New Year's Resolutions - this time I REALLY mean it!

Welcome to my last blog posting of 2008.

As the lights go down on this unbelievable year, it's time to pause and consider what happened and chart a course for next year - personally, professionally and for our planet

Okay so what happened?
The inevitable economic meltdown occurred. Who is to blame? Let me list them in self-righteous order:
1.The greedy financiers who gave us money so we could buy things we didn't need. What were they thinking?
2. The shameless politicians who refused to regulate those greedy financiers and restrict our freedom to hurt ourselves. Where was political courage when we most needed it?
3. Those neighbors who bought all those fancy things that we just had to have- you know, to keep up. Why are neighbors so mean?
4. The celebrity-obsessed culture of ours that bombarded us with that Britney-Paris-Amy junk that didn't give us enough time to learn what was really going on around us. It's shameful. Who do they think they are betting that we wouldn't use our brains?
5. The weight that I didn't lose. [Oh yeah...about that 35 pound Resolution from last year....this time I really mean it!] It must be those terrible people who put calorie-laden food near me and didn't force me to exercise more.

So what can we do to turn this around?
1. Stop wasting our time surfing the channels on television and the junk sites on the internet. That would free up about two hours a day right there. Write a book. Or a movie. Or a play. Or a short story. Put our talents to use. You only go through this world once. [My apologies to the Reincarnationists in my subscriber list.]
2. Do something good or kind for someone every day without them knowing about it.
3. Educate ourselves - about the economy, the arts, history, language. The world is a beautiful place but it requires education to really appreciate its fullest beauty.
4. Stop negative thinking. Too many people talk themselves out of accomplishments before they even start. Give yourself a positive mantra every day. Visualize what it is you want to accomplish. Set out a plan. And do it.
5. Get organized. We all waste the equivalent of a 40 hour work-week annually just trying to find files, looking for stuff - and going crazy in the process. If you can, bring in an organizer to help you or spend an hour a day getting organized - in your personal, family, professional, hobby, and every aspect of your life. I admit I'm not there yet. But I'm starting.
6. Tell the key people in our lives that we love them. Often. You'll never regret it and they will always remember it.
7. Have dinner with our families at least three times a week. Those are the times you get to share, learn about each other, and build a family ritual that is enduring for generations.
8. As you do all those, don't forget to have fun. Life is way too short. Even in tough times, you can still give some focus to what interests you, excites you, makes you laugh, gives you joy.

So those are my thoughts on the year that's passed and the year that awaits us.

Caroline Kennedy and the New York Times

Now let's turn to the now famous New York Times Interview with Senate wannabe Caroline Kennedy. I have two words for Ms. Kennedy...'media training'!!! If she was trained then more is required obviously. She would be the hands-down winner of the 'you know' awards for sure (140 times in the interview). It was cringe-worthy in Sarah Palin terms, as you will see:


However, the following sequence almost redeemed her entire interview:
[conducted by Nicholas Confessore and David M. Halbfinger - NC and DH]

"NC: Was he [your husband] the first person you told — do you know if you uttered the words, ‘I think I’m gonna go for this?’ Or, something like it?

CK: Well, I don’t know if I utter those kinds of words, but yes. You know, it was a mutual decision.

NC: Could you, for the sake of storytelling, could you tell us a little bit about that moment, like, where you were, what you said to him about your decision, how that played out?

CK: Have you guys ever thought about writing for, like, a woman’s magazine or something? (Laughter)

DH: What do you have against women’s magazines?

CK: Nothing at all, but I thought you were the crack political team here. As I said, it was kind of over a period of time, you know, obviously we talked about politics, we talked about what’s going on, we’ve been watching the team that the president-elect is putting together — Hillary Clinton is going to be a spectacular part of that team, you know, then there was a vacancy here, you know, just like everybody else, you know: who’s going to fill it, isn’t that interesting, there’s a lot of great candidates, you know, obviously I have become much more politically involved than I have in the past, so you know, I figure, why not try, I really think I have something to offer.

NC: But there was no one moment you can draw on —

CK: I know I wish there was, I’ll think about it.

NC: If there isn’t, that’s what it was, that’s fine too. We’re not the crack political team, we’re always looking for good anecdotes and good stories."

So there you have it: "good anecdotes and good stories". Her crack about women's magazines will be a problem for her, but there is a grain of truth to it. When New York Times reporters start to ask Oprah-like questions, it's hard not to laugh at the crack. All the news that's fit to print' indeed!

I can already hear the cast of 'Saturday Night Live' getting ready to pounce! Hang in there Caroline - it's only the New York Times. The real challenge will be surviving Tina Fey!

Until Next Year....be safe and try to find some joy in this crazy world.

P.S. watch for our new website http://www.mcloughlinmedia.com which will be up and running early in the New Year. At which time I will move this blog onto the site. All of our old www.ceo.tv web and email contacts will be directed over there during the initial transition phase. It's time for 'change you can believe in'!! [Although I think that slogan has already been taken....]


Barry's annual achievement awards

Welcome back to my tiny slice of the blogosphere!
If you aren't too crazed already by the pre-Christmas partying, shopping, shoveling or last-minute work overload, I want to pre-empt awards season with my own awards representing the good, the bad and the ugly of what occurred this year in the media and in the world of politics and business.

Drum Roll Please......

The Johnson & Murphy "I looked into his eyes and could see his sole" award goes to Iraqi journalist Muntazer al-Zaidi. I thought the endless replaying of the video and the television newscasts tended to treat it as a harmless prank. More than a touch unprofessional in my view. By the way, the journalist was able to fire off two shoes in 2.5 seconds, before a fellow journalist (?!) [not the Secret Service] hauled him down! Wait for the "second shoe" theory to take hold in the blogosphere.

