-burdened can get relief in federal bankruptcy court from most of what they owe — but not student loans debt. These follow you to the grave! Seriously.

Bloomberg Business News magazine had a focus on this in the December 27, 2015 issue: “Hey, Pops, My Student Loans Are Due.” Now you would think that meant a young adult was letting Mom and Dad know the rent owed for living at home in the basement apartment was not coming forth. No. This is something very different. And something that may be really resonating with the Bern’s message.

You see, the story was about the escalating student debt of the SENIOR population! According to the non-partisan [federal] government’s Government Accountability Office (GAO), the education-related loans owned by those over 65 years of age totaled $2.8 billion in 2005 — and grew to $18.2 billion in 2013 (the latest data available). This was their own and their offsprings’ education and related school expenses.

In 2013, says the GAO, 155,000 seniors lost part of their Social Security payments to government seizure to repay student loans. (the government can also grab your tax return money to repay loans.)

More than half of the student loans owed by those over 75 years of age were in default. Talk about student loan debt follow to the graveyard.

To get debt relief (almost impossible, expert say) seniors would have to prove that without relief their life is hopeless.

One borrower profiled by Bloomberg BW writer Natalie Kitroeff was Robert Murphy of Canton, Massachusetts. his story sounds like it could be that of many other Americans in the middle class who “did all the right things” and got shafted in the end. (Which makes The Bern’s arguments ring true with so many other people of all ages, not just the young.)

He was educated, served as CEO of a manufacturing company, encouraged his kids to pursue a college education, signed up for loans (Parent PLUS loans that are federally-assured), and lived well. And then. His company moved overseas (sound familiar, out there in manufacturing-land, USA?). He lost his job and then his house. and owes Uncle Sam $250,000. Which he cannot pay.

And so — free tuition at public colleges and universities sure sounds like a really good deal for students of ALL ages, doesn’t it! If Mr. Murphy or his wife (a teacher’s aide) want to go back to school to prepare for another career, Senator Saunders’ message sounds like it fits their situation.

And so it is not just the young who are responding with enthusiasm to The Bern’s messages.

And The Donald’s message — I will bring back American manufacturing jobs — is very appealing as well.

This is an interesting presidential campaign for parsing out issues (and messages about issues) that are really resonating with voters (at least in primary season).

Watch the seniors (remember they vote in great numbers) and the call for (1) free college tuition, and (2) bringing middle class, higher paying jobs in manufacturing back to the American nation. The realities may be elsewhere (who pays for all of this public largesse and how to actually yank back the millions of jobs that moved out of the USA?).

Next time you hear Senator Sanders repeat (again, yes, again) the call for free tuition — think through how many older Americans may be struggling under the burden of student loan debt, incurred for themselves and for their children. Something following you to the graveyard sounds awful scary!

Thanksgiving Day 2015 – The National Holiday to Pause and Acknowledge

by Hank Boerner

Thanksgiving Day in America, 2015  – we have many blessing to acknowledge and give thanks for…on this 152 year old national holiday…

At the White House, Washington, D.C. – October 3, 1863. This was a very troubling time in the life of the nation. Three months earlier, on a battlefield in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the armies of the divided nation, north and south, clashed in a bloody and grim battle, with the loss of more than 50,000 men (dead, wounded, missing).

Soon after, in just two-minutes time, our 16th CEO — President Abraham Lincoln — would deliver his famous “Gettysburg Address,” summing up the past, present and future promise of the United States of America…all that in just 272 words. Now, on that October 3rd some 152 years ago, a longer worded proclamation would be issued: the Proclamation of Thanksgiving.

A news magazine editor, Sarah Josepha Hale, wrote to Mr. Lincoln in September 1863 urging him to “have a day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union festival.” The future course of the Union was not assured in Fall 1863, as seven states of the south in 1861 had declared their intention to leave the Union of [then] 33 states and to create their own government– the Confederacy. The bloody Civil War between the Union and the Confederation was on — and 600,000 Americans would lose their lives over the course of the four year war.

As a message of hope in dark days, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of Thanksgiving. The year, he wrote, “…has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. In the midst of a civil war, of unequaled magnitude and severity, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of war…”

The President implored the “interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it…the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and Union. “ He ordered the nation to “set apart and observe the last Thursday of November as a day of Thanksgiving and praise…”

And so for the American nation, the tradition began, of a proclaimed day of pause, for giving thanks for all of the blessings that we as Americans enjoy (and often take for granted).  The holiday persists as an important “custom and tradition” in the words of the editor who wrote to Mr. Lincoln.

President Lincoln’s words should strike a familiar chord today for many of us. These are troubled times around the world. There is civil strife in many parts of the world, and wars of “great severity” being waged, with disastrous results for combatants and affected civilians. There is great “dis-harmony” in American politics, in our public sector, in the popular culture, in our news & commentary in media, and there is a serious inability in many spheres of the American society to “get along.”

