“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


Pope Francis Speaks Out Loud & Clear – Why Can’t More Clergy Speak Out on Some Issues?

This week in America – as we saw – The Holy Father certainly makes his views abundantly clear…so people often ask, why can’t or don’t more clergy speak out on some issues that the flock care about?

Commentary by Reverend Tom Goodhue – shared here on the blog by Hank Boerner

HB Introduction:  The Holy Father Pope Francis has been speaking out this week is in the United States for his first official visit.  This is (among other events) Climate Week and Pope Francis has spoken out — quite vigorously — on the subject. His Encyclical Letter — “Laudato Si of the Holy Father Francis on Care For Our Common Home” —  will now serve as guidance for the many official bodies of the Roman Catholic Church and almost one billion of the RC faithful.

The Encyclical is much broader than “climate change” as an anchor phrase for some pundits on cable TV and in social media.  The Pope writes on the necessary care of our Common Home; pollution; loss of diversity; water issues; quality of human life; global inequality; the emphasis on some societies on consumption of goods; science and faith…and more.  The Letter is worth reading if you want to understand the Holy Father’s views on important societal, governance, political, financial, economic, and business subjects.

Climate change is of course a “hot topic” in the broader society — and one of the most powerful persons on earth has put forth important perspectives on the topic.

The Pope arrived in New York as the city officially celebrated “Climate Week 2015” (September 21-28).  A wide range of folks, official and unofficial, are of course talking about climate change, as the Pope so eloquently expresses his views.  (On the floor of U.S. Congress, at the big hall of the United Nations, at the 9/11 Ground Zero Memorial site.)

But what about climate change and other societal issues that are on people’s minds, are in the public dialogue, that are dividing folks left/right, conservative/liberal, north/south, east/west, young/old, faithful/agnostic…and so on?  In general, we can ask — here are the clergy views on these in the public dialogue?

In our everyday lives we often hear the question asked — why don’t clergy speak out — when “hot topics” are being discussed.  This is a Guest Commentary by my colleague and friend,  Reverend Tom Goodhue, Executive Director of the Long Island Council of Churches (New York).  The original commentary appeared in the LICC newsletter, The Prelude, July-August 2015. I think you’ll find his views very enlightening.

Commentary By Rev. Tom Goodhue:
Recently at a meeting of our Council’s Public Issues Committee, someone expressed a sentiment that I hear often: “Why don’t the clergy speak out on this issue?” Perhaps, I suggested, clergy wish that those in the pews lead the way on this issue.

Usually when I raise such a question, stunned silence ensues. It has seemed to be so obvious to my audience that pastors, priests, rabbis, and other religious leaders should support their political point of view that they have assumed any failure to do so can only be explained by cowardice.

Which is what many clergy imagine, I suspect, whenever laity want their parson to fight their battles for them.

People often want parsons to put their own ministry — and livelihood — at risk addressing issues on which they [themselves] either have remained silent or have spoken about without any real risk. If you want someone to take a chance of being fired by their congregation or transferred by their bishop to Siberia, and you have not taken a similar risk yourself, who is the coward?

Let me caution, to begin with, that if you get clergy to speak up, you may not like what they say.

Your pastor may not see the problem the way you do — or may think your solution is all wrong. Reasonable people can differ, after all, and both the nature of our most intractable crises and the right way to address them are not necessarily obvious — even if you think they are.

You may want your pastor to denounce high taxes — but she may think we need taxation to be more progressive and simpler to pay.

You may think, as I do, that we should adopt Medicare for everyone, the single-payer model. But your pastor may think that we could make medical coverage affordable by reforming malpractice laws and repealing laws that protect pharmaceutical companies from price competition.

And while clergy sometimes hesitate to address controversial issues out of fear, they often have good reasons to do so. Here are a few:

(1)  The governance of your congregation or denomination may limit their ability to make pronouncements on topics. The rules of the Long Island Council of Churches empower me, our board chairs, and the chair of our Public Issues Committee to issue statements, sign onto letters, and such only after we have studied the issue and reached a position consensus.

And we have a policy that we do not do foreign policy. Clergy who belong to hierarchical denominations may not be free to disagree publicly with the official position of their hierarchy.

Even in traditions such as mine — where clergy enjoy “freedom of the pulpit” — we are supposed to remember that only the General Conference of the United Methodist Church can speak for all of us. If you don’t like this, join another denomination. Don’t pressure parsons to do what they cannot do.

(2) Clergy rightly avoid mucking around in partisan politics. You may think of a burning social issue as a matter of simple justice, but others may see it as an ideological quagmire. Some issues are so thoroughly identified with one political party or another or one wing of a party that it is difficult to tackle them without being seen as wrongly taking sides.

And the fact that some congregations do invite candidates to preach from the pulpit and denounce the shortcomings of elected officials from only one party does not make it any easier to wade into the debate without being perceived as being inappropriately partisan.

You would be wise to always begin any appeal to speak out by first making it clear that you are not asking them to support any candidate or party. Even if you believe that your favorite politician is on the side of the angels, it is good to remember, as the Apostle Paul said, that in this, as all other matters, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”

(3) Clerics sometime mistakenly think that America’s separation of church and state means that religious institutions are prohibited by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution from any advocacy on public policy. They may not be clear exactly where to draw the line between encouraging their parishioners to be good citizens and violating IRS rules restricting politicking by nonprofits.

And as someone observed recently at an Amos Project workshop, many Americans also think it is simply impolite in public company to talk about religion and politics.

In our newsletter there is our annual reminder about what faith communities should or should not do–how to be engaged in political issues without being partisan. As the Mahatma, Mohandas Gandhi, put it, “I could not be leading a religious life unless I identified myself with the whole of mankind, and that I could not do unless I took part in politics.”

(4) Clergy may not yet know what to say about any given topic. Preaching is very hard work, particularly if you are trying to do it well. If you doubt this, give it a try yourself.