And the Rod Blagojevich Chutzpah Award Goes to...
Bernard Madoff who mastered the Ponzi scheme to rip-off a who's who of sophisticated investors and savvy people including Stephen Spielberg. The real disgrace is that the SEC were notified specifically of what he was doing, but failed to move in on this fiasco in time to protect investors.

The Sarah Palin "I can see Russia from my backyard" award goes to....
Sarah Palin who followed her disastrous Charlie Gibson interview by giving equal time to ....Katie Couric! This would fall into the official definition of insanity which is a "persistent belief that doing the same thing in the same way will lead to a different result."

The "is it just me or did I miss the point of that?" award goes to...Stephane Dion, Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe who conducted an elaborate signing ceremony on Parliament Hill to commemorate a TWO PARTY coalition [then spent the next week loudly proclaiming that it was NOT a THREE PARTY coalition - that Duceppe guy and his Bloc Quebecois party weren't really part of it]. That old communications rule that 'visuals cancel out content' could not have been better illustrated. 018639.bin

The "what can I say he's still a KGB thug" award is permanently given to Vladimir Putin. You have no equal sir!

The Marie Antoinette "let them eat cake" award goes to AIG executives who partied on the taxpayers' dime days after their bail-out....the Big Three CEOs who flew to Washington on their private jets with their hands out...brings to mind the old Russian proverb...'the difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits.'

"The fundamentals of the economy are sound" award
goes to John McCain who forgot the golden rule of politics - when the public is worried, you gotta be worried too.

So, it's been quite a year - exciting politically, disturbing economically and sickening internationally. However, hope is in the air. People are inherently optimistic and they want to see politicians work together in a serious way to tackle the serious problems that we all face.
It appears that President-elect Obama gets that. He is reaching across the aisles, and seems determined to truly make a difference. Hopefully, he can rein in people's expectations and govern as well as he campaigned.

I will be going to the Inauguration as it is a truly historic occasion and I'm truly looking forward to it.

See you next year! Merry Christmas, Happy Channukah, Joyeux Noel, Felice Navidad and....Happy New Year!!!!

All the best


That Was the Week That Was

Welcome back everyone!

I titled my last blog posting based on a great British series ('A Very British Coup'), so while I'm still in that mood, I am calling this one after another of my favorite Brit series, 'That Was the Week That Was'. In fact, in my childhood, I loved that series (hosted by David Frost, but more on him later) so much that when my writing partner, Ken Shaw, and I pitched our first television series, 'Sshhh it's the News', which ultimately ran on Global TV for 78 episodes in 1974-76, we based it on "TW3". The British version - had only run for two seasons to huge audiences, but was shut down before the 1964 election by the government of Alec Douglas-Hume - who was getting fed up with being skewered so mercilessly. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0131188/

The Canadian Crisis Cools Down...for Now

After coming within a whisker of taking control of the government through a coalition with the NDP and guaranteed by the Bloc Quebecois, the Liberals couldn't move fast enough to show their leader the respect they thought he deserved. He was out the door and replaced by Michael Ignatieff faster than Gov. Rod Blagojevich could auction off an Illinois Senate seat. [By the way, his indictment for that haircut alone was long overdue!]

Gov. Blagojevich and his unindicted hair

That whole Canadian episode seems to put paid to the notion that in politics 'winning is everything' (which I don't subscribe to). When they think you have a chance of assuming power, they swear their undying loyalty. When it's clear you failed, you are history! I actually felt sorry for Mr. Dion. He was a decent man who clearly wasn't able to navigate the political waters and after capsizing the Liberal ship in the election was miraculously thrown a lifeline. I mean you can't blame him for trying!

Sssshhh....the Coalition goes over a cliff but do his ex-partners realize it?

Watching Michael Ignatieff's first news conference after the caucus selected him Leader, I couldn't help but feel that the Coalition is dead in everything but name only. You read it here first. Michael Ignatieff will NEVER AGREE to have the NDP in his Cabinet. He already indicated that if the government falls after its January 27th budget he will go to the Governor General and simply ask for the opportunity to seek the confidence of the House. Period. However, I believe that he will find a way to criticize the budget but allow it to pass. He's no fool. He needs a minimum of 18 months to rebuild the Party coffers, re-build the shattered Liberal brand, and create a bridge to the Canadian voters.

The Big Three Go to Washington (the sequel)
Having shed their private jets and driven to Washington in their own cars, Detroit's big three auto CEOs did a much better job of making their case...but not enough to convince Republican lawmakers that it's a good deal for the taxpayers. As of this writing, even Barack Obama's involvement has come to naught, so, unless there is a last-minute bail-out, a nightmare scenario may indeed unfold with potentially hundreds of thousands of workers thrown out of work. If only the Big Three had been banks or investment firms rolling the dice with depositors' money they would be given all the money they need! To quote Jimmy Carter, "life is unfair".

Frost/Nixon - the Movie

Speaking of David Frost, I'm looking forward to seeing the movie this weekend, as I was blown away by the Broadway stage show. As a sidebar, I remember many years ago working on a variety series that was being directed by Jorn Winther, a Dutch-born director who had just returned from directing the actual Frost-Nixon interviews in San Clemente. Last year, I just happened to be visiting the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda CA and Ron Howard was there directing Frank Langella and Michael Sheen, which I must say was pretty neat.

So I hope to get one more missive out before Christmas but if I miss you, I sincerely hope that you have a peaceful, happy break, because let's face it, we all deserve it, don't we?

Until next time...


A Very Canadian Coup

Welcome back.

Is this a crazy year or what? On the same day that Barack Obama chooses his long-time nemesis, Hillary Clinton as his Secretary-of-State-designate, Canada takes a huge leap into the unknown.


