I was a part of the design team for this program and have been involved in different ways every since. It’s a multipartisan group (D, R, I) of people who are running for their first political office. Over the course of four days, some of the top political consultants in Virginia share the nuts and bolts of running campaigns from the standpoint of planning, direct mail, fundraising, media relations, crisis management, and more. It’s top-drawer advice and is very effective: roughly a third of alumni have gone on to win races, an astronomical statistic considering that most first time candidates lose.
Here’s what makes the program different from other candidate training programs, though: It is built around ethical decision making. The design of the program is meant to elicit thoughtful reflection by the candidates on what they feel their relationship with the public ought to be. We open with an in-depth discussion of ethical decision-making principles, and then check in repeatedly throughout the weekend to unpack what the experts are saying, relating it to the kinds of relationships the candidates are trying to foster.
Over the years, I’ve written a number of blog posts from and about these sessions. Some of the notable ones are:
“Resistance” — things I’ve noticed candidates just don’t want to do . . . but must.
“Oh, D.E.A.R.” — Tips on campaign crisis management from a real pro.
A dozen years ago, I was completing my stint leading a national election-ethics project, encouraging candidates to negotiate, sign, and abide by “clean campaign” pledges. It was, as you might imagine, an uphill battle. I was excited when a group in Toledo, Ohio, picked up the idea on their own and pressed for the 2001 mayoral race — which was getting quite brutal in the context of the times — to adopt such a pledge.
Great civic movements start in the unlikeliest of places — the front section of the Montgomery bus from which Rosa Parks refused to move, the Sacramento steak house where Mothers Against Drunk Driving first met, Sproul Plaza at UC Berkeley where Mario Savio’s filibuster began the Free Speech Movement. To these history may one day allow us to add another: the restaurant in Toledo, Ohio, where a group of citizens met one night last August to discuss what they could do to demand a better quality of political campaign.
After a particularly tense debate between the mayoral candidates, the local daily newspaper, the Toledo Blade, had called on the front-runners (Lucas County treasurer Ray Kest and state representative Jack Ford) to sign a code of conduct to help keep the campaign out of the mud. To the surprise of many observers, they agreed. Brought together by the Toledo League of Women Voters, a group of citizens came together at Mountain Jack’s restaurant on the outskirts of town for the first of many meetings devoted to monitoring the code. Thus was born the Lucas County Citizens Clean Campaign Committee.
It was an effort that succeeded where many thought it would fail. By the end of the campaign, the talk radio hosts who had derided the committee were quoting it, and the Blade would only cover accusations of negative campaigning if the committee had already weighed in.
Since that time, the nascent, local effort has had its ups and downs. The Lucas County Citizens Clean Campaign Committee disbanded in 2004 under the weight of little public notice and other political interests its members wanted to pursue. Campaigns continued to increase in intensity and nastiness. But the Toledo Blade continued the effort after a fashion, calling on every mayoral candidate since then to adopt the pledge, and then holding them to its standards.
So I was delighted when I saw this week’s Blade editorial, calling on the current candidates for mayor to agree to and abide by a pledge:
As we have done during every Toledo mayoral campaign since 2001, The Blade is publicly challenging the general-election candidates to sign the Clean Campaign Pledge developed by the Institute of Global Ethics, a Maine-based nonpartisan group that promotes ethical behavior and integrity in public and private life.
The voluntary pledge appears on this page. Its language hasn’t changed since the institute composed it 15 years ago, but political campaigns at all levels surely have. They’ve gotten nastier, dirtier, less transparent, more polarized, and much more awash in money for go-for-the jugular TV ads.
Negative campaigning often does more to alienate voters than to educate them. And as the shameful 15-percent turnout for last week’s Toledo primary makes clear, we can’t afford to turn off any more voters.
That’s why this year’s campaign between Mayor Mike Bell and his challenger, City Councilman D. Michael Collins, needs to be civil and respectful — of the candidates as well as of voters’ intelligence. The contenders must focus on issues and ideas, rather than personal insults and toxic attacks.
. . .
In its coverage of this year’s campaign, The Blade will continue to fact-check what the candidates say, whether or not they sign the pledge. If we see bad behavior, we’ll call the candidates on it.
In past campaigns, independent citizens’ groups reviewed candidates’ compliance with the pledge they had signed, and investigated and publicized charges of violations. It would be great if similar watchdogs emerged in the remaining weeks of this campaign, but it’s getting late.
Kudos to The Blade for keeping this effort going. Culture change can be a thankless business and it takes time.
Thank you for my friend and colleague Paula Mirk for passing on the news.
