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OP-EDS & REVIEWS

By Gil Troy, HNN, 10-2-12


Ronald Reagan campaigning in Columbia, South Carolina, on October 10, 1980, a few weeks before the only debate of the 1980 election. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Happy October, which every four years becomes debate month in American presidential politics. On October 3, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama will debate domestic policy in Colorado. On October 11, their vice presidential running mates, Paul Ryan and Joe Biden, will debate in Kentucky. Five days later on October 16, voters at a town meeting in New York will question the two presidential candidates about any issues and on October 22 — two weeks before Election Day — Obama and Romney will debate foreign policy in Florida.

These debates — which are more like side-by-side press conferences with some exchanges — are usually the political equivalent of military service: long bouts of boredom punctuated by bursts of melodrama. Usually, they reinforce media narratives and voter impressions. But they have sometimes changed outcomes, particularly in 1980, when Ronald Reagan’s aw shucks, “there you go again” dismissal of President Jimmy Carter’s attacks triggered a Reagan surge — and the largest last-minute switch in poll results since polling began in the 1930s.

Treating history as an authoritative tarot card rather than a subtle source of wisdom, Mitt Romney’s supporters have been touting that ten-point swing as proof that the Republicans will win. The 1980 moment appeals more broadly to Republicans as indication that a gaffe-prone, ridiculed, seemingly out-of-touch former governor can defeat an earnest Democratic incumbent afflicted by a sagging economy, Middle East troubles, and accusations that the twin pillars of his foreign policy are appeasement and apology not power and pride.

The 1980 debate should sober Obama and buoy Romney. In his recent book, The Candidate: What It Takes to Win — and Hold – the White House, Professor Samuel Popkin, an occasional Democratic campaign adviser, recalls his failure coaching Carter in 1980. Playing Reagan in debate “prep,” Popkin echoed the Republican’s devastating anti-Carter criticisms. Popkin describes the kind of careful criticism Romney should launch against Obama, knowing that if the challenger is too aggressive he looks angry and insolent but if he is too deferential he seems weak and intimidated. Reagan, Popkin writes, “resorted to more subtle, coded criticisms that were harder to defend against. He appeared respectful of the office and the president, suggesting that Carter was hamstrung by defeatist Democrats in Congress.” This approach forced Carter to rebut the premise — and plaintively claim he was strong — or the conclusion — by insisting Democrats were not defeatists. “Contesting one point left him tacitly conceding the other,” Popkin writes.

Obama’s caveat is in Carter’s reaction. Offended and embarrassed by the criticism, Carter ended the session after eleven minutes. Popkin as Reagan had pierced Carter’s “presidential aura,” unnerving everyone in the room. Trying to dispel the tension, Carter’s chief domestic policy advisor, Stuart Eizenstat, himself Jewish, resorted to ethnic humor by pointing to Popkin and joking, “You didn’t know Governor Reagan was Jewish, did you?” Popkin, who quickly replied “Well, Governor Reagan is from Hollywood,” realized that many of Carter’s people, including the aggrieved president, were unfamiliar with Reagan’s attacks because the majesty of the presidency insulated Carter from serious criticism or serious study of his challenger.

Of course, in an ideal world the debates would emphasize issue flashpoints not gaffe-hunting. In Denver, Romney should, Reagan-style, subtly question President Obama as to when he as president will take responsibility for the anemic recovery and lingering unemployment rather than scapegoating his predecessor. At Hofstra University, Romney should ask Obama to explain to the voters present and the American people how his increasing reliance on the heavy hand of federal regulations and big government does not reflect doubt in the traditional invisible hand of individual entrepreneurial Americans and the markets themselves. And in Boca Raton, Romney should prod Obama on the Arab Spring, asking him at what point he would concede that his policy failed rather than simply dismissing the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the murder of American diplomats in Libya, and other Obama-orchestrated disasters as “bumps in the road.” In response, Obama should emphasize his successes in halting the economic freefall, his faith in American ingenuity guided by the government’s occasional, competent, and gentle helping hand, and his muscular defense of American interests in hunting down Osama Bin Laden, boosting troops in Afghanistan, and reprimanding Egypt’s president for delays in defending America’s Cairo embassy. Meanwhile, reporters and voters should push both candidates to explain what sacrifices they will demand from Americans, where they will deviate from their party’s orthodoxy, how they will end partisanship, and what bold solutions they have to American debt, demoralization, and decline.

While such substantive exchanges would allow Americans to weigh the candidates’ dueling philosophies and records, it is more likely that the debates’ verdict will pivot around some theatrical moment. Since televised presidential debates began in 1960, when John Kennedy’s aristocratic calm contrasted with Richard Nixon’s sweaty, herky-jerky intensity, style has usually upstaged substance in debate reporting and debate perceptions.

It is too easy just to blame the press — although broadcasters and reporters will be seeking “gotcha” moments when a candidate stumbles and “grand slams” when a candidate dominates. Moreover, American voters respond more to debate theatrics than polemics. The mass reaction reflects one of the realities of modern leadership, which too many academics ignore and editorialists lament: image rules, style counts, a successful president or prime minister must communicate effectively not just administer smoothly.

This season, as the American campaign peaks and the silliness surges, it will be easy to mock American politics. But the presidential campaign remains a remarkable effective and dramatic ritual that gets two individuals conveying their messages to a polity of 300 million people.

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OP-EDS & REVIEWS

By Gil Troy, HNN, 9-30-12

In his recent speech to the United Nations General Assembly, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad joined the general pile on against the American presidential campaign. Trying to mock American democracy, he asked “Are we to believe that those who spend hundreds of millions of dollars on election campaigns have the interests of the people of the world at their hearts?” Well, I argue, the answer is “yes.”