It looks as if the newly-elected Harper Government may come crashing down, following a heavily-criticized economic statement that contained several controversial elements. The most antagonizing to the Opposition was the proposed cut-off of the $1.95 per-vote public subsidy for each party based on the last federal election results. Even though it would have taken more money away from the well-heeled Conservatives, it would have decimated the other parties, who would have to actually raise that money, instead of being bequeathed it by the taxpayer.

The other provocative piece was the proposed banning of public-sector strikes until 2010.That guaranteed NDP outrage. Even though the Finance Minister pulled those components over the weekend, and announced the moving up of the Budget date to January 27th, the blood was already in the water, and now all three Opposition parties [Stephane Dion's Liberals, the NDP's Jack Layton and the Bloc Quebecois' Gilles Duceppe have signed an official deal to form a coalition government].

So what should Stephen Harper do now?

The government's 'proroguing' the House, in an attempt to prevent the vote from taking place until the Budget is tabled, would be their last-gasp effort to stave off defeat. The Opposition Coalition, in their letter that they have already sent to Her Excellency the Governor General, are asking for the right to face the House and seek the 'confidence of the House' for the coalition, if the Government falls on a confidence motion, scheduled for December 8th.

The Governor General is probably flying back as I write this. It will be the challenge of Gov. Michaelle Jean's tenure and she will not want to remain in Europe in the run-up to her decision. There is an even chance that when she returns, she will consult and weigh carefully the advice. Will she agree? My gut tells me that she may well do it. Of course, that, in turn, would be very divisive, re-opening long-dormant debates about how an unelected individual can control the fate of a duly-elected government. Well, she can, and it has only been used once before in the famous King-Byng affair. Google that if you're fascinated.

Which will mean, the most significant political event since Joe Clark's government was defeated nine months after it was elected in 1979, thus allowing the late Pierre Trudeau to emerge from the ashes of defeat. As with Stephane Dion, he had announced his intention to step down too.
[Although I can't imagine Pierre Trudeau agreeing to enter into a coalition with the Separatists.]

The proroguing of the House in order to stave off the inevitable is now the only chance the government has to get its act together, and to rally the public and then present the Budget to the House on January 27th, 2009. That would give Prime Minister Harper and his government time to prepare the ground for an all-out public relations war. If his government is defeated on that vote, then of course the Government would fall. But at least it would be on a tangible document, not just an 'economic update'. That Budget would have to contain the stimulus that Prime Minister Harper and his G20 colleagues promised in Lima, Peru only ten days ago, in which each committed to investing 2% of Gross Domestic Product - which for Canada means $30 billion dollars of stimulus.

The downside of the 'prorogue' maneuver is that it will make the government look weak, having just been elected to lead the country through difficult economic waters.

Ironically, if the Coalition does convince the Governor General to hand them over the keys to the government, there is no way that the Coalition government can bring forward a budget or any serious commitment prior to January 27th, 2009 anyway!

But good policy does not always make good politics and vice versa.

As a sidebar to the sideshow....
I have also long predicted that Green Party Leader Elizabeth May will be appointed to the Senate and then given the post of Environment Minister.

And they say that Canada is boring!! A very Canadian coup indeed.....

Until next time..."Please don't remain remain calm" (thank you Michael Kinsley).
Somehow Canada will muddle through eh?


What were those CEOs thinking?

Hi everyone!

Welcome back.

As a communications consultant, more and more of our consulting time is focused on managing issues with our clients. Sometimes, it's a crisis [loss of confidence by consumers, investors such as the current economic mess].

Sometimes it's a sensitive 'risk' issue that has to be managed effectively with the goal of raising awareness, without triggering public panic. [health or safety issues]

One of the pieces of advice we would usually provide is, don't do or say anything that will trigger 'outrage'. Well, guess what? That happened this week in the issue of the bail-out proposal of the Big 3 Automakers.

What was the 'outrage factor'? An ABC News item by veteran investigative reporter Brian Ross. Watch how Congressmen immediately jump all over it to pillory the CEOs before them:


What were those CEOs thinking?

When are CEOs going to learn that the issues that can really hurt you are in the category called "symbols"? It isn't about spending $20,000 on a flight aboard a company jet. It's about 'the message that it sends' when you're seeking taxpayers' money. D'uh!

The Obama Administration will have to watch very carefully this critical aspect of issues management. Heavyweight brains trying to figure their way out of the economic meltdown should use this as a warning. When you expect taxpayers, pensioners and others to suck it up and tighten their belts, then you must conduct a complete analysis of everything you do, how you do it, symbols etc. etc. in order not to trigger such a public relations disaster as this.

What is issues management, anyway?

In public relations, issue management is often used interchangeably with crisis management. The standard definition is: "Issue management is a formal management process to anticipate and take appropriate action on emerging trends, concerns, or issues likely to affect an organization and its stakeholders."

What does issues management involve?

1. Anticipate, analyze and prioritize issues
2. Help develop an organizational position on each vital issue
3. Identify key publics and influential persons whose support are vital to the public policy issue
4. Identify desired behaviors of publics and influential persons

So looking at the above definitions, remember that so-called 'little things' can create more damage than the big-ticket items. A $25 billion plan to salvage hundreds of thousands of jobs could hinge on the power of a 'symbol'. It doesn't have to be fair, but when the public is in a mood for a hanging, don't provide them with the rope!

Until next time...keep your eyes on the 'little things';


Why wasn't it a landslide?

November 10, 2008
Welcome back everyone!
As we approach Remembrance Day (in Canada and the U.K.) and Veterans' Day in the U.S. so a few thoughts on such an important occasion first.....
I attended a church service yesterday (Nov. 9th) which happened to be on the same day that would have been my late brother Stephen's birthday and the second anniversary of my beloved mother, May's, passing. It is also the day when the memorial service to remember our fallen soldiers takes place. Well, I'm usually pretty good at holding it in, but the choir topped it off with a song guaranteed to do me in - that fabulous Celtic song, The Green Fields of France. So tomorrow take 2 minutes at the 11th hour of the llth day of the 11th month to pray for all of the soldiers in all of the wars who fought so all of us can live our lives in freedom and dignity.