Those who follow a lectionary or other calendar of Scripture readings for worship may not have yet encouraged a text that speaks to the issue you think is urgent. Or they have not have received “a word from the Lord” on this topic and are waiting for clarity and inspiration. This is the reason I always prefer to offer workshops on how to preach and teach about difficult issues before I expect anyone to follow me into battle.

(5) Last but not least, they may not have heard yet from their flock just how this issue affects them. My colleagues often talk about the necessity of prophetic preaching, but God seems to call many more people to be pastors, priests, and rabbis than to become prophets.

The most powerful sermons I have heard have been from clergy whose words grew out of the pains and joys of those they serve.

People in the pews sometimes tell me that a particular sermon was a stirringly prophetic when I know that God had not planted any burning ember in my mouth: I simply listened to my parishioners. I have rarely felt led by The Almighty to mount the barricades. But I have often reflected in worship the questions, doubts, struggles, and triumphs of the congregation.

If you want your parson to venture into troubled waters, share how something affects you and those you love. If the people lead, as we said in my youth, the leaders will follow.

Shalom/Salaam/Pax/Shanti/Jai Jinendra,

Tom Goodhue

Background:  Reverend Tom Goodhue is the Executive Director of the Long Island Council of Churches (New York).  LICC is the coordinating body for the ecumenical work of churches throughout Nassau and Suffolk Counties [of New York State].  For almost four decades LICC has been an effective center for the coordination, referral and assistance for low-to-moderate income Long Islanders.  LICC mobilizes the volunteer and advocacy efforts of almost 800 faith communities. LICC is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) interfaith organization serving vulnerable populations in Nassau and Suffolk counties, New York.  Reverend Tom Goodhue is executive director.

Disclosure by Hank:  I am a member of the LICC board of directors.  Information at: http://www.liccny.org/




Governor Mario M. Cuomo – A Complex Man Serving His State in a Complicated Time

by Hank Boerner

On New Year’s Day, former New York State (three-term) Governor Mario M. Cuomo passed away. We  were sorry to hear that news and offer our condolences to his family — as we offer this brief remembrance of this fascinating public servant. Like the governor, I was a product of Queens County, New York and in fact, the bustling merchant village of Jamaica.  We grew up just a few blocks from each other.

When I sent him notes later in our lives I would sign off, “that other kid from Queens.” It was a favorite line of mine to personalize the note and he told me that it brought a smile when he saw the quip.

He was a man of modest means; born to an immigrant couple from Southern Italy, he grew up in a grocery store where he watched his mother and father struggle keep their neighborhood store going and to pay bills. (Governor Cuomo was born in 1932 at the outset of the Great Depression. He worked in the store from a very early age.)

Mario Cuomo was very bright and demonstrated confidence, full of energy to go along with the quick intellect.  Early on the local parish priests apparently noticed his abilities and got him into the much -respected St Johns Prep School in Brooklyn. From there he would progress to St. John’s University in Jamaica, and on to St. John’s Law School (class of 1956), and into the law profession. He taught Constitutional Law at St John’s for many years; this his beloved alma mater, which gave him the intellectual foundation and grounding in Roman Catholicism that would serve him the rest of his life.  (St. John’s is the home of the famous Red Storm sports teams.)

Some of my friends who were his law students remember their Professor Cuomo with great admiration; he would often take members of his class to the local pizzeria for continued discussion — with much passion, they said — about matters of law. He cultivated a great respect for the Rule of Law, and for public service, in the young students in his care.

Early in my career I worked in state government, in the administration of four-term N.Y. Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller (a moderate, Eastern-liberal Republican who probably would be very out of place in today’s national party, but not necessarily in his home state). Nelson Rockefeller thought and acted “big” — he created a modern public transportation system, a state university system, and thousands of affordable housing units for middle and lower economic strata. He actively campaigned for the presidency, and while not reaching the top rung, would be President Gerald Ford’s vice president.

Mario Cuomo, succeeding in the governorship less than a decade later, would not be able to build “big” systems and outstanding legacy items for future generations to admire. When he assumed office, the bills had come due for lots of past projects — gleefully bonded for putting shovels in the ground and generously rewarding unions on the job. Governor Cuomo would struggle with the state budget awash in red ink.

I first engaged with Mr.Cuomo when he was battling to save the homes of the “Corona 69,” mostly Italian-American families who in the early 1970s were about to lose their homes to a massive development project that would force them to move. (You may be familiar with parts of the Corona area; it’s home to Citi Field, and the New York Mets; LaGuardia Airport is on the northern border; the 1964-65 World’s Fair was staged in the neighborhood.)

In the early 1960s, as the World’s Fair plans were being drawn up, an industrial complex adjacent to what is now the ball field was home to numerous auto salvage businesses. The businesses hired Professor Cuomo to battle powerful forces — think, Parks Commissioner Robert Moses, who always got what he wanted. Lawyer Cuomo won the day; the businesses were saved; the fair grounds did not include that piece of Corona, Queens County (part of Greater New York City).

When the residents of Forest Hills, Queens (a planned community of the early 1900s, and home to American tennis tournaments for many years) felt threatened several years later as a low-income housing project was planned, New York City Mayor John Lindsay (another moderate Republican) appointed Professor Cuomo to negotiate and reach a settlement approved by all interests. He did that — and wrote a book (in 1974) about those hectic days and evenings (“Forest Hills Diary – The Crisis of Low Income Housing”).

While shunned by most prestigious brand name law firms — he attributed that to his Italian-American background and decidedly “ethnic” and “street smart” personality — Mario Cuomo definitely was noticed by the political powers.  Governor Hugh Carey appointed Mario Cuomo to be Secretary of State — a post that had oversight of the real estate profession.  And at the time, there was blatant “red lining” going on in New York — including America’s Melting Pot City — with people of color being discriminated against in many ways (by banks, mortgage lenders, real estate brokers and sales staff).  I was newly in the issue management consultant business and a local board of Realtors engaged me to work with Secretary of State Cuomo and his staff to help settle  disputes.