Without millions of dollars spent in political campaigns, it would be impossible for candidates to communicate with the people — and make their case that their vision is indeed best not only for Americans but for others throughout the world. Ahmadinejad said that  “Despite what big political parties claim in the capitalistic countries, the money that goes into election campaigns is usually nothing but an investment.” Here, he is correct. The money is an “investment”; an investment in the democratic process.

I am not naïve. I know that too many plutocrats hold too much sway over the American political conversation. I know that too many politicians spend far too much time dialing for dollars rather than politicking with the people. Still, it is hard to take advice from a political hooligan who used violence to secure his own re-election, which a majority of the Iranian people seems to have opposed. And it reflects a lack of proportion in the rhetorical world of the UN, that Ahmadinejad would be tempted to take a very legitimate criticism that raises important questions and dilemmas regarding the mechanics of the American campaign and use it to try delegitimizing American democracy and America itself.

This tyrant’s tirade should remind us to view our current frustrations with the current campaign in context. Yes, there is much that could be improved in the campaign. Yes, the debates we are about to witness will pivot far too much on theatrical skills rather than political messaging. But we should not take the magic of the campaign for granted. This includes the power granted the people to change course, the efforts the President of the United States and his opponent are investing in communicating with the people, and the stability, peace, harmony, and order underlying what has been and will probably continue to be a non-violent, surprisingly efficient, deeply democratic exercise involving tens of millions of voters either validating the incumbent or gently but firmly replacing him, with no tanks in the streets, no thugs manipulating results.

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OP-EDS & REVIEWS

By Gil Troy, The Globe and Mail, 9-20-12

(L) Mitt Romney pictured in Lansing, Michigan May 8, 2012 and U.S. President Barack Obama in Port of Tampa in Florida, April 13, 2012. (REUTERS/Rebecca Cook and REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/REUTERS/Rebecca Cook and REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

America’s presidential campaign is turning surprisingly substantive. True, tomfoolery also abounds, with Democrats mocking Mitt Romney’s rendition of God Bless America, and Republicans questioning Barack Obama’s patriotism. Nevertheless, Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney are offering a dramatic electoral choice, rooted in conflicting visions of government’s role in American life. Even Mr. Romney’s recently revealed comments at a fundraiser, dismissing 47 per cent of Americans as too dependent and too hostile to him, reflect this divide.

Mr. Obama recognized this twist in his acceptance speech, saying: “I know that campaigns can seem small and even silly.” But, he insisted, Americans “face the clearest choice of any time in a generation.” This sentiment was one of the few Obama points echoed in Republican vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan’s acceptance speech.

Although the candidates disagree about much, they keep debating government’s size and reach. Mr. Ryan, whose selection sharpened the two campaigns’ contrasts, described the choice as “whether to put hard limits on economic growth or hard limits on the size of government, and we choose to limit government.” He added: “After four years of government trying to divide up the wealth, we will get America creating wealth again.”

Mr. Romney, who only mentioned the word “government” three times (to Mr. Obama’s 10 mentions), said Americans “look to our communities, our faiths, our families for our joy, our support, in good times and bad.” In the fundraiser video, Mr. Romney’s resentment of Big Government was palpable; as the gaffe flap has grown, he has tried to shift the focus to the question of who gives and who gets in modern America.

Mr. Obama’s response to this anti-government rhetoric has been withering. “Over and over, we have been told by our opponents that bigger tax cuts and fewer regulations are the only way; that since government can’t do everything, it should do almost nothing,” he said. “We don’t think government can solve all our problems. But we don’t think that government is the source of all our problems – any more than are welfare recipients or corporations or unions or immigrants or gays or any other group we’re told to blame for our troubles.”

Ridiculing years of Republican calls for tax cuts, during booms and busts, Mr. Obama joked: “Feel a cold coming on? Take two tax cuts, roll back some regulations and call us in the morning!”

In that same spirit, Mr. Obama’s most effective non-spousal surrogate, Bill Clinton, who upstaged the President at his own renomination party, challenged Americans to “decide what kind of country you want to live in. If you want a ‘you’re on your own, winner take all’ society, you should support the Republican ticket. If you want a country of shared opportunities and shared responsibilities, a ‘we’re all in it together’ society, you should vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden.”

Many Americans root this debate in the 1980s’ backlash against the 1960s’ Great Society “every problem requires a big government program solution” approach. When inaugurated in 1981, Ronald Reagan declared that not only was government not the solution to the problem, government was the problem. Fifteen years later, Mr. Clinton declared the era of big government over. But Americans have been debating this question for much longer.

The American Revolution rebelled against heavy-handed government and executive authority. The country’s first governing plan, the Articles of Confederation, so feared government that the central authority lacked any real power. The constitutional counter-revolution of 1787 offered a limited government compared to Europe, but a more vigorous government compared to the revolution’s initial, impotent entity. “We the people” formed the government, with power divided into three branches, each with checks and balances over the other.

This divided governing plan was not enough for some. Ten amendments to the Constitution, mostly restricting the state while guaranteeing more individual freedoms, quickly emerged. The original plan remained so restrictive that a 16th amendment was required in the early 20th century so Congress could impose a national income tax.

As government expanded, following the centralization of the Civil War in the 1860s, and then with Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal responding to the Great Depression, America’s individualistic, entrepreneurial culture also thrived. American leaders consistently sought to provide just enough government to keep up with changing Western conceptions of what basic services a state should provide.

Today, governmental services that most Republicans and Democrats take for granted – such as Social Security guaranteeing old-age pensions (and which Mr. Romney included in his 47-per-cent remark) – would surprise America’s founders. Still, Republicans retain more of the evolutionary skepticism, while Democrats retain more of the Constitution’s political activism.