Moving on to Political Matters....Why Wasn't it a Landslide?

Well it's all over but the backstabbing and recrimination. Oh wait, that's already underway! When you consider that: Sen. Barack Obama outspent John McCain by something like 3-to1; the economic meltdown occurred a month before the election, the Republican brand was at an all-time low... although a solid victory (8 million votes and 200 electoral votes separated the two), it was certainly no landslide.

So, why wasn't it a landslide?
Automatically many people say the reason was race but thankfully it was not. Age turned out to be a huge differentiating factor, by more than 2 to 1 over race. Obama benefited from both those issues. So, to the disappointment of the MSM (mainstream media) all that talk about the 'Bradley Factor' in the media proved to be a non-issue.
A few final thoughts on the Endless Campaign. Barack Obama deserved to win - he was hopeful in message, cool and Presidential in style and tone, focused on healing divisions, and although somewhat lacking in specifics, gave himself enough breathing room to make the tough decisions he's going to have to make - and fast.
Obama's most popular day will be inauguration day, so he needs to spend his political capital wisely. He will use much of it in the next four years, but he should view his victory as a mandate to govern from the middle. The nation needs healing and a fresh direction. He has a 'once-in-a-generation' opportunity to make a difference and everyone around the world wishes him the very best.

President-elect Obama's First news Conference
Okay we have to cut the guy some slack, as it was only three days after his victory. But this strange comment was clearly out of bounds (and for which he had to apologize to Nancy Reagan). Also his joking reference to himself as a 'mutt' will never be repeated as Rahm Emanuel has no doubt already reamed him out for that. A President should never refer to himself in such a demeaning way - even when just trying to be funny.

What about McCain?

As for Sen. John McCain, his concession speech was the John McCain everyone knew was there - high road, gracious, and filled with a sense of purpose, resolve and humanity. Where was it for most of the campaign? As I said in my last blog, it mostly wasn't in the cards for any Republican Presidential candidate, but he had a very narrow chance to pull it off. He needed a strategic, principle-based campaign, with sound decisions, an uplifting visionary message and tone. For whatever reason, it didn't happen.
However, he gave it his all and he has made a great contribution over the course of his life to his country and he needn't apologize to anyone.

What about Sarah Palin?
With regard to Sarah Palin, she has a lot of recovery to do. People who want to scapegoat her for the defeat are in denial. Yes she was out of her depth. The McCain people, though, have to take responsibility for throwing her into it without any due diligence or extensive preparation.
The clothing issue can be taken care of very simply. Get the auction underway immediately. Cut a deal with Sotheby's or some other auction house for $150,000 or more, and they keep whatever extra they can raise in an auction. Then cut the check to the Republican Party and get it over with. Fast.
Does she have a future? Yes. As Governor. As Senator. But probably not as President. Sorry she was 'Dan Qualyed' which is virtually unrecoverable.

Until next time.....let's all take a deep breath and keep our heads. We will all emerge from this better and stronger. Have I ever lied to you before?



5 Reasons Why McCain has lost

[Photo: I ask Sen. McCain what he would do to
transform America's image around the world.
He knocks it out of the park...in June 2008.
But since then...]

Hi everyone!

Well with just over a week to go, it is clear that Barack Obama will be the next President of the United States - barring some YouTube viral video involving Obama caught in some unspeakable act.

The key question I will explore in this posting is:
Was it ever possible for John McCain to win the White House this year?
And if so, what did he need to do to succeed?

First of all, it was theoretically possible but highly unlikely. The economic catastrophe of the past month was merely the last straw after eight years of the Bush Administration and the most unpopular President since Richard Nixon. So the top priority for the McCain campaign was to never sound, look or imply that he would be the 'third Bush term' as the Obama campaign so cleverly labelled a McCain Presidency. This he failed to do. The Obama ads using McCain's own words that he supported the President 90% of the time were devestating.

Secondly, he needed to energize the Republican base while targeting the independent/swing voter like a laser. It was a balancing act that an engineer would have trouble calibrating. In McCain's case his choice of Sarah Palin did half the job, but the full job needed to be done. Everytime she opened her mouth she lost thousands of independent voters as they realized she was not qualified to be Vice President, let alone President. In fact, it was doubly awkward for McCain because she continues to get more coverage than he does. This is never a good idea.

Thirdly, he had to frame the issue as "which leader can protect Americans in troubled times?" Implied in that ballot question are two themes - "secure our family and our country's financial future" and "secure America in a dangerous world". Did he accomplish those? No. His self-confessed "I know nothing about economics" pretty well ensured that he was not going to be taken seriously when the economic tsunami hit in September. [His response to the crisis was highly questionable to say the least. He suspended his campaign, stiffed Letterman (the worst sin of all?) flew the next morning to Washington - flew out without a deal and had trouble finding credible ground. Obama stayed cool, worked to get a better deal for 'Main Street' and was able to explain in layman's language what happened to cause such a calamity.]

Although Obama is no economist either, he knew that people don't expect you to be one - they just want to feel that you have a plan to deal with it. The now-tiresome 'Joe the Plumber' theme of McCain-Palin has got some traction, but the fact that Joe was a fraud, took a lot of the potential out of that effort to paint Obama as a socialistic income-distributor.

Fourthly, his tone was no longer Presidential, while Obama's became increasingly so. It was most apparent in the last debate, where McCain constantly rolled his eyeballs, sneeringly debunked Obama's points, while Obama responded with a dazzling smile and a high road, cool tone.