Mr. Cuomo was tough and demanding and fiercely focused on the rights of minority buyers and renters and drove a hard bargain; in the end, he got most of what he wanted and the tearing apart of neighborhoods where white and black and brown populations were neighboring slowed considerably.  (Rogue brokers would target white neighborhoods and raised fear to drive anxious buyers to list for sale.)

Governor Carey invited Secretary Cuomo to be his running mate as Lt. Governor.  Bit by the political bug and eager to serve in public office, Mr. Cuomo would run for post of Mayor of New York and the governorship; he won his first term as governor of the Empire State  in 1982 and took office in January 1983.  He would serve until December 31, 1994.

Working on various client engagements I would meet with the governor on this and that issue, and in 1984 when the New York State Wine Grape Foundation was created (I had worked on the legislative concept), the governor appointed me to the board of directors, where I would serve as board member, corporate secretary, and head of marketing committee. I am grateful to him for giving me the privilege of serving my state as we began the concerned effort — continuing today — to boost the fortunes of New York’s fabulous wine makers in the four regions where grapes are grown.

I was also privileged to assist with several projects on a pro bono basis.  As the governor was considering a run for the presidency (which considered twice), he decided in summer 1987 to travel abroad (he had not done so previously — he was a “New York” home state and city kind of guy).  His destination:  the USSR / Moscow…to polish his foreign affairs credentials…just in case.

As he planned the landmark trip abroad I prepared for him suggestions for connecting with Soviet leadership and the ordinary Russians.  No surprise — as he got around Moscow, he was on the steps of churches challenging the “God-less) USSR leaders to grant more religious freedom to the Russian People! (That was not in my list of suggestions.)

You’ll see many references in his obituaries to his on again/off again “run” for the presidency. He flirted with the possibility but in the end decided to stay in New York, in the service of the People as governor.  He was a complex man and there probably were many reasons why he decided against campaigning for the highest post in the land.

Governor Cuomo was elected to three terms in office and was defeated in his fourth try.  He was prominent as a Liberal (big and little “l”) and progressive, and admired by many in America in both parties for his soaring oratory.  Remember his inspiring keynote rhetoric at the 1984 Democratic Convention in San Francisco?  (If you have not heard this, there are copies on line — it is well worth watching….what he had to say about inequality and other social issues is very relevant today.)

In 1992, the Democratic Party brought its presidential convention to Governor Cuomo’s beloved city.  I got a call from the staff to come to the Silvercup movie studios in Long Island City (across the river from Manhattan in Queens County) where the governor was hosting delegates the evening before the opening of the convention.  The governor was in his glory, moving around, greeting everyone, making them feel at home in New York (of course a “foreign” city to many who came from other states).  Then, in an astonishing performance, the governor mounted the podium for a “few welcoming remarks…”  Wow!

You see, the governor was going to preview his nominating speech (for William Jefferson Clinton, his fellow Democrat governor of Arkansas).  Without notes, he ran through the points to be made to rally the small crowd that evening.  I heard one Midwestern delegate turn to his companion and say, “why the hell aren’t we nominating this guy!”  Perhaps that was the point.  The governor was a magnificent speaker and speech maker.  But he often remarked about how difficult it was to convert the “poetry of campaigning” into the “prose of governing.”  He gave it a good try during his career in public service.

The governor did not fade away in his post-governorship; he wrote books, lectured, and took great pleasure in seeing his son, Andrew, first become Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Affairs (and a champion of affordable housing and fair lending) and then governor of his and his father’s beloved New York State.

As Governor Andrew Cuomo was inaugurated for his second term,  the first Governor Cuomo passed away in the presence of his loving family at home in New York City.

His was a remarkable life.  He inspired many of the people that he touched over four plus-decades in public service; he was a champion for the downtrodden and the poor, a leader who fulminated against rising inequality — and spoke out with eloquence on behalf of those who could not.  As I said up top, he was a complex man and during his time in office things in New York State and America were, well, complicated.  While he had many admirers, he also had his share of detractors.  You will see and hear comments on the plus and minus side of Mario Cuomo.

As for me — I will remember the man with great admiration and fondness, and feel great sadness at his passing.  And I’ll be sure to “touch base” with the ideas that he advanced 40, 30, 20 and even 10 years ago. It’s amazing how prescient he was to anticipate the earnest debate on important societal topics and issues going on today!

“Excelsior!” — that’s the official motto of New York State and the line with which the governor signed his notes and inscribed his books.  It means “higher or lofty” as in aspirations, from the Latin root, excelsus.  Law professor Mario Cuomo knew its meaning, and the power of the word, and embraced it as his personal motto.  It fitted him well. It serves to sum up his life and contributions to The People that he served.

Governor Mario Cuomo was a unique man and leader — and we — and I — shall miss him.

* * * * * * * *

Governor Mario Cuomo’s speech – nominating Bill Clinton. http://www.shabbir.com/nonmatchbox/cuomo.html

Governor Cuomo’s 1984 “Two Cities” speech at the San Francisco convention: http://news.yahoo.com/the-legacy-of-mario-cuomo-s-1984-%E2%80%9Ctale-of-two-cities%E2%80%9D-speech-150348324.html



Saying Au Voir to a Great American Leader – Thank You For Your Service, Secretary Chuck Hagel

by Hank Boerner

Early in 2015 we will be saying farewell – au voir — ‘tlll we see you again (we hope) in public service…it’s so long soon to a great American public service leader: former US Senator and departing Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.

Secretary Hagel assumed office at the Pentagon as the 24th leader of the world’s most powerful armed services on February 27, 2013 and announced his resignation after less than two short years on November 24, 2014.

News articles noted that no President of the United States since Harry Truman’s day (1945-1953) had to have four defense secretaries. (Hagel was preceded in relatively quick order by Leon Panetta, and Robert Gates in that order – his replacement at Defense will be the fourth of the Obama Administration.)