My main take-away from yesterday’s sound defeat of MItt Romney and many Republican Senate candidates is that the GOP needs to field a “new Republican” candidate in the same way the Democratic Party fielded Bill Clinton. The demographics of the nation are against the current GOP mindset of “traditional conservative values.”
The Democratic Leadership Council set out as its project to drag the Democratic Party to the right a tad, and it succeeded. Clinton (a DLC leader) was able to reinvigorate the party’s prospects.
The Republican Party could do with a similar, serious movement to drag it a bit left.
The emerging power of the Latino vote is just one area that the GOP could theoretically begin to make inroads, if the party could get behind loosening its hard-line stance on immigration. George W. Bush tried to do this, but was unable to seal the deal. He was ahead of his time in that respect.
[UPDATED: Added “A” in the title to remove confusion, thanks to a friend’s advice.]
Now is not the time, but sometime soon, while the searing memories are still fresh, we must have a candid conversation about how we all will live in the new world climate change is bringing to us. After a disaster, there is a defiant urge to remake what was lost, brick for brick and beam for beam. But the real challenge before us will be not to remake what was, but to make something different. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew.
I think he’s right . . . and I believe there is a growing consensus that it is time to have a national (or global) conversation about climate change and how to live with it. This conversation would not simply be an argument over what causes it or whether it is occurring. Neither would it be simply about how to stop, or slow it.
It would be about what we should do — how should we live, how can we adapt, how can we mitigate?
This is not a technical conversation, but a political (small p) conversation. That is, it is rooted in what we hold valuable. We have mistaken the problem as something that experts can handle, and because all the answers really cause us to face tensions between things held valuable, we slide into partisan rancor. It’s time to hold a conversation on that level, rooted in our concerns and aspirations.
There is a very interesting piece by Andrew J. Hoffman in the latest Stanford Social Innovation Review on this topic — sorry to say, it may be behind a paywall.
As some know, I have begun a monthly column published at Ethics Newsline, the flagship publication for the Institute for Global Ethics and one which I helped develop when I worked at that organization. This month’s column is about recent research that sheds light on just how divided we are — in public vs. in private life.
Only Divided Because We Think We Are
It is conventional wisdom among those who worry about the strength of civil society that Americans are polarized due in large part to the rhetoric of the political and media elites. Deep down, we are not so different from our neighbors, but the messages we hear from the news shows and from political podiums is that we must vanquish our foes lest the nation spiral ever downward.
New research by the Pew Research Center adds nuance to that, and provides a troubling counterpoint. According to this new report, Americans have remained moderately divided on important issues when traditional demographic measures are taken into account — race, gender, age, income status, etc. The differences have remained steady at (depending on the marker) between 4 and 14 percent from 1987 to 2012.
During this same period, however, the difference between Democrats and Republicans has climbed rather steadily and steeply, from 10 percent in 1987 to 18 percent today.
Put simply, the parties are pulling farther and farther apart.
And it’s not just the parties. While it is true that people have been abandoning both parties in public opinion surveys, so that “Independent” is now an important designation, the truth is that most Independents lean one way or another.
“Even when the definition of the party bases is extended to include these leaning independents, the values gap has about doubled between 1987 and 2012,” according to the researchers.
That’s the bad news. But there is also good news, mixed with a warning call, when we look more closely. Because it is not truly the case that people are drifting apart when it comes to values — it is our institutions drifting apart, leaving us behind.
I recently was asked to recap some of the research I have been fortunate to be a part of as it relates to Americans’ concerns when they think about the future. I’ve had a chance to review focus group findings (and conduct a few of my own) for a number of projects over the past twelve months, and a number of interesting themes have emerged.
I see seven related and interlocking concerns:
The “Deal” Is Falling Apart
What used to be the implicit deal between individuals and the future no longer holds true. It used to be that people had a sense of what they had to do in order to guarantee their economic security moving forward. Working hard, developing a trade or going to college, and playing by the rules, would be rewarded by a decent job, a decent living, and a decent retirement. No more. There are no longer any guarantees when it comes to the future.
Institutions Are Not Trustworthy
The “deal” referred to above was supported in large part by public institutions (I mean “public” in a broad sense): higher education, large employers, government agencies, community organizations. People no longer trust these institutions to do what they promise. (Even higher education, near the top of the list in terms of how much people find it trustworthy, only garners 35% trust.) Yet these institutions still control many aspects of people’s day-to-day lives. The frustration this generates is palpable.
The Moral Compass Is Askew
People say they are worried that America’s morals are in decline. This is a broad-based worry. People are worried about public leaders acting hypocritically, about business leaders acting out of greed, about fellow community members acting out of selfishness. Because they can’t trust others to behave responsibly, people say they have in large part given up hope that better rules or better enforcement will fix the problem.