Finally, John McCain needed to take the issue of age off the table, and he didn't. Reagan did it masterfully in the second debate against Walter Mondale in 1984:

With Sen. McCain's increasingly angry and volatile attacks on Obama, it raised the spectre again that he is too old for the job. Once that question took hold, the Palin 'suitability-for-the-Oval Office' issue rocketed to the top of voters' minds.

So, John, we hardly knew ye'! You had to be in a very targeted and disciplined, narrow channel, and you weren't able to do it. To give you your due, you had overwhelming odds against you. You worked harder than any candidate half your age, but the tide has gone out, and it has left you standing on the shore.

On a lighter note...
Humor played a huge role in this campaign - particularly Tina Fey's channeling Sarah Palin - which was devastatingly funny (and possibly devastatingly politically). Saturday Night Live neatly captured the two huge burdens that McCain is carrying in this election:

Until next time....vote early [but please don't vote often]!



Who won the debate?

Welcome back - and so soon!
After recovering from the Canadian election, we were thrown right back into the thick of the Presidential race and the last Presidential debate.
Alright, who won the debate? In my view, John McCain had his best debate of the three that he's had, while Obama was flat and played it safe. McCain won on substance, but Obama won on style - perception, that is.

Although the sit-down format with moderator Bob Schieffer was in sharp contrast to Sen. McCain's preferred 'town hall' approach, he seemed comfortable with it.

The major thrust of this debate was that Obama was forced onto the defensive almost all the way through. Obama didn't find his 'zone' until about a half an hour into the 90 minute match. Even then, however, he had to continually explain his voting record, his conversations with 'Joe the Plumber' [that, however, got tired pretty fast on both their parts], and his tax policy.

Take a look at the 'Joe the Plumber' sequence with Obama on the campaign trail and judge for yourself: [sorry about the CNN.com commercial for Exxon-Mobil - they don't pay me anything for this]

Did you notice how Obama does all the talking? A little more listening might have been more impressive!

McCain had to score a big win tonight - which is very hard to do against the smooth and cool Obama. While he didn't do that, he served his campaign well, giving them a foundation for the next three weeks.

Debate Perceptions

1. McCain managed to move away from his anger and kept it far more focused on the issues. While he brought up Wiliam Ayers, he didn't bog down in it. Obama, I believe was able to put it to rest.
2. McCain fleshed out a very clear storyline on his economic approach - cut wasteful spending, reform government and bureaucratic agencies, cut taxes. He contrasted this with Obama's spending promises continually.
3. Sen. McCain looked too sneering visually on the split screen when Sen. Obama was talking. His anger - while more under control than last time - was still palpable. Women in particular seemed to respond poorly whenever he did that, as the CNN 'undecided voter' graph indicated.
4.Obama didn't enjoy himself, but did find a few moments of lightness and smiles, which helped him when he was being put into a corner on several occasions.

So who looked and sounded Presidential? Obama. Who looked and sounded strong and tough? McCain. If the undecided voters are scared and they want tough leadership, they may be more attracted to McCain.

Here's a good example of a strong intervention by McCain on whether he is Bush's third term:


On balance, perception went to Obama, while substance went to McCain. Although I didn't listen to it on the radio, I would not be surprised if, as with Richard Nixon in 1960, the majority may well have chosen McCain. However, as we know, the majority who watched the Kennedy-Nixon debates, thought Kennedy won. That is no doubt the reality of what we saw tonight.

What should McCain do in the final three weeks?

It will depend on how he focuses his campaign message, his advertising and his own time. Go to the battleground states, turn positive and specific about what he will do to change America for the better. Stay off the negative. Try to channel Ronald Reagan, not Bob Dole.

CNN's post-debate performance

One problem I had was with CNN's post-debate analysis. Campbell Brown - true to form - given her fairly obvious bias throughout the campaign, introduced the results of an immediate poll. It was comprised, she admitted, of a large majority of Democratic voters who thought Obama won. Surprise! Surprise! You could see John King and Anderson Cooper were uncomfortable with the bias and did indeed point it out. But the damage is done as that kind of skewed coverage has an influence on viewers. The real decisions on who won debates often take place 48 hours later when the pundits have spoken.

So here's a suggestion to CNN. You may have the self-titled, "best political team on television", but wouldn't it be nice to have a credible poll?
I could be wrong, but I doubt it.

Until next time,


Harper Finishes Strong; McCain's got one last chance

Welcome back!
Stephen Harper has to be relieved at tonight's election results. Although he didn't get a majority, he was able to substantially strengthen his position, with a high minority, and he will be able to govern with more confidence. It will now take three parties to defeat him instead of two.

The night was a debacle for the Liberals and for Stephane Dion personally. However, the last few days have been rough for the Liberals and fortunate for the Conservatives.

How did this happen? Several factors led to the results:

1. Stephane Dion's interview debacle on CTV Atlantic (ATV) took him off message [see my previous blog below] and shook the confidence of wavering voters, who always had lingering questions about his leadership capacity. Although it may have been unfair, the perception was so negative that his aides tried to stop the 'do-overs' from being shown. Rightly so. Any doubts about Mr. Dion's sensitivity to the 'unfairness' of that interview was underscored as he fended off questions from CTV reporter Roger Smith by saying, "the last network I would give an interview to would be CTV. " Ouch. [correction: Dion's exact words were "The last person I would speak to first is CTV."] Although mangled in syntax, it was accompanied by a push from Dion to the reporter and an angry tone. It was clear he was furious with the network for what he felt was bad treatment by the network on the controversial 'do-over' issue. See for yourself:

Mr. Dion is a decent man who deserved a better fate than this, but politics is a tough business and his Green Shift plan was a difficult sell at this time - or possibly at any time! He didn't have the personality and ease to connect with people. He exceeded expectations in this campaign - not just because they were so low before - but also because people could see his essential decency. They just don't see him as a leader.

