“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, 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 Democrat 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 here.

Given all of the above, I think the content here 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 along, 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 intelligent, strong-minder, powerful personalities who 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:

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 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 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 tue 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 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, 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 Theodor RooseveltSpeak Softly and Carry the Big Stick.  President Franklin RooseveltWe Have Nothing to Fear But Fear Itself!  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 rhetoric, whether by conscious means or not.  You 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 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!

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