Which prompted the chairman of the House of Representatives’ Armed Services Committee to suggest that the President examine his own foreign policy struggles rather than looking for still another turnover at the Pentagon. Media commentators posited that White House staff interference, Secretary Hagel’s lack of rapport with the President’s staff, disagreements with the top military brass, failures of policy in the volatile Middle East region…and other factors served to undermine Secretary Hagel’s leadership.

May be. But as we bid this outstanding public servant adieu (for now, we hope), it is worthwhile to highlight the extraordinary life and contributions to our American Society of the man….lest they be lost in the welter of negative news reports about his departure (expected soon).

Chuck Hagel was born to a family of modest circumstances in a small town in the Sand Hills of Nebraska. As a boy he rose in the dark hours of morning to deliver newspapers (to help support the family). One the lessons of his childhood was the concept of “service.” It was never a question for the man; this is what “my people did,” he explained. “Service means that when your country calls, you answered the call.”

At Christmas time, 1967, Chuck Hagel found himself in combat in the jungles of Viet Nam, He finagled a way to serve alongside his brother, Tom, and they supported each other under fire. The future US Senator was wounded several times (he holds two Purple Heart medals). After short stays in hospital, he was back in the field. Friends dropped all around him, his brothers-in-arms, killed or wounded.

For the rest of his life Chuck Hagel has kept the lowly grunt in mind, remembering his experiences in war time, and questioning the motives of those who would order men (and now women) into combat. Including President George W. Bush (#41) and VP Richard Cheney (who himself served as Secretary of Defense, March 198-January 1993, in the first Bush #43 presidency). .

Senator Hagel questioned their decision to rush to war in the Middle East and was critical of the unquestioning support of fellow lawmakers as the war drums sounded.

Asked Senator Hagel: “Why are we going to war? Is Saddam [Hussein] really a threat to America? Who will govern after Saddam? How are they going to govern? What is our role to be? How would Iraq be stabilized after the invasion? Why are so few troops going in? What does this have to do with terrorism?” He was called unpatriotic for his views. How many Americans today would have (looking back) wanted those questions answered!

Chuck Hagel received his B.A. from the University of Nebraska and worked in broadcasting before entering government service.  He was also a successful entrepreneur, co-founding Vanguard Cellular Systems in 1984 (it was one of the nation’s first independent cell companies; it was a publicly-traded cell phone company later acquired by AT&T Wireless).

Senator Hagel had a long and distinguished career in the US Senate. He was elected in 1996 and served to 2008. He served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, becoming an expert on world affairs and U.S. foreign policy. He became expert on and had strong opinions about China, Russia, Israel, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and America’s relationship to these countries and regions.  His was a respected voice of reason in the nation’s capital.

If you are with me so far, I’d like to share pieces of the wisdom expressed by Chuck Hagel before he was Secretary of Defense and the number two decision maker next to the president on military matters.  What he believed in and eloquently expressed  in his 2007 memoir – “America – Our Next Chapter…Tough Questions, Straight Answers” — is impressive.

Some of the things he wrote that impressed me….

“In my mind, patriotism is about asking tough questions, not avoiding them.”

“Governing by timidity and fear and giving offense to special interest groups and sources of money is unacceptable, and begins to explain the disappointment with the political process that people are feeling today.”

“We must strengthen our commitment to the trans-Atlantic partnership with NATO and the European Union so that it remains the central alliance in our global strategy. NATO will require a new strategic doctrine for the 21st Century and it seems logical that this will take place in concert with the EU…the USA and EU can benefit from teaming up to address global issues, probably including the 2.5 billion people left behind in the world economy.”

“America is still the core of the world economy; however, the rate of change occurring in every marketplace is rapid, intense, and challenging.  We must address the deficiencies in our laws and tax and regulatory codes…”

There’s much, much more in his very readable book, which I suggest would be a good new year read.

As this well-qualified leader leaves the public stage in 2015, we say to him, “well done” and express our thanks for his years of service to the nation.  We are all in his debt.  And we hope that Chuck Hagel will remain on the national stage, sharing his wisdom and experience with the rest of us.  We need him!




“Happy Thanksgiving?” Tomorrow. Yes, It Will Be — Here’s …My Why…

This week, there were happy exchanges, by email and phone and in person: “Happy Thanksgiving,” my friends, family and colleagues said to me, and I back to them. Yes, for sure, I am very thankful here on the eve of the wonderful day of Thanksgiving here in America.

Among the many things that I am grateful for, I find an important thread that runs through many aspects of my life. You see, I am especially grateful — thankful — for the waves of immigration to America from all corners of the globe.  This created America-the-Melting-Pot; America, more like the Bouillibaise these days.

Permit me to explain.  I am grateful that my great-grandmother, Bridget Keegan, married John Greene and they came to New York City. She came into the world in 1842 in the Emerald Isle, and while I don’t know the background (yet), no doubt the Great Famine that gripped that small nation was a powerful force for leaving. They escaped a perilous future to travel to the city of Brooklyn (New York) where they settled with their three sons.

My maternal grandfather (their son), escaped poverty; My grandfather John Greene achieved a college education, became a teacher, was an engineer on the Panama Canal project, owned NY businesses and real estate, and brought his family (of 9, including my mother) into the middle class. His brother, my uncle Richard, in his later years was my first writing coach (when I was only six years old). His son Laurence was city editor of the New York Post and covered President Franklin Roosevelt during the Great Depression and World War Two.  He was far removed from the poverty of the Old Country and was fortunate to cover those in power at critical times in the nation’s history.

My grandmother Cora Starr, who married her Irishman John Greene, was descended from immigrants who came much earlier – they were English settlers who came by sailing ship to New England and perhaps [who] were participants in those early feasts of Thanksgiving, made possible in those first dicey years of settlement by Native Americans who befriended the Pilgrims of Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Grandmother’s forebears (and therefore, mine) included “Jane Pickens,” her given English name, who was descendant of a much earlier immigration to North America:  you see, she was a member of the Lenne Lenape, a New Jersey branch of the Delaware Indian Tribe. And in a later time, grandmother’s ancestors were Quakers journeying to Philadelphia with William Penn; her grandfather was born in Quakertown, PA.