2. The $25 billion infusion by the Government into the banks' mortgage portfolios - although late in the game - was seen by undecided voters to have been the right thing to do. This was reinforced by the record surge in the Toronto Stock Exchange as voters were going to the polls.
3. Mr. Dion could not seem to connect with Ontario voters, and his loss there was the Tories'and NDP's gain. The Conservatives were up 9, the Liberals down 13 and the NDP up 4.

4. The Green Party votes did not match the polling numbers and it seems like, in the final days, a number of their potential supporters took the hint from their Leader, Elizabeth May, and engaged in strategic voting.

5. The NDP did very well. They were able to target their votes in key ridings, resulting in an 8 seat gain - their best effort since the heyday of Ed Broadbent.

One of the key results of the election was that, due to the collapse of the Liberal vote, the combined Liberal-NDP seat count was not nearly enough to pose a possible coalition. So we could be at the polls again within the next two years, once the Liberals hold their leadership convention.

So congratulations to Stephen Harper and the Conservative team. They had a rocky journey but can definitely claim, that in the midst of unprecedented global economic turmoil and stock market meltdown that would normally impale any sitting government, they were able to pull off a strong performance. The Prime Minister had a statesmanlike victory speech, reaching out to the 2 independent MPs with an olive branch [why not? he's going to need them on some tight votes], and a high road message to all who threw everything at him.

That's one down and one to go - south of the border.

Preview of The Final Presidential Debate

Wednesday night is do-or-die night for John McCain. He needs to clearly and effectively set out his economic plan for Americans who are angry and frightened about what has happened. He needs to clearly contrast his approach to Barack Obama's, without being nasty. He has to look and sound Presidential.

He should drop his rumored plans to attack Obama's contacts with Bill Ayers. They are past it, and bringing it up will only backfire, as it will say more about McCain than about Obama. Talk about what people care about. Speak for them not just to them.

Looking forward to that one for sure!

Until next time....


Who is going to win the Canadian Election - and Why?

Hi everyone!
Welcome back to my blog. Last time I focused on the Presidential campaign (still Obama's to lose). This time I want to focus north of the border to Canada's increasingly exciting election campaign.

All elections boil down to the 45 'swing' or battleground ridings, and look at what has happened in Canada the past two weeks:


That will tell you everything you need to know about how this election has gone. If the trend lines are not reversed, then it's all bets off as to who wins.

The Rules of Successful Campaigns

The first rule of successful campaigns: control the ballot question. Well, due to the stock market meltdown, that has pretty well been taken care of. The ballot question now is, 'which leader (party) am I prepared to risk with my family's financial future?' That should work to the Tories' favour [hence the 'risky' anti-Dion ads which have blanketed the airwaves even long before the election.]

Stephen Harper was slow to respond to the rapidly escalating fear factor among Canadians - counting on public revulsion towards Stephane Dion's 'Green Shift' to carry the day. However, as the Liberals began to gain momentum, he has kicked into gear this week with a much more vigorous policy response - kicking in $25 billion in mortgage insurance backing (without exposing the taxpayers). Dion and Layton have been hammering away at the 'Harper doesn't get it' and 'Harpernomics' to some effect.

The second rule of successful campaigns: make all your news deliberate. By this rule the Conservatives have had some problems. From 'pooping puffins' to Mr. Harper's advice to consumers to take advantage of under-priced stocks to bizarro candidate eruptions to accusations of plagiarism of Australia's former PM Joh Howard, this has been a particularly rough journey. Although Stephane Dion has had his slip-ups, as Opposition Leader, he is not under the same media magnifying glass as the Prime Minister. However, he did have quite a gaffe yesterday:


By the way Mr. Dion, in the middle of an election campaign, you really can't "start again". Stephen Harper had a very effective low-key 'more-in-sadness-than-in-anger' response. No sense of triumphalism there! And it worked! On CBC.ca: " Harper said the episode highlights greater concerns than language comprehension, and shows instead that Dion has no plan for dealing with the global credit crisis that is threatening to spill over into Canada."

The third rule of successful campaigns: never sit on a lead. Tell us your priorities, your action plan for the next four years. Don't merely tweak a few policies and dribble out a few small initiatives. When people are upset, when anxiety is high and trust of politicians is low, then you need a strong, bold and confident vision for the future, with a strong strategy to get us there. The economic destabilization required an immediate response and as we see in the American election, all leaders need to communicate that they 'feel our pain'.

So with four days to go, what will happen? From the beginning I have predicted a minority Conservative government. That is still the more-than-likely outcome. 'Coulda' 'woulda' 'shoulda' will have to wait for another day.

Watch out for a Surprise Ending...
If it's a razor-thin minority however, watch for the Liberals, NDP and Green to possibly forge an alliance that they would be prepared to take to the Governor General - either before Parliament sits or on the first vote of confidence in the Conservative government.

If you don't think it can happen, I would remind you that the Ontario election of 1986 would be an object lesson. In the wake of a Conservative minority result, the Liberals and NDP hammered out a two-year coalition and formed the next government - without going to the polls. It could happen here. Check it out.


So Happy Thanksgiving to my fellow Canadians! Then on Tuesday, get out and vote!

All the best


Who won the 2nd debate?

Welcome back everyone!

It's once again debate night in America. The election landscape has shifted under the ground of the Presidential campaigns - as a result of the Wall Street meltdown - with significant impacts on the race. The American public is shaken and angry. Their desire for change in the status quo has never been more pronounced. 

John McCain has emerged from the Congressional bailout with diminished stature. Overheated, over-reacting without a clear, strategic path ahead for the economy. Barack Obama, on the other hand, has emerged as the voice of 'change'. 