America’s Best Days May Be Behind Us
People are plagued with a nagging feeling that our best days are behind us. People say they are aware that in many cases the next generation will be worse off than now. They also worry about America’s place in the world — and have misgivings that other nations (especially China and India) are poised to take over the reins.
Leaders Are Not Up To The Challenge
People express skepticism that the current generation of leaders is really up to the tasks it has before it. The debt ceiling debacle was just another in a long line of failures of leadership. People are dumfounded by leaders who appear to be unable to drive progress of any sort.
We Can’t Work Together
At the same time, people lament that on an “ordinary people” level, we used to be able to work together productively — and they feel we have lost that. People say they are literally afraid of their neighbors and that public life even on the local level has become filled with shouting and anger. They feel people can’t put community ahead of individual.
The Elites Don’t Care, People Are Shut Out
People are really, really disgusted with elites — political, business, academic, and more. People think that elites have an easy life that is guaranteed — for instance, majorities of people in focus groups believe that elected officials get a salary for life and are shuttled around in limousines. They also believe leaders actively rig things so they can have it easier and easier, and that they work against the public’s interest at times on purpose.
It’s not a happy picture. America is in a dark mood, collectively. People are reluctant to express hope and, when they do, it sounds somewhat forced. For example, many adults say they think that today’s youth will be able to get good jobs because they will have technical skills — but scratch at the surface and the optimism vanishes.
The above is based on my analysis of work by a number of good friends (including John Doble, John Creighton, and Steve Farkas) and on some of my own work. I am sure there are other concerns that I do not touch on. I was trying to hit the overriding themes. What would you add?
NM: You know, the velvet revolutions in Eastern Europe varied according to what kind of history and memory of civil society the various countries had — with Eastern Germany, Poland, and Czechoslovakia having a great deal, but Romania having very little. The Romanians executed their leaders, whereas the other revolutions proceeded peaceably. The more history of civil society, the better the revolutions fared, during and afterwards. Are there any lessons here for the Arab world?
ZM: There are lots of lessons from Eastern Europe and from Latin America for the Arab World.
Police states, terror, censorship, corruption, the cult of personality (for rulers) were and are common trends in many of the regimes in question and understanding ways in which they were deconstructed in the different Eastern European cases is very useful for Arab democracy activists in the current phase.
What might be crucial, however, in influencing transitions in the present Arab situation — more than the history of civil society and its level of development — is the degree of social cohesion in the concerned country. Whenever a despotic regime relies on a sectarian or tribal basis, overthrowing it peacefully becomes difficult due to the fact that the clientelist networks and the military/police ones that the regime built are concentrated in this sectarian/tribal basis, and its members consider themselves directly threatened by the regime change. This is the case in many Levant and Gulf countries, while it was less the case in Egypt and Tunisia in Northern Africa. This is the case in many Levant and Gulf countries (and in Libya), while it was less the case in Egypt and Tunisia. In other words, countries with deep vertical divisions might confront more challenges than those with horizontal ones.
Last weekend I led a candidate training program run by the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia. It is a bipartisan four-day session that brings experts in all the important aspects of campaigning — planning, fundraising, message development, communication, GOTV, and more — and wraps it all in a framework of ethics. (I helped design the program, which is unique in the nation and produces successful candidates.)
In the wrap up session at the end, I did something a little different than I normally do. As the days unfolded, I had been noticing many students (all first- or second-time candidates) resisting some of the advice they were getting. Even more interesting, some of the most-repeated advice was the advice most strongly resisted.
For instance, most consultants repeated that the best thing for a local candidate could do is to knock on doors. Yet many students would later make plans about attending large events or meetings, talking with press, and other things — almost anything but knocking on doors.
I began to realize there was a list of things that people just don’t want to do that was behind this resistance. This is not criticism of the students. I believe these are natural things that most people would rather avoid. It’s just that, in the campaiogn world, they are necessary.
So I repeated the list to the group. Here it is:
Ask for money for individuals
Do in-depth homework and really know issues
Work very hard
Research ones’ self and face shortcomings
Knock on doors and talk directly to voters
Give up control of the campaign to a campaign manager
Feel anxious or uncomfortable (especially speaking in front of people)
This relates to Seth Godin’s “lizard brain.” That’s the part of your brain that paralyzes you with fear, distracts you, and tells you that you don’t have to out in all that work.
I have very high hopes for this group of candidates. There were a number of real stars. And I got the sense that once these areas of resistance were named, they would be much easier to work against.