I am especially grateful that the young man and young woman who left the poverty of Campabasso, in the Abruzzi region, in the hills along the spine of Italy, went down to the sea at the port of Naples to board one of the immigrant trade the ships to go to New York City in the late 19th Century. Luigi Tucci and Teresa Garzia met in New York City — then teeming with tens of thousands of immigrants from Russia, Poland, Italy, Romania, Slovakia, Greece, and other Old World nations.  They married; their son, Giorgi Tucci, is my wonderful wife Mary’ Ann’s father. Her mother descended from German and French and English settlers.

On my father’s side, all of his forefathers/mothers were German or from regions that became part of modern Germany.  His grandmother was an illegal, in a sense; she was orphaned in Frankfurt and came to the United States with a migrating family that took her in and signed her in at Ellis Island as their own.  I’m apparently the fourth “Henry” in the all-German line my father’s mother was Ana Lily Becker).

We are nation of immigrants. President John F. Kennedy , (while then-US Senator authored an essay at the invitation of B’nai B’rith that would become a slim book:”A Nation of Immigrants” (special edition posthumously published in 1964).  Congressman, then Senator and finally President John Kennedy was active in promoting national policies regarding immigration.

His brother, Robert Kennedy, wrote in his memory in the 1964 edition of the book:  “I know of no cause which President John Kennedy championed more warmly that the improvement of our immigration policies.” Every step forward since ]the end of WW II in 1945]  bore the JFK stamp. This included the Displaced Person Act (welcoming tens of thousands of those unfortunate people whose lives were disrupted by the war); The Refugee Relief Act (which enabled separated families to come together); and later, reforms urged on the Congress, when he was President (1961-63). The book was well into completion when John Kennedy was slain in Dallas, Texas (November 1963).

Robert Kennedy (who would later become a US Senator and candidate for president)observed:  President John Kennedy was himself only two generations removed from the Emerald Isle. On his trip to Ireland four months before he died, the president stood on the very spot from which grandfather Patrick Kennedy would depart for the New World / Boston, Massachusetts from Ireland.  He would open a modest bar; his descendants would quickly (in the perspective of time) become members of Congress; US Senators; lt. governors; attorney general of the US; President of the united States. Patriarch Joe Kennedy would be a Harvard graduate; movie studio owner; banker; investor; appointed Ambassador to the Court of St. James (England), and one of the richest men in America.

His daughters — Euenice Kennedy Shriver, with help from sister Jean — founded the Special Olympics in the late-1960s. her daughter is Maria Shriver, whose former husband immigrated to the USA from Austria as a young man, he became a movie star and then “Governor Arnie” of California.

In his book, President Kennedy urged reform of the nation’s immigration system, and wrote:  “In just over 350 years, a nation of nearly 200 million people has grown up, populated almost entirely by persons who either came from other lands or whose forefathers came from other lands.  As President Franklin D. Roosevelt reminded [us]. Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionaries…”  (President Franklin Roosevelt who led the nation through the Great Depression and WW II was descended from the original Dutch settlers of New York City and state, as was his cousin, President Theodore Roosevelt, who created the modern US presidency.)

Here on the North Fork of Long Island as I write these thoughts, we celebrate the legacy of the waves of immigrants who were farmers and craft workers and fisher folk — first English (1640; then Irish, Polish, Italian, and lately, Asians, and newcomers from Central America); Americans of African descent worked these lands for hundreds of years and contributed to the long-term success of this special corner of America).

Our new wine industry is founded in immigrant ingenuity; the Massoud Family (Paumanok Vineyards) was founded by Charles Massoud, born in Lebanon, and his wife Ursula, who came to the USA from Germany to attend college.

As I think about the ongoing debate about immigration, these days sometimes intelligent, sometimes rabble-rousing, and about our still incomplete public policies on immigration, I am reminded of something I learned in early grade school in New York City (where at one time some 60 years earlier there were 200 languages spoken):  E Pluribus Unum, Our nation, “out of many, one” (a really great nation with the people united as one). The Latin phrase is on our Great Seal – been there since 1782, adopted by our Congress, very soon after we became an independent nation…yes, of immigrants.

And when I was young, I found the national anthem words were somewhat confusing.  My favorite song then was “America, the Beautiful.”

“O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea! recall, sometimes with tears in my eyes….”

And then I remember when I was very young reading on past the familiar phrases to find the great words in the second verse penned by Katherine Lee Bates and set to music with the haunting melody by Samuel Ward.

“O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare of freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!”

We could add today, though not in great, flowing verse, from river-to-river (our borders the St. Lawrence on the north border to Rio Grande on the south); and shining sea-to-sea-to-sea (including the Caribbean Sea, the isles of which are former homelands of millions of Americans of island descendant.  The proud Carib-Americans march every summer in colorful parades in the boro of Brooklyn, New York, a county that is home to hundreds of thousands of of immigrants from the various islands of the Caribbean and from areas of South America and Central America.

And, yes, as the verse states, we are a nation of laws, which is among the many reasons why people will come to make America their home. The laws regarding immigration need fixing, as they did when President John Kennedy urged reforms on the Congress more than 50 years ago.  As the verse of the song says…[America] “…confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law…”

I think I’ll add that to my Thanksgiving blessing prayer this year.

To my family – my friends – my colleagues:  here’s to a Blessed Thanksgiving to you and yours!  No matter where ever you or your family came from – and who ever welcomed you (or their ancestors welcomed yours) to our shores!  We have tens of millions of reasons living among us today for which we should all be thankful!


At Crisis Time – For Companies and Celebrities, It’s Usually Not Just One Thing to Deal With

by Hank Boerner

In my career of advising clients on issue management and crisis management (and especially crisis response), I usually pointed out to  those in the crosshairs that it is not just “one thing” to deal with. Often, in time of an escalation of existing issues, a critical event occurring, or a full blown crisis at hand, the managers on point have to deal with numerous things going on.