Sarah Palin has been a 'shooting star' in this campaign. At first she shot up brightly at the Republican Convention with an incredible speech, and then her 'star' flamed out when she undermined her credibility by the bizarre campaign choice to put her in front of Charlie Gibson, and then - incredibly - into an interview with Katie Couric. She clearly couldn't sustain a credible line with either of them. Her 'better-than-expected' debate performance stopped the bleeding but didn't heal the wounds. Biden looked strong and clearly won going away. 

Tonight's Debate

So now we have the second of three Presidential debates. One of the last opportunities for Sen. McCain to close the widening gap with the Obama campaign. 

Tonight, he needed to clearly tell the American people what he would do to turn the economic mess around. He needed to demonstrate the kind of Presidential timber that the American public so desperately wants. Did he do it? Not as well as he needed to. On substance he was adequate for sure. Was he compelling? Did he offer a stronger, clearer differentiation from Obama? No.

He came across as angry, somewhat bitter and overall negative in his persona. On substance, he got better on foreign affairs, and he closed well, but he needed to show the visionary, leadership side of his personality. This was his town hall forum with which he is so experienced and he was definitely improved from his first, somewhat stilted, debate performance. 

A Presidential candidate needs to demonstrate that he has a strong sense of priorities. So what does he say? He will attack energy, health care and entitlements at the same time. What about the recession? The impact on Main Street? On consumers? If they go down, where would the money come from?

In contrast, Obama came across coolly and fully in charge. He didn't lash out bitterly. He was comfortable in his own skin.  His silver tongue served him well. Not much content that we hadn't heard before. Nothing seems to faze the guy. He successfully positioned McCain as  the 'same old same old'. Ouch! 

Either Sen. McCain is no longer listening to his aides, or he's got the wrong ones. 

So to use the common analogy - no knock-out punches, but Obama won it on points. That's more than he needed.

John McCain has one more debate to turn it around. He must win on October 15th if he has even a slim chance of pulling it off.

Memo to Sen. McCain

So Senator McCain, here's the advice. Listen carefully. Stop the angry tone. They aren't working, and diminish you. Speak calmly and clearly to the American people through the camera. Largely ignore Obama. He bugs you and it shows. Speak to the higher vision of America. Reach into your heart and connect with those who ache for a new and fresh start, anchored in the ideals of the American dream. 

With less than a month to go, Senator McCain, you need to have the ability to take a deep breath and kill the negative campaigning and ads. We're not hearing your vision for the future while you're digging up old news about Bill Ayers. No one cares - no matter how often you repeat it. Oh, by the way, note what Barack and Michele did at the end of the debate? They engaged people, looked like winners. You and Cindy were tight, distant and hurried off the stage. Didn't look like winners to me. Oh, and by the way, drop the nasty 'that one' when referring to Obama, and the constant repetition of 'my friends'.

To coin a phrase, 'it's the economy stupid'. 

Of course, it's only my opinion.

Until next time......


Winners and Losers in Debates

Welcome back to my new blog format and post-debate(s) analysis.
It's the most...wonderful time...of the Year!!! Debate central!
First ....Canada.
The French language debate took place last night. Stephen Harper was under a 4-way barrage and emerged unscathed, if somewhat too muted. Clearly his goal was to stay cool, knowing he would be attacked vociferously...and that indeed came to pass. How did he do?
Click here from my CFRA radio interview this morning (October 2nd):
"Madely in the Morning - 7:40am --- Steve Madely is joined by Barry McLoughlin of McLoughlin Media to discuss what he believes the leaders need to do in tonight's debate."

The English language debate tonight was a different experience. All of the leaders brought more of their 'A' game to the debate. Stephen Harper brought some passion with his cool demeanor this time out. He took opportunities to push back against Stephen Harper and did particularly well against Jack Layton by saying that he - alone among leaders - only went to publicly operated health clinics. Jack Layton had to admit that he went to the Shouldice Clinic - privately operated but publicly paid. Hhmmmm. The NDP are strongly opposed to private delivery of public health.

Elizabeth May of the Green Party was much better in the English debate. She was strong and succinct while connecting through the camera. Stephen Harper treated her courteously and gave her as much oxygen as possible (in order to take it away from Dion and Layton).

Jack Layton was much more effective also - except for that awkward moment noted above). He wasn't over-smiling and exhibiting tense and aggressive body language. He demonstrated just about the right blend of strength and personal warmth (except towards Harper).

Gilles Duceppe was quite effective as usual - and no doubt once again English voters will be pleasantly surprised at how reasonable he sounds, and his effectiveness. It won't help him directly in Quebec, but the anticipated media coverage will give him some resonance in Quebec among his francophone base.

So who won?
Not a clear winner, but some interesting outcomes, based on a report card scoring:

Stephen Harper, by not losing, speaking to his target voters, while still staying cool under fire.
Elizabeth May - really paid off on her English debate debut. Too much on the defence, but much of that is inevitable.

Jack Layton was able to find his voice and was able to shine in key moments - especially in the debate over the arts - a sensitive topic for the Harper campaign, which may well have hurt them, especially in Quebec.

Stephane Dion built on his better-than-expected debate performance from the night before and it may well help reverse the tide that had gone out in the first two weeks of the campaign.

Elizabeth May had the most obvious benefit out of the evening. She showed she belonged, she gave confidence to her supporters, and made a dent in the 'undecided' voters who may be thinking of strategic voting.

The real winner, hands down, was Steve Paiken of TVO. He showed a strong hand without spoiling the fireworks.

Vice Presidential Debate
Most viewers tuned in to watch a train wreck. They were pretty confident that Sarah Palin would add yet another Tina Fey opportunity. While she was shaky at times - especially on the role of the Vice President, and some awkward moments, she didn't make a fool of herself. She didn't lose votes, but probably didn't gain any either.