As people wring their hands over the “toxic” rhetoric swirling throughout public life, a proposal from Colorado Senator Mark Udall has been gaining traction and winning approving nods from The Concerned Elite. The idea? At the upcoming State Of The Union address on January 25, don’t seat Members of Congress by party but mix them up.
This idea, originally proposed by Third Way one week ago, seeks to end the spectacle of one side of the audience standing and applauding while the other sits in stony silence. The intended result is harmony, or at least a scaling back of partisan tension.
I know that many people I respect are in favor of this. However, I think it’s just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic — a futile endeavor that distracts from the real problem.
In the first place, it will actually benefit Democrats by making it appear that the whole room is standing in applause at certain points rather than just half. In the second place, it seems foolish to think that making Members switch desks as if they are wayward elementary school children will make the class run any smoother.
The Real Problem
A more important flaw, though, is that the problem is not that we disagree — it is that we express our disagreements in ways that are disagreeable. Everything in public life feels as if it is a game of one-upsmanship and advantage-seeking.
One key way that this plays out is in the annual game of applause lines in State Of The Union addresses. At least since the Johnson administration, it has been a tradition to clap for the things that your party likes, and remain stonily silent at the things your party doesn’t. (So Johnson got notable stony silence at his mention of the Civil Rights Act.)
Now it has become tradition to interrupt the speech repeatedly, and part of the journalistic coverage involves counting these interruptions and timing them, as if the energy with which the party faithful express support for their own positions reflects something other than the energy of self-interest.
All this clapping, and the focus wasted upon it, seems to me to diminish the importance and value of the State Of The Union. A better initiative, I would propose, is for all Members to agree not to clap. Let the President give the annual update uninterrupted. Let the American people hear it in full, without the necessity of knowing how much the two sides wish to express their agreement or disagreement (save that for the spin room afterwards).
The tragic events in Arizona may well be a turning point. Many are calling for changes in policies, and many of these changes may well make sense. Many are also calling for a scaling back of the vitriolic political rhetoric that has marked public life these days. There is much blame being directed at political leaders on the right who use a nostalgic, hyper-patriotic, libertarian kind of language that includes repeated references to the Founders, and to Revolution, and veiled (and not-so-veiled) insinuations that it’s time for violence.
Now, like many, I don’t like that kind of rhetoric. I find it damaging. And it may be the case that it contributes to the kind of climate where the shooting in Tucson could take place (though I believe there is no valid way to test that hypothesis, as instinctively true as it may feel).
But many of the responses I have heard to the Arizona rampage seem equally intemperate. The call from many on the left is for a crackdown on these leaders, for them to be held accountable.
I don’t think the best way to reduce the vitriol in public life is to get mad.
The best way to reduce the level of vitriol is for individuals (me, you, friends, family, colleagues) to stop tolerating it from our peers.
For me to tell an enemy, “Quit that inflammatory talk,” will fall on deaf ears. The divide between us will only be further hardened. No, instead, what I ought to do is demand better behavior from the people who agree with me. We listen to like-minded people, and set our norms that way. When I am in a meeting and someone starts getting mad, and it gets over the top, I need to rush to the defense of moderation.
Indeed, I need to quit thinking there are enemies in public life. Because an enemy is someone I want to kill. There are opponents, detractors, people I disagree with, and others who are misguided. But there are no “enemies.”
We can’t demand better behavior from the other side. It won’t work. We can practice rhetorical nonviolence, right here and right now, with those in our immediate circle.
My favorite example of nonviolence in the day-to-day was provided by none other than Arun Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson, in a seminar I had the good fortune to attend some time ago. I wrote a piece spurred by that experience here, but here is the salient portion for our purposes:
“Turn to your neighbor,” Arun Ghandi told us, “and make a fist. Pretend you are holding the world’s most valuable diamond.” I was at a global conference at Kennesaw State University, where Mahatma Ghandi’s grandson was giving the keynote. Mr. Gandhi is a potent speaker in his own right. “Now, neighbor: Try to get the diamond.” There ensued amusing antics as a roomful of people struggled in what looked like a cross-cultural arm-wrestling contest. My own neighbor good-naturedly stabbed my hand with a butter knife, to hoots of laughter at our table. I gave up the diamond.
After a decent interval, Mr. Ghandi raised his hand and waited. We stopped struggling and looked to the podium. “Tell me honestly. How many of you asked your neighbor if they would please give you the diamond?” Silence. He nodded slowly, as if he rarely got much response to that question. “See how violence seeps into everything we do? I did not ask you to attack your neighbor, only to get their diamond.”