To use a presidential campaign to revisit this debate takes one of American democracy’s most sacred acts, voting, and consecrates it further, rooting it in meaning and substance, even amid all the charges and counter-charges, the silly ads and the daily candidate squabbles.

Gil Troy is a professor of history at McGill University, co-editor of History of American Presidential Elections, 1789-2008, and author, most recently, of Leading from the Center: Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents.

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OP-EDS & REVIEWS

By Gil Troy, HNN, 9-13-12


Mitt Romney shaking hands with supporters in Belmont, MA, on Super Tuesday. Credit: Flickr/BU Interactive News.

Mitt Romney “stepped in it” we are being told, with hasty remarks trying to slam Barack Obama as an appeaser as the horrific events in Libya and Egypt unfolded. “Romney’s Libya Response Fuels Foreign Policy Doubts,” Bloomberg news proclaims. In our rush-to-judgment gaffe-oriented media culture, reporters are having a grand old time finding Republicans mumbling about Mitt’s meltdown and his “Lehman moment.” The next step, of course, will be to rummage through the historical closet, and find other campaign-ending gaffes. Expect to hear “presidential historians” on the network news pontificating about Gerald Ford’s premature, rhetorical liberation of Eastern Europe from communism during the 1976 presidential debates — thirteen years before the Soviet Empire crumbled; about Jimmy Carter’s invoking of his teenage daughter Amy’s expertise when talking about nuclear issues four years later; and about Michael Dukakis’s ride in a tank which made him look more like Snoopy fighting the Red Baron than a man prepared to be Commander-in-Chief.

These recent memories build on the modern journalistic addiction to “gotcha” journalism, as well as the more longstanding tendency to explain campaign losses and wins by dramatic turning points. Campaigning history is filled with such moments — Henry Clay’s Alabama letters taught advisers explaining his 1844 loss to discourage candid candidates; James Blaine’s silence when he was introduced by the Reverend Samuel D. Burchard, who called the Democrats the Party of “Rum, Romanism and Rebellion” on the eve of the 1884 election, had future candidates paying more attention at campaign events, to avoid being “Burchardized” — and many party bosses trying to keep candidates at home away from any campaign risks. Campaign grand slams having included Franklin Roosevelt’s flight to Chicago to accept the nomination in 1932, putting to rest fears that he was too handicapped to act assertively, while advertising that his “New Deal” for the American public involved a new leadership style not just bold programs, and Ronald Reagan’s “There-you-go-againing” of Jimmy Carter in 1980.

Ironically, pundits and pols are doing the same thing they accuse Romney of doing — rushing to pronounce final judgment amid a changing and chaotic situation. Historic, devastating gaffes, like Limburger cheese, often need time to become truly pungent — and sometimes, seemingly devastating gaffes, become like bubble gum, stale and discarded surprisingly quickly. For example, according to polls and focus groups at the time, most viewers watching the debate did not react immediately to Gerald Ford’s 1976 statement that “there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.” Reporters, however, pounced. In the Ford Library, Bob Teeter’s tracking polls show the gaffe problem growing with each turn of the news cycle. By contrast, during the 1980 campaign, Ronald Reagan terrified his advisers and delighted his deriders by suggesting that trees caused more pollution than cars and that Vietnam was a “noble cause.” Lo and behold, not only did Reagan win, but he helped changed the American conversation about Vietnam. Had he lost, these two statements would have loomed large in the why-Reagan-failed narrative, instead of functioning as sidebars to the main story.

So let’s hold off on predicting, barely 24 hours after Romney’s remarks, just what impact his reactions will have — especially considering that this crisis still has the potential to make the Obama administration look terrible. If Romney ultimately loses, the first comparison I will make of this stumble will be to John McCain’s hasty suspension of his campaign — which he then quickly rescinded — in 2008 as the economy tanked. The comparison might be apt as a moment that reinforced other moments, which built into growing, accumulated doubts about a candidate.

Ultimately, however, for now, I would say that this latest Mitt mess points to a broader, surprising, phenomenon we are seeing this campaign. Obama and the Democrats have robbed Republicans of the GOP’s decades-long edge on national security and foreign policy issues. The lingering fallout from the George W. Bush years, combined with Barack Obama’s success in presiding over the demise of Osama bin Laden and other terrorists killed by drones, has resulted in polls showing Americans having more confidence in the Democratic candidate than the Republican candidate on foreign issues, even as Romney usually takes the lead in confidence on economic issues. Romney’s misfires in London and over Libya only exacerbate the problem, but the twist is interesting — and potentially extremely significant. For now, however, we all have to do what we are loathe to do and await the people’s verdict before pundits and experts start pronouncing one way or another.

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Canada.com, 11-5-10

….Gil Troy, an American who teaches U.S. political history at McGill University in Montreal, cautions that however passionate Canada’s Tea Party wannabes might be, their ideals are unlikely to ignite the same fires in this country as in the U.S.

For one thing, Canada’s economy is in far better shape. Troy says the wreckage in the U.S. — high unemployment, shuttered factories, foreclosed homes — is the real reason behind the Tea Party’s success this year.

“Their victories are the result of economic distress, and the fear that there’s something seriously wrong with the country,” says Troy. “If we take out the recession, if we take out the sense that there’s serious dysfunction going on, would there be the same kind of phenomenon? I don’t think so.”…

Troy says not only is that divide less acute in Canada, but that political discourse here remains far more civil. Canadian debate has not yet been hijacked by what he calls the “toxic media culture and the toxic blogosphere” that feed the Tea Party’s populist anger.

