Ann Coulter and Freedom of Speech

Welcome back!
Well after weeks of travel back and forth across the continent, I finally got what I had proudly said I had avoided all winter......a cold! A ba-ad one at that. I am here in beautiful Saskatchewan in the middle of a two-day seminar surviving on cough drops, cough syrup and various concoctions from the mini-bar. That's the last time I dare to tempt the fates!

I'm sure many of you have read about the brouhaha over American polemicist Ann Coulter's cancelled speech at the University of Ottawa. Sometimes all you can do is laugh. So I penned this little piece of satire which was published Wednesday in the Ottawa Citizen:

For most of my life, I have been fascinated about the issue of limits of free speech. Perhaps it's my Irish background.  Combine it with the culture of 'political correctness' on our university campuses and you have a volatile issue for sure. I actually felt somewhat sorry for the university's vice president who escalated the issue by sending his email to Ms. Coulter cautioning her about Canada's approach to free speech. If you looked up the phrase  'PR disaster' that missive would pop right up. A quick read of it would pretty well tell you why it was destined to backfire:

When I was at university, one of the values that was central to my generation was contained in this famous line attributed (wrongly as it turns out) to Voltaire:
"I disapprove of what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." Sadly, that value has been replaced by:
"I disagree with what you have to say, and I will fight with all I have to prevent you from saying it."

How did that happen?


Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Of course I'm in an Irish Pub on St. Patrick's Day...or a reasonable facsimile of one here at Ottawa Airport - named for Canada's only assassinated politician - one Thomas D'Arcy McGee. Having been born in the Emerald Isle, I have never worn a funny hat or drank green beer or anything of the sort (at least what I can recall) on this day. However, I don't criticize those who do, as 'being Irish for a day' is better than ignoring us altogether.

I have just been reading Alastair Campbell's, The Blair Years, an highly enjoyable account of his days serving as Tony Blair's communications honcho and in particular the back-and-forth that led to the Good Friday Accord. That took a strong determination on the part of Blair, Bertie Ahern, John Hume, Gerry Adams and David Trimble to get it down after so many years of chaos and mayhem. So a belated hats off to them for a job well done....as well as to Canada's General John de Chastelain for his terrific accomplishment in de-commissioning the armaments of all the paramilitary groups.

Tiger Woods Goes to the Masters

I was interviewed this morning on CFRB 1010's the John Moore Show this morning talking about the decision by Tiger to re-join the PGA tour for the Masters. Faithful readers will know that in the aftermath of his 'crash', I had recommended he leave the tour in time to come back for ......the Masters! So I am glad to see his following some advice :)

I guess he decided, what the heck, I'm as low as I can go, and I may as well change the narrative back to the one thing I can do ....and that is golf!

So Tiger, welcome back!

Raise a glass for me...until next time!

He Wished for the Cloths of Heaven

"Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet,
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams..." 

William Butler Yeats


Politics and Persuasion

Welcome back!!

I am just back from a week long trip that took me from Toronto to Edmonton (in beautiful spring-like weather, I might add). I have been agonizing over the Canadian government's proposed change to the national anthem's words, "In all thy sons command." A suggestion in the 'Speech from the Throne' triggered a largely negative reaction from the Canadian public, and eventually Prime Minister Harper cancelled the notion. Mercifully. 

Now two days later, I am writing this in Philadelphia with one eye on the Academy Awards (alright I admit it)....one of my favorite cities in America. Don't you just love those marketing slogans that they assign to cities? "A city that works"……."a city that loves you back"…"a city that....FILL IN THE BLANKS for your city HERE! I get a kick out of those taglines. [Although my all time favorite is by way of Bear Bryant the former University of Alabama football coach, with his immortal words….”what this football team needs is a school it can be proud of!"]

In this post I wish to explore politics and persuasion. What are the magic ingredients behind a successful political leader. One often thinks of such leaders as Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy or Nelson Mandela, perhaps.

What is one to make then of President Barack Obama and his slide in the polls, his difficulty in enacting his agenda? What lessons, if any, can be learned of this phenomena for all leaders today? 

Lessons on Persuasion for Political Leaders

Representing 'change' is a very different challenge than enacting 'change'.  Barack Obama was elected by the American public because he represented change....change in almost everything from the status quo of politics and the same old entrenched interests that had stagnated the public dialogue for so long. And what happened? More stagnation and the 'same old, same old'. Could he have done anything differently? With the benefit of hindsight, yes. Without falling into the usual partisan shots that so cloud the atmosphere, let me attempt to do so in a dispassionate way.

1. There is such a thing as too much change. First, he came into office in the face of a massive global economic meltdown. He implemented a huge bailout that had been pretty well set in the dying days of the Bush Administration. Not only that, he made the dual decision to get out of Iraq and shore up the Afghanistan campaign.  If that wasn't change enough, he launched the most massive health care package when the American public was transfixed by huge lay-offs and home foreclosures. 
 2. Sell the problem before you sell the solution. This is particularly true when the 'solution' (as in health care reform) is complicated, expensive and subject to extensive attacks. If you introduce your solution too early, it gets attacked on all fronts - some real and some surreal attacks.
3. 'Fear of the known' is often more attractive than 'fear of the unknown'. Even if people aren't entirely happy with what they have, they often prefer it to something which at that point is merely theoretical.
4. Under-promise and over-deliver. Nothing builds momentum - and a sense of inevitability on the political front - than a series of smaller 'victories'. So if you go big - and health care was big - make sure you make it. 
5. Only make deliberate enemies. If you have to have enemies, make sure that their opposition actually helps you - for example, by being seen as extreme. No accidental enemies. Bi-partisanship must be executed with discipline. Securing your base while reaching across the aisle to attract your opponents is one of the most difficult of balancing acts in politics. So, was there any real opportunity of a bi-partisan solution? I leave it to you to decide, but if there was any at the beginning of his Presidency, there appears to be little left at this point. Is it too late, especially in an election year, to expect any common ground? Perhaps not, but our society loses something as a result.
6. Communicate an over-arching theme to pull together your vision. Just as Candidate Obama pounded the drum for 'change you can believe in', President Obama appears to have several themes. In the end, whether it's economic turnaround, or ensuring affordable and reliable health care, isn't it all really about 'securing American families'? As Winston Churchill once said, "If you have an important point to make, don't try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time - a tremendous whack." 

As with Churchill and his ability to come back...and Jeff Bridges who nearly forty years after his last nomination, finally wins 'Best Actor', is it beyond the pale that President Obama can emerge from this 'winter of discontent'? 
Until next time.....