Chaos, confusion, complexity reign. Things feel, well, like they are spinning out of control.  Often, they are!

Over the years I estimate that I’ve been involved in more than 400 critical issues and crisis situations — in various industries and sectors (auto manufacturing, banking and financial services, airlines, cruise ships, railroads, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, educational institutions, government, countries, mining, food marketing, consumer goods, oil & gas, mutual funds, stock exchanges…and more. Some of my work involves helping individuals cope with crisis eruptions. Those are vary tough assignments – emotional damage is difficult to deal with.

In my issue and crisis preparation training for managers, I stress the key, top line actions for effective response by the enterprise:

  • Know in advance what might go wrong (the potential risk posed to the enterprise or perhaps a leader such as the CEO), and monitor and evaluate those issues regularly. What “is” (facts) will surface one way or another – perhaps by a whistleblower. “Nothing is secret anymore” is my advice.
  • Develop a plan for responding to critical events; assign roles to responders and prepare them (such as with formal training).
  • Build prevention programs. Practice – drill – stress internal preparedness.
  • Establish communication channels and have content ready “in case.”
  • Respond quickly – work to reduce fear; maintain credibility; create positive perceptions where you can.
  • Work hard to control the incident, the crisis. Stress solutions. Demonstrate your values.
  • Communicate – tell your story — if not, others will fill the vacuum and their story…and yours…and set the context in which the story [of the crisis] will be told and retold in the future.

In the context of corporate crises situations, these guidelines have pretty much become SOPs. With my partners, over 25 years we helped many companies in the US and other countries put issue and crisis management programs in place.  There are other consulting practices doing the same. Yes, crisis situations still occur (cases in point including General Motors, BP, Target, the Obamacare launch) but many enterprises really are better prepared to respond that in years past.

But What About Individuals in Crisis?

For individuals involved in crisis situations — especially high wattage celebrities with brand and reputation (and future earnings) on the line — the man or woman in the crosshairs will often find themselves in uncharted territory.

As the ancient mapmakers would put on their charts of the distant oceans — here be dragons!

Right now, comedian Bill Cosby — “America’s Dad” as his brand — is dealing (or, not dealing) with a serious crisis continuing to spin out of control.

Comedian extraordinaire Bill Cosby has not been in hiding.  At 77 years of age, he is still very much in the game.  He’s been doing his one man shows across the country, 50 a year it’s reported  (My wife and I saw his show a few years ago — outstanding!) His books sit ready for purchase in many book stores and retail outlets. His TV series continues to air in syndication.

But recently a series of business decisions put him out front in media reports (of a favorable type) and stirred up allegations of sexual misconduct of years standing. Consider:

  • He was in discussions with NBC to create a new weekly TV series.
  • Netflix, the popular technology and entertainment threat to cable and broadcast dominance, had a special scheduled (“Bill Cosby 77,” featuring the  comedian as MC at the SF Jazz Center last July).
  • His old 1980s family audience TV show was doing well in re-runs (more income generation) on TV Land…possible marketing leverage for a new weekly show on NBC.
  • His books remain popular with readers and are featured in retail and on Amazon.
  • A new biography — “Bill Cosby. His Life and Times” by former CNN news leader and  former Newsweek managing editor Mark Whittaker was on the retail shelves.  Praises for Cosby in the book were by other celebrities who enjoyed cultural admiration — Mary Tyler Moore, Billy Crystal, Jerry Seinfeld.

Things were really looking up for the star of I Spy and The Bill Cosby Show, two important cultural foundation stones of many Americans’ youth.

And then…in mid-October comedian Hannibal Buress in a stand-up routine accused Cosby of being a rapist and told the audience to “Google” the record on this; he then went on the Howard Stern program on Sirius XM to repeat his charges, and pushed his views out on Twitter; The Philadelphia Inquirer “old media” giant posted the routine and the social media platforms it up.

Author Whittaker’s biography was publicly attacked by the National Review as “fawning,” glossing over the many rumors over the years about Mr. Cosby’s misconduct, and tagged the author as the “latest enabler.”  The article went viral in the nation’s politically conservative community.

Back in 2006, Philadelphia magazine published an article detailing the alleged attacks on more than a dozen women by the comedian.  The Montgomery County (Pennsylvania) district attorney (Bruce Castor) investigated claims and declined prosecution; he now has to publicly defend his prior decision.  A civil lawsuit proceeded with [there was said to be up] to 13 women that could be involved; that case was settled and sealed.

One of the women — Barbara Bowman — went public in November, publishing a commentary about her experience in The Washington Post.  That got other traditional and new media lighting up with more “news” and lots of commentary.

Other women then stepped forward — a dozen or so — repeating their stories of years ago or going public with their stories for the first time.

And the Google searches suggested by comedian Burress?  There were millions of searches, according to media reports..

Reaction was comparatively swift:

The NBC series – cancelled.  The Netflix special – cancelled. The interview with David Letterman on CBS – cancelled. The new biography’s sales were reported to be slumping. TV Land  re-runs – cancelled.

Author Whittaker’s  new biography was attacked by the National Review as “fawning,” glossing over the many rumors over the years about misconduct, and tagged the author as the “latest enabler.”  The conservative publication’s article went viral, especially within the nation’s politically conservative community.

All of sudden another “old” scandal was back in focus for the right wing:  former President Bill Clinton’s alleged sexual escapades — sure to haunt Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential race, the post writers opined. (We’ll see Paula and Monica and the other “Bill Clinton women” on  parade over the coming years, they predicted.)

The Cosby camp did respond on social media — a Twitter post encouraged the Twitter-ali to go to a web page and post comments.  They did!  Oh, not the comments that supporters would welcome, of course.

The New York Times published an in-depth story on all of this on November 20 — “Cosby Comeback Unravels as Rape Claims Flare.” The Times noted the long tail of the controversy: “The current furor surfaced surrounding Mr. Cosby had its root in accusations brought in 2005 by Andrea Constand, a female staff member with the basket ball team at Temple University (Cosby alma mater).” Despite DA Castor’s declining to prosecute, she brought a lawsuit that would possibly involve up to13 other “Jane Does.”  That was the was the civil case settled.  The “Jane Does” we can presume are those coming forward – and those planning to do so in the future.