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By Gil Troy, The Globe & Mail, 5-17-10

Did Elena Kagan somehow lose her voice and soul while climbing her way to the top?

Ms. Kagan reveals she is one of Bork’s babies

For New Yorkers born in the 1960s, U.S. President Barack Obama’s nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court triggered the frissons of pride and envy many of us feel when someone our age and from our humble background makes it.

But Ms. Kagan’s careerist conundrum is particularly fascinating. Did this woman with the perfect Princeton-Oxford-Harvard résumé somehow lose her voice and her soul while climbing professionally as deliberately as she did?

To be fair, to young New Yorkers in the 1970s, the notion of a woman sitting on the Supreme Court was downright revolutionary. Ms. Kagan’s nomination is the ultimate Free to Be … You and Me moment.

Back in 1972, Marlo Thomas and some celebrity friends released a gender-bending, mind-expanding series of songs, poems and stories that became a best-selling album and book, as well as an Emmy-award-winning television special.

The football great Rosey Grier sang It’s All Right to Cry, encouraging boys to show their emotions, too, because “crying gets the sad out of you.” A pre-disco Diana Ross sang When We Grow Up, reassuring youngsters, “Well, I don’t care if I’m pretty at all/And I don’t care if you never get tall/ I like what I look like and you’re nice small/ We don’t have to change at all.” Alan Alda and Marlo Thomas performed William’s Doll, with William ultimately being vindicated after being taunted by his friends: “a doll, a doll, William wants a doll.”

All this delightfully iconoclastic feminist propaganda paved the way for an unmarried 50-year-old woman to become what she dreamed of becoming.

And yet, Ms. Kagan’s résumé seems too perfect. She may have forgotten the essential message of Free to Be … You and Me’s title song: “Every boy in this land grows to be his own man. In this land, every girl grows to be her own woman.” This woman, who posed in judicial robes for her Hunter College High School yearbook, may have been too calculating in climbing to the top. She has taken remarkably few public stands, entered into surprisingly few public controversies for a woman of her prominence and power. Even her academic writings focused on safe analyses of administrative law while other law professors debated issues passionately.

In this way, Ms. Kagan reveals she is one of Bork’s Babies, a product of the searing battle that resulted in the Senate’s rejecting Ronald Reagan’s Supreme Court nominee Judge Robert H. Bork in 1987. At the time, ambitious law clerks like Ms. Kagan watched how critics vacuumed through Mr. Bork’s past, blasting decades-old articles he authored, even snooping into his video rentals seeking something embarrassing – turned out Mr. Bork liked Fred Astaire movies. From then on, many of my Washington-oriented friends openly worried about their “paper trails.” Their moral calculus was blunted, replaced by the ubiquitous question, “How will it look in my confirmation hearings?”

As a result, cadres of careerists trudged ahead in America’s anxious army of the ambitious. Warned not to rock the boat, always looking ahead to the next promotion, their motto was “CYA,” which, less crudely rendered, meant cover your backside. Many of these cool, pragmatic technocrats have climbed high in corporate America and in politics – but at what cost?

If Elena Kagan is confirmed, she will join America’s most elite club, which has become the preserve of Ivy League meritocrats. Atop the Supreme Court building on Capitol Hill, just below the motto, “Equal Justice Under Law,” we may have to add a sign saying: “No country judges need apply – not even State law school graduates.”

Still, we do not know how Ms. Kagan will act. She may prove to have been a phony phoenix, emerging, after years of hiding it, as a full-throated ideologue. Alternatively, decades of calculated accommodating might keep her building bridges as she did when she was dean of Harvard Law School.

Regardless, as a professor and a parent, I wonder: Do I advise my students and my children that they are “free to be you and me?” Or, to go as far as some want to go, must they squelch their voices, round their edges, and be the corporate careerists that excessive media scrutiny in a polarizing political culture demands they be?

Gil Troy is a professor of history at McGill University and a visiting scholar at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington.

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Gil Troy “BALLOT BOX BLUES – Votes for sale: Political candy replaces ideas and ideals”

Canwest News, 1-11-09

“If ever there was a moment where we needed a candidate who could come out with a big idea, we just experienced it, in the Canadian and American elections,” says Gil Troy, a political historian at McGill University. “This was a real leadership moment. But as the stock markets imploded, the candidates just went small bore rather than embracing big ideas.” “I didn’t hear anything from (Stephen) Harper or (Stephane) Dion that was particularly illuminating,” he says. “There was no inspiration and no insight. It was deeply disappointing.” Dion had tried to campaign on a big idea, but his Green Shift was so poorly explained, and so quickly overshadowed by the unfolding economic crisis, says Troy, that if anything it proved ideas don’t work in election campaigns anymore.

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The Globe & Mail, 12-16-09

Gil Troy on leadership

Talking Management: Gil Troy

Globe and Mail UpdateTuesday, December 16, 2008 at 11:14 EST

Karl Moore spoke to Gil Troy, a professor of history at McGill University, about what CEOs can learn from U.S. presidents.

KARL MOORE: Good morning, Gil.

GIL TROY: Good morning.

KARL MOORE: So, you’ve written a lot about presidential leadership – very interesting material. Does that apply, in your opinion, to the business leaders as well?

GIL TROY: I think the argument that the best presidents were moderates that the best leadership comes from the centre is not just limited to the White House. And, I think that CEO’s and leaders of organizations can learn a lot from both the great presidents who understood they had to build to the Centre, and the presidents who failed by playing to one extreme or another.

KARL MOORE: What do you mean build to the Centre? Maybe, you could just tell us what you mean by that.