Biden Does Well....but Not Outstanding
Joe Biden avoided any verbal gaffes. He came in with high expectations and largely delivered on the promise. He won on substance; he did well on tone and manner. He was also able to avoid sounding condescending towards her - which was vital. Biden treated her as an equal. Clearly he is a tough guy to beat.

Palin Exceeds Expectations
Although she was occasionally evasive on the questions, and too reliant on her notes, Gov. Palin was surprisingly good on foreign policy and clearly comfortable on energy issues. Palin pretty well held her own and the sighs of relief can be heard in every Republican home in America...especially John McCain's. Her way of speakin' is an acquired taste - if ever- and her bashing of 'mainstream media' somewhat strained at this time.

Her tendency to exaggerate - the 'Obama/Biden raising the white flag of surrender' stuff is definitely going too far. When she does the hockey mom routine, it speaks to those whose top-of-mind question is, 'does this person understand me and our family?' She looked into the camera - as did Biden - and made connections with their target voters.

So Now it's up to McCain
The second Presidential debate on October 7th will be more critical than ever, if John McCain is going to turn this around.

Until then...hang onto your hats!


Volatility on the Campaign Trail

Hello everyone!
Wow!! Can you spell v-o-l-a-t-i-l-e?
Welcome back to my blog. This is a new format which I am trying out for this posting. If change is in the air, then why not in the blogosphere? A lot has happened in the past two weeks - in Canada and the United States. The stock market crash, followed by the failure of the bailout package has rocketed the economy to the absolute top of the public agenda. 

What will the credit crisis mean for the elections - North and South of the Border?
This has profound implications for both the American and Canadian elections. In the Presidential race, the conventional wisdom is that if the top-of-mind issue is foreign policy, then the race will favor McCain. If it is economic policy, then the tilt is towards Obama. 
That shift appears to already be underway. The failure of the Administration's package to pass the House, combined with John McCain's ''suspending" his campaign, the rapid turnaround in public confidence in Sarah Palin, have all led to a public perception that John McCain may not be the 'change' that they are looking for. 
This is one of those elections where programs such as Saturday Night Live can end up shaping public perception more powerfully than news programs.

In the Canadian election, ironically, it seems to have strengthened Stephen Harper's position as a strong economic leader. Canada so far, seems to have escaped the debacle in capital markets, but Canadians know that when their largest trading partner goes into recession, Canada can't be far behind. 

The Conservatives are currently enjoying an 11% lead over the Liberals [Nanos Sept. 30 poll: 37% Conservative; 26% Liberal; 19% NDP; 9% Green]. However, they need to secure another 3% to grab the majority that the Prime Minister is now directly asking Canadians to give him. The Conservatives need to pick up more seats in Quebec and make a stronger inroads in Ontario, while pushing back on the surging NDP in British Columbia.

Another Bump in the Road for the Tories
 However, one of the most damaging stumbles that the Conservatives have encountered is the revelation that a speech Mr. Harper gave in March 2003 was a carbon copy of Australia's then-Prime Minster, John Howard. Quick action led to the resignation of his speechwriter. 
Will it be enough? Probably, but it is another bump in the road to a majority.

The Debates Will be Key
The first televised Presidential debate was the famous Kennedy-Nixon face-off in 1960. There wasn't a lot to separate the two on policy, but Kennedy looked Presidential, while Nixon looked sweaty and defensive. 
Gerald Ford's gaffe in the 1976 debate with Jimmy Carter, really did him in.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w8rg9c4pUrg

Then the famous "there you go again" line by Ronald Reagan against Jimmy Carter in the 1980 Presidential debate seemed to take the wind out of Jimmy Carter's sails.

The Leaders' Debate on Thursday night will have even more significance this week. Harper needs a solid, cool, unruffled performance. Dion needs to position himself as the clear and credible alternative to the Prime Minister, and needs to connect with the voter on the core pocketbook issues - rather than on the defence over his unpopular - and complicated - Green Shift proposal. If he allows Jack Layton to steal his thunder, he will look weak by definition. Jack has to look and sound strong and down-to-earth; not too revved up or over the top.

Elizabeth May is the great unknown. She could be great or she could totally blow it. She needs to speak to the voter at home, not get so caught up in the heated exchanges that she turns off people watching in their living rooms. Her greatest accomplishment was getting into the debate in the first place.

And then there's the French Debate
Duceppe will be impressive as usual, but it won't get him too many votes in Quebec, so for him it is all about Wednesday's (tonight's) French debate. In that one, both Harper and Dion are struggling to be the clear alternative to the Bloc. So there will be fireworks there too.

Previewing the Vice-Presidential Debate
The Vice-Presidential Candidates Debate is far more important than at any time in history. All eyes will be on Sarah Palin, who needs to recover from an ill-advised set of interviews with Charlie Gibson and, most recently, Katie Couric. She needs to be credible enough on foreign policy - unlike on Couric.

 She needs to address the questions clearly and succinctly, and realize that a weak answer doesn't improve with length! 
She needs to admit that what she lacks in foreign policy experience, she makes up for in judgment, and a clear view of how a McCain-Palin Administration will act in a dangerous world and a global economy? How would they be able to secure jobs for Americans? How would they be different from the Bush Administration? What is wrong, in her view, with the Obama-Biden world view -especially on NAFTA and free trade?

She needs to be calm and cool, solid, and be capable of a counter-punch. But she shouldn't lead with her chin, as Dan Quayle famously did against Sen. Lloyd Bentsen.

Biden needs to avoid sounding condescending and over-talking. 
When he really gets going, there is a slight disconnect between his mouth and his brain.

If he overtly attacks Palin, he will look like a bully. He will try to label her as unqualified and the Republican ticket as Bush's third term. She needs to keep her powder dry and then wait for her opportunity.

So let the fun begin!

Until next time.....stay cool and stay liquid!