Breaking Bread with the Obamas

 Welcome back!

It's been a whirlwind few weeks since last I shared a post with you. They say a week is a lifetime in politics and I would definitely endorse that, given the ups and downs of the Republican primaries. We've been on the road for three of the four weeks in January - from Newfoundland to Alberta - and into the first few days of February. Laura and I have really been enjoying our roles as Fellows in the Clayton H. Riddell Graduate Program in Political Management at Carleton University where we have taught our first four classes in Strategic Communications.

Breaking Bread with the Obamas
Last week in Washington, Laura and I attended the National Prayer Breakfast. Actually it's more than a breakfast - nowadays it includes two dinners, several lunches and seminars.
The highlight was the breakfast itself - which featured beautiful singing by the 11 year old sensation Jackie Evancho. After she sang, Vice President Joe Biden said quietly to her, "now I know what angels sound like". One of the highlights was a terrifically funny and inspiring speech by the writer, Eric Metaxas who is the author of a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, executed in a Nazi concentration camp for his role in the attempted assassination of Adolph Hitler. The breakfast was capped off by an upbeat and thoughtful speech by President Barack Obama. Somehow we lucked out and were seated in the first row of tables and sat next to former Prime Minister of Haiti, Michele Pierre-Louis. We had a stimulating discussion about the efforts underway in Haiti to recover from that devastating earthquake.

As we sat only a few feet away, we also had an opportunity to see up close how the President commands the podium. I was pretty surprised to see him without the ever-present TelePrompter®. Instead, speaking with the aid of notes, he shared his spiritual journey and how much it means to him as a Christian. Hearing from others, it was a marked improvement from his original speech when as a junior Senator he proceeded to lecture the crowd. Predictably, no one likes to be lectured and he clearly learned the error of his ways.

The week included a visit to Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) at her offices in the Rayburn Building, who hosted us for a tour of the Capitol. No matter how many times I go, I come away impressed by the experience, the history and the architecture. We were also invited to a gathering at the incredibly impressive Canadian Embassy on Pennsylvania Ave. All in all, the entire experience was enlightening and enjoyable from beginning to end.

As you might guess, the big issue in Washington all week was the Keystone Pipeline decision.  Following the President's thumbs down, the House was holding hearings on the issue, and is now playing -what else? - as a partisan dividing line between Republicans and Democrats. It has become a metaphor for the power of politics to over-ride policy. The issue has soaked in right down to cab drivers and others who are not politically connected at all. It has become part of the election year Republican narrative against Obama. Canada is caught in the middle, but, for once, the fact that Canada is even mentioned in domestic politics is noteworthy, as it illustrates how inter-connected our two economies have begun.
The Gingrich Ship Runs Aground
Following his impressive wins in the Florida primary and Nevada caucuses, Romney has gained the traction he needs to vault him through Super Tuesday and onto the Republican nomination. In Florida he showed he can five a punch and take a punch as he turned his attention to Newt Gingrich whose south Carolina performance threatened to destabilize the Romney campaign. Although it's hard to tell whose ads were nastier, the simple fact is that Romney out-spent him on the ad-buys by 5-to-1. Money can make a huge difference, but in this case Romney's performance in the two Florida debates was the biggest difference. He clearly outshone Gingrich - who was off-balance and testy - in contrast to the confident leader that people saw in his South Carolina performance. In the past week Gingrich was the Costa Concordia of the campaign - sliding too close to shore and running aground.
Romney Fires His Florida Debate Coach
Politico has revealed that, following too much media focus on the work of former Michele Bachman campaign adviser Brett O'Donnell in prepping Romney for his Florida debates, they pressured O'Donnell to call up the New York Times to downplay his role, and then they told him that his services were no longer needed. Even though there is no evidence that O'Donnell drew any attention to himself, nevertheless Romney and his team clearly can't abide any attention that doesn't credit the candidate completely. As a debate coach myself, I had to learn early on to stay below the radar screen when it came to media attention following a successful debate performance. It's a bit like being a speechwriter for a politician. No politician wants to read credit for the speech going to the speechwriter. You're paid to do it but beware the spotlight turning to you!
Canada Gets Ready to Tighten the Budgetary Mainsail
The signs are everywhere that the Harper government intends to cut back on public spending, rein in entitlement programs and get the bad news out of the way before they have to face the electorate three years from now. One cautionary note might well be advised to governments that choose to cut spending, especially following years of increasing it. That is, make sure that your motives are clear and that you convey who you are doing this for. As with Mitt Romney's now infamous 'I just like to fire people' it would rub people the wrong way if they don't get the message out effectively. Three years from now it could be the gift that keeps on giving.
New Campaign Fund-Raising Tools
Money is the milk of politics and the use of internet, social media and a mobile fund-raising tool  known as the Square credit card reader attached to your smartphone helps vacuum up the money into the campaign machinery faster and better than ever.
Who said politics is boring? Expensive, frustrating, occasionally annoying, but boring? Never!

Until next time......

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