GIL TROY: So, what I talk about in the book, is the need for a president to understand, that in order to be effective in a democracy, he has to find that golden mean. He has to be balancing. So we look at someone like George Washington. George Washington, we could call the case study of the squabbling subordinates. He had Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, two brilliant men, who were at loggerheads. And, Washington understood that if he appeared to be favouring one over the other, then he would have even more chaos in the administration.

At the same time, he was a man of principle, I’m looking for moderates; but, I’m looking for muscular moderates. And, what we see Washington doing is playing the two off each other, understanding that he has to learn from both, that he has to give each victories enough, so that each of them stay within the organization. And, reminding them constantly, and reminding the people around them, that we’re Americans. We have to keep our vision of the community together.

And, so for a CEO to learn from George Washington, and read this case study, you learn about how to handle tension. You learn about how to channel tension. And, you learn how to remind your organization about the bigger picture, about the goals of the organization.

When you look at someone like Abraham Lincoln; and, you can say there we have the case of the squabbling states. And, I also think about Abraham Lincoln as a muscular moderate; because he had a – you think North/South – but we tend to forget that one of the tensions he had was, he had a Northern Coalition of States that was under extreme stress.

The Border States were slave-holding states; but they stayed with the Union. What Abraham Lincoln has to do, is he has to, while having the ultimate goal of eliminating slavery; he has to keep the real focus on keeping the Union together; because he understands that if he rushes ahead, and tries to eliminate slavery too quickly, he’ll lose the Border States, he’ll lose the war. So, a CEO would learn from Abraham Lincoln that part of building for the centre is having a vision; but, knowing that you sometimes have to go in baby steps, you have to go gradually, you have to keep your eye on what’s realistic, while also keeping a broader form of vision.

KARL MOORE: How about some of the modern presidents? What are some of the lessons we might get from a Reagan, a Clinton, or a Bush – ones that we’re more familiar with?

GIL TROY: Well, when you look at someone like Bill Clinton, there are, I think, two lessons, that CEOs can learn. First of all, whereas George Washington has these squabbling subordinates, is able to channel them; one of the problems with Bill Clinton was that he had a little bit too much of the university professor in him, and, enjoyed the chaos of many different voices – which sometimes can be very good; because one of the problems that we see in presidencies is, and also we see in corporate board rooms is that insulation.

But, with Clinton, he let it get out of control, partially because of his own lack of discipline, and we had too many voices coming from the administration. It created a lot of haze. It created a lot of chaos. The other thing with Clinton was that he was so committed to being a centrist, is that he ended being a spinal centrist, as opposed to a muscular moderate – that he sometimes forgot his “ideals”. For example, at the beginning of his first term he talks about health care, and he goes 60 per cent towards achieving his goal; but, he ultimately fails; because when push comes to shove, he doesn’t really make it the core principle of his administration. And, he’s too concerned with popularity, he doesn’t push through, and he ends up as a president who had more potential to succeed than actual success.

Then, we look at someone like George W. Bush, known often as the first CEO president, I think there are some negative lessons to learn, that Bush often says that “the devil may care about what’s going on”, “you have to keep your eye on the prize. You have to keep ahead, forging ahead towards the goal.” And, I think what Bush teaches us is that, yes, it’s important to have a goal; but you also must remember that you have people who are following you, an organization of a thousand, or an organization of 100,000.

Equally, you have to make sure that people are buying in to your goals, and if you rush too far ahead you fail. You will learn this really from Franklin Roosevelt, if I can just go back to the 1930s. Roosevelt understood that if he was five giant steps ahead of his people, he would fail. He understood if he was half a step behind, his people, meaning both his subordinates and the American people, he would fail. A good leader is half a step – three-quarters of a step ahead. And, we look at the excruciating dance that Franklin Roosevelt had to dance during the fight over whether or not the United States should enter World War II.

He was always just ahead enough, so that he could push the American people where they needed to be, not so much that he was following, and not so much that he was rushing too far ahead, as George W. Bush did with Iraq.

KARL MOORE: So, it’s interesting, because when you look at change – and CEOs are often about leadership about transferring, about changing – part of the issue is creating a sense of urgency, and a sense that we must change, as opposed if you change you’re going to screw up a successful organization. So, there’s a real tension there. And, you’re suggestion there, looking at Roosevelt, is that don’t get too far out, but get people to buy into what you’re seeing, what your vision is.

GIL TROY: The great presidents were grounded – Ronald Reagan and Franklin Roosevelt.

And I take them, because you can learn from the left and from the right. They had a sense of a vision. They had a sense of wanting to change; but, they also knew that human beings, to a certain extent, are conservative. And, you have to give them enough comfort to be able to change. And, so you have to push, but not push too hard. You push too hard, you miss the boat. And, it’s very much a tension; but I think the CEO can learn from reading about Roosevelt, learn from reading about Reagan – that you have to be going forward. You have to be moving somewhere; but, you also have to be remembering to get buy-in.

KARL MOORE: So, it’s interesting, when you think about, you understanding moderates from the point of view of the Republicans, you have the Democrats. Reagan was fighting and trying to lead through. In the world of a CEO, what do you have to compromise about? What’s the equivalent in the world of a CEO?

GIL TROY: Moderates get no respect. We’re told we’re boring. We’re told that we’re wimps. We’re told we’re mush balls. And, one of the things I’m trying to push, with this notion of muscular moderation, is that the moderate is in some ways, someone who’s sensitive to his or her surroundings; someone who understands the dynamics, but also knows that part of their job is to lead. So, I think what works with a CEO is, a CEO like a president has constituencies. And, a CEO, like a president, has to say who’s buying in, and who’s – what’s the tension, what’s the back and forth, between me and my people, me and my board, me and my management team, me and my workers. And, you know, people love to complain these days about the high salaries of CEOs. That’s a good example of a distancing perhaps, between the CEO, and the rank and file. And, what we learn from applying some of the lessons of democratic politics to the corporate board room is that democracy doesn’t necessarily just mean sharing power and opening up to the people; but, it means keeping rooted in the community discourse – keeping rooted in the norms of the community, while also being the engine for change.