President Lincoln sounded positive notes in issuing the Proclamation, enumerating many reasons for being thankful — including for “our continuing freedoms and the great abundance of the American nation.” The Proclamation looks forward to the day of a re-united United States of America. He called on “Americans to have a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwellith in the Heavens…and commend to His tender care all widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife…”

The President ended with: “…[we] fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and union.”
And so the order to set aside the last Thursday of November for the national holiday of Thanksgiving.

We were then a nation of 34 million; today we are ten times that population (320 million), the sweeping spaces of our continent from sea-to-shining-sea filled with immigrants, refugees and their many descendants. The spirit of Thanksgiving endures, embraced enthusiastically by generation of strangers coming to our shores.

But Thanksgiving, alas, is not appropriately honored  everywhere in he American nation. And that for me is troubling.

We are inundated with ads on TV and in newspapers this week beckoning us to come to retail stores — or even car dealerships! — in the early hours on Thanksgiving morning. (Or at any time during that holiday that was intended to be set aside for pause and celebration.) I think we should ask ourselves — do we really need to shop ’till we drop on this important national holiday?

I believe that Thanksgiving is day of celebration with important origins — a holiday created in a time when the future of the nation was in doubt…when there were great sacrifices made to preserve this very unique Union. Dark days, indeed — and the Thanksgiving holiday gave the American People hope for the future and pause to think about the unique nature of the Union created just two generations earlier.

The Union held of course, and in the years after the end of battles on American soil, tens of millions of immigrants would flee troubled lands and seek security, safety, freedom and opportunity in the abundance of the U.S.A. They and their descendants enthusiastically embraced the concept of Thanksgiving in America — and gave thanks for being “free” in this nation.

As I thought about this, my attention was called to very different ads with a more sensible approach (I think).  Where we live, here in suburban Long Island, New York, there are two family businesses that over the years have achieved local, regional and even national prominence for their quality of goods offered, the efficiency of operations, for the care and friendliness of their associates, and for the responsibility demonstrated for the communities they serve. I call them out here for their position on the Thanksgiving holiday.  Consider this:

King Kullen Supermarkets — one of the very first of the self-service supermarkets of the modern era in the USA, continuing to be operated today by the Cullen and Kennedy families. Their advertisement in Newsday this week stated the following:

“Giving Thanks — Giving Back is a Family Tradition at King Kullen.” The ad goes on to describe the tradition of giving back that began in the depths of the Great Depression, when the first store opened in Jamaica, NY. The chain’s stores are operating in limited hours for necessities on Thanksgiving Day so that employees can celebrate with their families.

P.C. Richard & Son – a very successful appliance and electronics store founded in 1909 and still operated today by the Richard family (into the third, fourth and fifth generation now). PC Richard’s advertising message is for sure, blunt and to the point:

“Save Thanksgiving. Honor Thanksgiving Day…a True American Holiday.”

Management explains: “Our 2,735 Employees Wish You a Very Healthy, Happy Thanksgiving…a Day for the Celebration of Families, Friends and Loved Ones.”

And this: “It is our opinion that retailers who choose to open on Thanksgiving show no respect to their employees and families, and are in total disrespect of family values in the United States of America. Keep Family First!”

And I think…on this Thanksgiving Day, the men and women in the Armed Forces of the USA are again on the battlefield, as they were in 1863. The nation is again divided, not in armed conflict, thankfully, but in divided in ideology, on social issues, politically, and on important cultural issues. As we were 152 years ago. Some of the same issues prevail, unresolved, ever-debated.

The P.C. Richard message rings true for me — as you see, I am disappointed by the distortions in the national Thanksgiving holiday created major retail chains that stay open and deny their employees the opportunity to be with family around the table of Thanksgiving. (It doesn’t help that financial market players talk on CNBC this week about the importance of staying open on Thanksgiving to help the retailers’ top and bottom lines. That is a variation on “Wall Street vs. Main Street” rhetoric.)

But there is good news to report: on this Thanksgiving Eve  A growing number of America’s major retailers are pledging to close on Thanksgiving so that their employees can be with family.

The names include Nordstrom, Costco, Bed Bath & Beyond, BJs, Burlington, TJ Maxx, Marshalls, Home Goods, Raymour & Flanigan, Staples, Pier I Imports, Petco, Petsmart, Sam’s Club, Barnes & Noble…and more. Kudos to them!

The actions of the managements of these companies bring to mind President Lincoln’s words: “…I do invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, those at sea and those sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise…”

Remember – there is always Black Friday to shop – when everyone is open.

To all my family, friends, colleagues – I wish you a most Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. We have much to be thankful for this year, despite the issues that swirl around us. It’s a great time to be alive in this great Union…preserved with the blood and treasure of so many young men and women in too many wars since 1865 and the end of the tragic Civil War.

The complete list of stores pledging to close on Thanksgiving Day is at: http://www.theblackfriday.com/stores-closed-on-thanksgiving-day.php

The Lincoln Thanksgiving Proclamation is at: http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/thanks.htm

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