Context is important in these matters.  And as I compose this, the news headlines scream out another complicating factor that is shaping in various ways public opinion:  “University of Virginia Suspends All Fraternities” – this after the still-remarkably relevant Rolling Stone magazine published a report that a female student was sexually assaulted by seven Phil Kappa Psi members in 2012.  The university president — a woman, by the way, Teresa Sullivan — called on her board, students, faculty, alumni…to begin a conversation on all of this.

That can be alongside the conversation about allegations or the reality of wife and child abuse by National Football League players…these have been glossed over, ignored, diminished…until there was sufficient public outrage and an apology by NFL leader Roger Goodell.  The viral video of Ravens player Ray Rice shown beating his fiancé/now wife in a casino triggered the crisis, which had been brewing for years if you think about it as anti-domestic violence advocates do.

Consider the Bold Names – Collateral Damage

Take a few seconds to read upward — note all the BOLD names in the commentary. Think about the rippling effects of the Bill Cosby crises.  The NFL crisis. The crisis today at the University of Virginia — and other universities where similar incidents have been charged by female students.  .The corporations involved with brands and revenues on the line now. The other celebrities praising Mr. Cosby.

The Role of Social Media and the Internet

Back to the Cosby case:  why are decades-old, or at least five or more years old cases being brought front and center today?  I think a profound difference is the omnipresence today of social media.  Citizen media. Everyman (and woman) media. The challenge of old media (The Washington Post, The New York Times) by new platforms like Huffington Post, even Twitter (as news source for millions of user, specially younger populations)..

We still have venerable TV national news forums  like those in the evening on CBS, NBC, ABC. (With great anchors — Scott Pelley, Brian Williams David Muir).  But since the 1980s we have 24/7 CNN as well…and many young people get their news from other “anchors” like Bill Maher (HBO) and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert (Comedy Central).  And I would throw in Saturday Night Live! parodies on NBC. On these new news platforms, humor and satire are the staples and celebrities in crisis should expect to be skewered.

But citizen media (social media) is really now the key to setting the match to a smoldering situation.  That applies to be companies like BP and celebrities like BC. As The Times’ Bill Carter, Graham Bowley and Lorne Manley noted in their November 20th Page One story: “The reach of web and social media impact have provided a distribution platform for these accusations, which had surfaced before but never gained widespread attention.”

And Martin Kaplan of the University of California’s journalism school noted: “The combination of [today’s] social media and Mr. Cosby’s return to the spotlight had propelled the story to much greater prominence that when the accusation first surfaced.”

As I said up top…Chaos, confusion, complexity reign.  UC’s Professor Kaplan explained: “The fact that he was already in the spotlight and the fact that these charges have a much more powerful amplifier and echo chamber, gives people the sense that this is a big story…”

Going back to the basic principles for crisis management — if in fact the allegations of the women accusing Mr. Cosby of serious sexual misconduct have a factual basis, as a celebrity (and therefore a “public person”) it might have been better to continue one’s career in lower profile.  In crisis management, over and over again, the lesson for leaders is clear:”what is, is” – and will come out at some time.

What are your thoughts on all this? What are the lessons learned?


The Roosevelts – Remarkable Americans Whose Thoughts and Actions Shaped Our Nation

By Hank Boerner

In this space I often suggest you “tune in” – and that’s what my commentary is about today.  Ken Burns, documentarian extraordinaire, brings us a new PBS series that educates, informs, entertains, opens our minds. This is his focus on the key Roosevelt larger-than-life family members — Teddy, Franklin, Eleanor…and some others of the clan (such as the outrageous and entertaining daughter of Teddy, Alice).

The Roosevelts, descendants of early Dutch settlers of what is now New York City (“New Amsterdam”) and New York State, made their fortune in real estate, trading and other businesses. New York City was a business town, and the early family members were very good business people. (A key ancestor bought up Manhattan Island farmland when his neighbors suffered through periodic economic downturns.) The early days’ fortune built enabled later generations to devote their lives to public service while trust funds flowed to support them and their families.

Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. (1858-1919) shaped the modern presidency during his 8 years in the White House (which he named; it was the “President’s House” before). He created our modern navy, the foundation for our national parks system, led the campaign to eliminate child labor and (for) “pure” food and drugs…and more.

He was elected VP in 1900, at the dawn of the 20th Century, and left the office in 1909, after serving a full term of his own and almost four years of the presidency he moved into after the assassination of President William McKinley. “Now that damned cowboy is in the White House,” his party leader supposedly exclaimed. He was a cowboy and a lot more.

His younger cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945) was elected governor of New York (as was Teddy), and won the 1932 presidential election as the country slid deeper and deeper in to the Great Depression. Our American democracy seemed at risk; one of every four households had no income; fascist leaders rose to power in Europe and Japan.  He mastered the use of “radio” and urged his countrymen on to meet the great challenges of the day.

He led the country as Commander-in-Chief in the darkest years of the first half of the 20th Century, during World War II, and was “The Soldier of Freedom” (as described by historian James MacGregor Burns), leading the 15 or so “united nations” that opposed the regimes of Germany’s Nazi conquerors and Japan’s war cabinet. He dreamed of today’s United Nations and paved the way for that organization to be created just months after his death.

His wife, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962), was Teddy Roosevelt’s brother’s daughter; longest-servicing First Lady, moving out of her shell, she became one of the most admired women of her time, both in the US and around the world. She was on point fighting the good fight for civil rights, women’s rights, and other causes. She was ambassador to the United Nations and one of the most popular commentators (newspaper columns) in the country after she left the White House.

As described in the headline, a remarkable and fascinating family of political, social and cultural progressives.