KARL MOORE: So, it’s the idea of a stakeholder. Rather than the shareholder being the only one, that may be perhaps the political party. As a stakeholder model, saying there are employees; there are communities where your base might worry about the environment. There’s the government, as well as your shareholder, as well as perhaps your banker. So, there’s a bunch of groups you have to work with, and understand their concerns. And, somehow please all of them to some degree.

GIL TROY: I have to say, I thought I was writing a book about moderation, and I ended up writing a book about nationalism; because, to be a great moderate president, you have to be a great patriot. You have to be a great nationalist. I think it applies to this example of CEO; because, you have to understand you are a community leader. And, I think if we spent more time thinking about businesses as communities, as functioning communities, and we ask the same question – you know, Al Gore has this now, worrying about our carbon footprint. If you ask as a leader, “What’s the toxic footprint that I leave?” I want to minimize that. I want to make sure that I’m not leaving bad feelings. I’m not rankling people too much. Again, without being a total mush, without forgetting core principals. But, if you think about your role as being a constructive community leader, a constructive agent of change, I think it can lead to successes in the board room and beyond.

KARL MOORE: So, part of it is, you want to create a sense of pride. So, I’m an American, I’m a Canadian, I’m an IBM-er, I’m a Microsoft person – that there’s a sense of real engagement, of something bigger that we’re proud of, and we’re leaving a legacy, whatever part of the company we are.

GIL TROY: If you read these presidential case studies, especially, if you focus on the modern world, the modern presidency, one of the things you see, is that so much of modern leadership is what Theodore Roosevelt called the bully pulpit – setting a tone, symbolic leadership. We have a tendency sometimes to say, “Well, if it’s all symbol, it’s empty.” That’s true. But, if there’s no symbol, you’re also in trouble. And, a leader has to set a tone.

A leader has to understand that part of the job; part of the mandate is leading people together. You know, you think of an organization that has 100,000 people. The challenges of leading a 100,000 person organization are the same as leading a country of 300 million. You can’t speak to each one. You can’t create a personal relationship. So, what do you do? You set certain goals. You set certain standards; but, you also set a tone. And, you start a communal conversation, and a communal sense of going forward.

KARL MOORE: So, it seems some ways, I think, big companies are moving to, perhaps the pre-millennial generation particularly, where you’ve got to have multiple voices heard – whereas, it used to be more a meta-narrative – here’s the story and follow it. And, young people are not going to buy into it as much. But, in some sense, it means we’re becoming more like a democracy – that you hear the voices of these many constituents; but, we accept the CEO, the leader, the president’s got to make a decision that will please everyone. But, you’ve got to listen to the voices along the way.

GIL TROY: And, I think, again, you can learn from the democratic model, because here you have a situation where you’re leading 300 million people in the United States with very strong opinions, with a great gift of freedom. We don’t want to minimize how great that gift is. And, so you have to be able to push ahead while also hearing multiple voices.

And, certainly working with students, I see that this generation wants to be able to have their voice, have their stake. They feel a connection by being able to make their mark. But, the job of the CEO, even while allowing this chorus, these many choruses to come together, is to make sure there’s harmony. And, when I mean harmony, I don’t mean a lack of conflict. I mean being able to kind of have a harmonic convergence – where you have people coming together, and ultimately understanding that they have to sing from the same song book.

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Barack Obama’s ease in beating John McCain should not obscure the magnitude of this achievement. A one-term Senator who just a few years ago described himself as a skinny guy with a funny name, his election as President of the United States demonstrates tremendous political talent, an American generosity of spirit that is rarely recognized these days, especially abroad, and that necessary ingredient in all greatness – good luck.

 

The long, $4.3 billion campaign has been quite a ride. When the primary candidates began debating in the spring of 2007, most pundits predicted a general campaign battle between the New York titans, Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani – remember them? At the time, waking up at 3 A.M. was more associated with running to the john than proving you could run your country, as a Clinton commercial argued. Joe the Plumber was that guy who took too long to answer your calls and charged you too much, not John McCain’s ideal expression of the people’s voice. And the meltdown most people  worried about came from overstimulated and under-supervised children not over-leveraged and under-regulated markets. Back then, the most famous Barak in the world was Ehud , Israel ’s defense minister, and many Democrats revered John McCain as a non-partisan, decent, bridge-building senator.

           

Barack Obama’s emergence from a cast of talented, experienced, Democrats, including the formidable Hillary Clinton, reflected remarkable discipline and eloquence. Throughout the seemingly interminable campaign he rarely made a mistake and never seemed to panic. This cool was in marked contrast to the disorganized, amateurish efforts of two, far more experienced, chief rivals, Hillary Clinton and John McCain. But beyond simply being calm, cool and collected, Obama’s “Yes We Can” unity vision tapped a wellspring of enthusiasm among demoralized Democrats, often alienated young voters and his core constituency, African-Americans. To those lamenting Obama’s victory, I prescribe a simple Rx: watch his 2004 Democratic Convention speech or the will.I.am 2008 “Yes We Can” video. It is hard to view either without being wowed by Obama’s compelling, healing, nationalist vision.

 

Obama’s victory also reflects America’s transformation from a divided, racist country as recently as the 1960s, and a much more magnanimous, equal, open country today. The greatest concern about Obama from the start was not that he was black, but that he was too green – inexperienced. In choosing Obama in such numbers Americans showed that most judged him not as a black man but as the best man for the job.