Do tune in to the series on your local PBS station; do buy the book and DVDs of the series; do think about the brand of leadership displayed by all three Roosevelts…and what they might have done if they were confronted with the issues facing our country, in our time.

Both President Teddy (#26) and President FDR (#32) through their strategies, policies, actions, commanding rhetoric, shaped the nation for decades after their White House years…and continue to shape our world today.

I live near to Theodore Roosevelt’s home – Sagamore Hill, in Oyster Bay, New York — and visit the home (a national park museum) from time -to-time. I find his progressivism inspiring.

If you would like to know more about how TR’s actions continue to shape our world, and our business environment, you can read my July 2011 commentary in Corporate Finance Review (Thomson-Reuters) — “Teddy Roosevelt and the Creation of the Modern Presidency — With Focus on Large Corporations and Corporate Behavior.”

It’s at: http://www.hankboerner.com/library/Corporate%20Finance%20Review/Teddy%20Roosevelt%20and%20Creation%20of%20the%20Modern%20Presidency%20-%20(07&08-2011).pdf

White House – Executive Orders – Another Way to Get Things Done

by Hank Boerner

So — House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner does not like the flow of Executive Orders coming out of the Obama White House.  And he intends to sue the President.  As Speaker Boehner criticizes our chief executive officer, the Executive Orders continue to flow.  The most recent EO focus:  a new effort to address the nation’s immigration system,,,on his own, without congressional action.

Speaker Boehner would definitely not like to have been around when another high-profile elected Republican lived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue — 100 years later to still be considered a “Master of EOs” — that was President Theodore Roosevelt, our 26th President.

“TR” is acknowledged as the chief executive officer who created the modern presidency. Characteristics that have described the man:  active, energetic, extremely smart, both populist-and-conservative, outdoorsman, conservationist, big game hunger, cowboy, Eastern establishment, author, soldier, statesman, scholar, Nobel Peace prize winner, Harvard dandy…and more. That was our Teddy.  (Yes, the Teddy Bear is named for him.)

President Roosevelt in his time faced a Congress that was at times hostile to his ideas, and often “absent” from the Capitol. In the early 1900s, members of the House were elected in November and took office in January; the President was elected in November and sworn in early in March. (The direct election of member of the US Senate would come with the 18th Amendment after TR left office.)  So the US Congress could meet and then go home before the new president even arrived on the scene.

The Republican leadership was not always pleased to have their Teddy down the street in the White House. TR was kicked upstairs by leaders of his own party to the vice presidency to get him out of the way, and then President William McKinley, Jr. was assassinated, and as fellow Republican US Senator Mark Hannah famously said in 1901: “Now look. That damned cowboy is President of the United States!”

One of issues that the President had was that as TR won election to his full term as President in 1904, he announced that he would not run for a third term, following the tradition all the way back to the precedent set by President George Washington. And so, he became “lame duck” as he set out in his second term; often the Congress could ignore him (and both Republicans and Democrats often did).

But Teddy would not be ignored!  He issued 1,081 Executive Orders during his 2,728 days in the White House – an average of an EO issued very two-and-one-half days in office!  Dozens were EOs that affect us even today, a century later.

Teddy lived by a code. In 1886, long before the White House years, he observed:  “It is not what we have that will make us a great nation.  It is the way in which we use it.”  Speaking of being a “conservative,” he said: ” The only true conservative is the man who resolutely sets his face toward the future.”  One of the great essays of President Roosevelt was his “Man in the Arena,” as he observed:  It is the man in the arena who should be praised, the man who is out there, fighting the big battles, even if the battles end in defeat. Glory comes to those who “spend themselves in a worthy cause…”  Like trying to get things done when occupying the highest elected office in the land.

I think he might have a harder time today (than back in his day) dealing with the political gridlock in our capital city, and with the great philosophical divisions in our society.  But he would not duck the good fight – he would be right there in the arena of public opinion, fighting the good fight.

As the great outdoorsman TR worried that the vast frontiers were disappearing in the expansion of the United States of America, he took his pen and signed off on many EOs to single-handedly create national parks, game refuges, national bird sanctuaries, and the National Forest Service. It would be several years after he left office that the present-day National Park Service would be created by the Congress (August 1916, signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson).

Other Presidents – and Their EOs

While TR was an exception in his day, other presidents have used the approach to make things happen.  Executive Orders are official documents through which the President of the United States of America manages the operations of the Federal Government.  All modern era presidents used them.

According to the official National Archives web site, President Barack Obama has issued 175 orders since 2009, with the record showing:  39 EOs signed in 2009; 35 EOs in 2010; 34 EOs in 2011; 39 EOs in 2012; 20 EOs in 2013; and 8 EOs in 2014 as of today’s Federal Register accounting.

Today, the President said he would take action on his own, without Congress, “…to fix as much of our immigration system as I can…” He directed his team to recommend steps he can take this summer and then he would act on those steps “without delay.”

Expect more EOs to be coming out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  And more howls from up the street on Capitol Hill.

While considering this course of action – we can ask — is President Obama “unusual” in taking such steps?  Well…no.

Consider the recent record:

George W. Bush – over 8 years / two terms  – issued 291 Executive Orders in his 2,922 days in office

William Clinton – 8 years – 364 EOs over 2,922 days in office

George HW Bush – 4 years – 169 EOs over 1,461 days in office

Ronald Reagan – 8 years – 381 EOs over 2,922 days in office

Richard Nixon – although not serving out his full second term (“Watergate” intervened), he signed off on 346 Executive Orders – that was almost one every few days during his two terms.

(Note source:  Per PBS – Nightly News Hour compilation)

The point is – our CEOs are expected to get things done when elected, first or second term, whether lame duck or just starting out.  The Executive Order is a powerful tool of the office.  As TR demonstrated for his successors down to today, when Congress can’t or won’t act — the modern day President can and will.

Stay Tuned — this summer and on into the counting days of the Obama Administration we will be seeing more EOs coming.  And some will be cheered / others jeered.  And the talking heads of cable TV, the prominent Chattering Class, will have lots of material to work with!