 

Sealing the deal for Obama was tremendous luck. He was blessed by Hillary Clinton’s incompetent campaign along with John McCain’s erratic search for a strategy. And America ’s misfortune was Obama’s good fortune – when the markets tanked in September, Obama’s campaign soared.

 

In the classic Robert Redford movie, “The Candidate,” a young, good-looking, come-from-nowhere reformer upsets an older, more experienced pol. The movie ends with the question now facing Barack Obama, as the euphoria of the election dissipates and   America ’s sobering economic, military, diplomatic, and social challenges intensify: “what do we do now?”

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By Gil Troy, HNN, 10-28-08

Here’s a fantasy for Americans exhausted by this endless presidential campaign. Imagine a campaign limited to six weeks. Imagine a campaign that cannot bombard voters with advertisements, because each television station makes available 390 minutes for political commercials which a broadcasting authority allots based on the various parties’ relative strengths. Imagine a campaign with restrictions on fundraising and campaign spending – that candidates actually follow. Imagine a campaign run by already designated and experienced party leaders, so the messy process of choosing a standard bearer does not run right into the messier process of choosing a leader. Well, Canadians just finished such a campaign – yet, they too were miserable.

News reports from up north said that Canadians suffered from a severe case of “election envy.” Many Canadians wished their candidates were more colorful, their campaigns were more exciting. It seems that many Canadians wished their elections were, dare we say it, more American.

Yes, even though most Americans did not notice, Canada just finished its own national elections. The incumbent Prime Minister Stephen Harper, riding high in the polls, announced the elections on September 7, eight months and fours days after the Iowa caucus and nearly sixteen months after Democrats hosted 2008’s first primary candidates’ debate. Canadians voted on October 14 three weeks before Americans finally voted. Harper was returned to office, although the stock market implosion deprived him of the majority in parliament he sought.

One exceptional phenomenon in the race was that more Canadians than usual admitted their feelings of inadequacy vis a vis the Americans, at least electorally speaking. Canadians – like so many Americans – have been swept up by the 2008 campaigning drama, scrutinizing the Barack Obama-Hillary Clinton soap opera, wondering how different John McCain might be from George W. Bush, alternately fascinated and appalled by the political rookie of the year, Sarah Palin. Besotted by European-style pretensions to cosmopolitanism, Canadians like to pretend they are not nationalistic. They believe that unlike their American neighbors, they have evolved, beyond such primitive feelings. Yet conversations about the United States inevitably bring out Canadians’ inner chauvinist. Canadians assert their patriotism by caricaturing America as a land of gun-toting, health-care-deprived red state-rednecks. Thus, this admission of election envy was surprising and significant.

The green-eyed view of the land of the red, white, and blue makes sense when you compare the leading candidates in both races. Barack Obama’s eloquent, historic quest to become America’s first black president induces goosebumps, while John McCain’s trajectory from five and half years suffering in the “Hanoi Hilton” to the cusp of living in the White House is cinematic. On the Canadian side, the incumbent prime minister who called the election, Stephen Harper, of the Conservative Party, is a steadfast Canadian bloke, as solid as an oak, as charismatic as the country he leads. The first great campaign controversy he triggered stemmed from donning a baby blue sweater for a campaign photo op at a suburban home. Critics felt it was phony from such a jacket-and-tie kind of guy. And he was the exciting candidate running. Harper’s main rival, Stephane Dion, heading the Liberal Party, is a colorless academic – at the risk of being redundant – whose mediocre English speaking skills only provide a partial excuse for his lack of campaigning talent. A fierce defender of Canada’s federal union, he is even less popular in his French-speaking home province, Quebec, where they can understand what he says, than he is in what locals call ROC, the rest of Canada.

Still, despite the Canadian candidates’ lack of flash, and despite campaign rules that American progressives fantasize would turn our pols into Solons and Solomons, Canadians endured a nasty battle. This was the third election in four years – and the current Conservative government was and remains a minority government. As Americans know too well, divided polities and tight races cause intense political combat, no matter how noble the candidates’ intentions. Moreover, operating in a parliamentary system, Canadian prime ministers lack the awe-inspiring majesty and physical insulation the American president enjoys. For all their reputed niceness, Canadians have a vigorous tradition of questioning, even heckling, the prime minister in Parliament. And the Canadian televised debates, which are much less choreographed with far less journalistic interference than American debates, degenerated into shouting matches with charges of “liar” aired.

Americans and Canadians share a common embarrassment in that both countries have among the Western world’s lowest voter turnout rates, hovering around sixty percent. For Americans, that rate represents a recent surge; for Canadians, a disturbing drop. And yet, the United States and Canada are two of the world’s safest, richest, and freest democracies. Just as George W. Bush learned in Iraq and in Gaza that it takes more than a vote to make democracy succeed, North America’s frustrating, often ferocious, and frequently alienating politics shows that it takes more than complaints about voting and campaigning to deem a democracy a failure. Maybe, just maybe, we love to complain about the intensity of electoral battles – but love the fights even more.

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Vital vote : CTV Newsnet: Gil Troy, presidential historian, McGill University — View Video

U.S. President George W. Bush has signed off on the $700-billion bailout bill. Troy said the deal took so long to pass because of a power vacuum in the U.S., but he expects markets to bounce back….

Bush signs US$700B bailout bill into law

Updated Fri. Oct. 3 2008 3:16 PM ET

CTV.ca News Staff

U.S. President George Bush has signed into law a historic bill, which provides a US$700-billion lifeline to moribund financial markets.

Bush said the law was essential in getting the country’s sputtering economy back on track.

“I believe government intervention should only happen when necessary,” Bush told reporters in Washington on Friday.

Bush signed the bill into law on Friday afternoon, not long after the House of Representatives passed it by a count of 263-171.

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CANADA VOTES 2008
Toronto Star, TheStar.com, Sep 21, 2008| Federal Election | A winning formula?
RICK MADONIK/TORONTO STAR
Stéphane Dion visits candiddate Mark Holland’s riding of Ajax-Pickering on September 9, 2008.
The stratagems of the federal campaign often appear ‘as sentimental as they are strategic.’ Research, however, has quantified their impact. Find out how many votes a lawn sign is really worth
In a time when information can spin across the county in nanoseconds, there is something sweetly nostalgic about old-fashioned campaign practices like these.

“Does campaigning work and given the tremendous effort, is it worthwhile?” asks Gil Troy, professor of history at McGill University.

“Many of these tactics – knocking on doors and big rallies – are as sentimental as they are strategic. There is no scientific proof that they work, but we can’t give them up.”…

In the early years after independence, it was considered unseemly for American presidential candidates to appear at political rallies, says Troy, whose most recent book is Leading from the Center: Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents.

“They would stand in dignified silence, awaiting the call.

“Though, coincidentally, they might need to take a trip where there might be adoring crowds to greet them.”…

The door-to-door canvass This traditional campaign practice is especially effective for local politicians. “The smaller the job, it’s the most effective way of speaking to constituents – what are your concerns? This is how I’m going to help you,” says McGill’s Troy.

It’s also a useful way of getting people to the polls. “And getting them excited. We live in such an anonymous society, people appreciate the personal touch.”…

Despite studies such as these, the effects of campaign tactics remain unknowable. “Some of what we see is in the realm of anthropology,” says Troy. “These are rituals that make people feel good, affirm loyalties and hark back to political traditions, rather than being strategic moves that are proven to work their magic on voters.”

Ultimately, campaigners have to try a bit of everything.

“There are enough examples of particular campaigns that made a difference here and there,” he says. “You just have to plunge in.”

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Canwest News Service

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

At a Halifax rally yesterday, Liberal MP Bob Rae referred to Stephen Harper as “Herbert Hoover in a blue sweater,” adding, “I think we can do better than that.”

Why that’s an insult: Within months of Mr. Hoover assuming the U.S. presidency in 1929, the stock market crashed and sparked the Great Depression. He was defeated in the 1932 election and became the scapegoat of that period of American history.

“What he was saying was that Herbert Hoover was kind of the master of disaster,” says Gil Troy, a history professor at McGill University. “He was the face of the great failure of the Republican party to keep the great prosperity of the 1920s, and was blamed as the man who failed to lead the United States effectively during the Great Depression.”

On a personal level, Mr. Hoover was known as a “dour, uncharismatic engineer who once had a kind of boy-wonder reputation,” Mr. Troy says.

The recent context: Amid disastrous news from the U.S. stock market on Monday, Mr. Harper — who wears a blue sweater-vest in a series of Tory ads — maintained the Canadian economy is on solid footing.

The problem: No one under a certain age is likely to understand Mr. Rae’s would-be zinger, Mr. Troy says.

“In the 1940s, if a Canadian politician were saying that, we’d all give a knowing laugh,” he says.

The jab is “not something I’d want to be called,” Mr. Troy says, but it’s an ineffective comment that may say more about Mr. Rae than anyone else.

“I think what Bob Rae did with that comment is show that he’s a well-read man, he knows his history, but he might not quite know where the voters are at.

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JPost, July 20, 2008

 

A JPost.com exclusive blog 

Barack Obama and John McCain clashed over foreign policy last week – or did they? While some headlines emphasized the two candidates’ differences, proclaiming “McCain Slams Obama on Iraq Surge,” the two also agreed on many important fundamentals – as well as key policies.

Their points of overlap demonstrate that both are patriots, both are “anti-terror,” both seek an American victory in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The fact that the previous sentence needs to be written, of course, illustrates the absurd extremes to which so many partisan critics take the polarizing discourse about the candidates.

Appropriately, Israel was not a central thrust of either speech. But the fundamental equation remains operative – what is good for America in this election will be good for Israel. And if the winning candidate sticks to the vision articulated in either of the two speeches, America, and Israel, will be all right.

Characteristically – and in fairness, due to the setting – Obama’s speech at the Ronald Reagan International Trade Building in Washington was more sweeping, more visionary, more programmatic. McCain’s response at a town hall meeting was more focused, more hands-on, more strategic.

Obama built his speech by remembering America’s Cold War containment policy, embracing George Marshall’s faith in “judgment,” mixing what we now call “hard” and “soft” power.

Before finishing with an inspirational return to his history lesson, Obama demonstrated his commitment to righting the wrongs of the Bush years with a deft combination of self-sacrifice, selflessness, muscle-flexing and nation-building – in the United States and abroad. He sees foreign policy – like domestic policy – as a vehicle for national renewal, for encouraging Americans to work together and build a national sense of mission and community, while defending their nation and improving the world.

Less loftily, Obama proclaimed “five goals essential to making America safer: ending the war in Iraq responsibly; finishing the fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban; securing all nuclear weapons and materials from terrorists and rogue states; achieving true energy security; and rebuilding our alliances to meet the challenges of the 21st century.”

Obviously, the rhetoric of a campaign speech does not necessarily anticipate a president’s track record in the Oval Office. But the bulk of Obama’s speech would be thoroughly acceptable to most Ronald Reagan Republicans. In particular, both Obama and McCain agreed about the need to beef up the American troop presence in Afghanistan.

In response, John McCain focused part of his stump speech in New Mexico on Obama, Afghanistan, and Iraq, rather than delivering a more formal foreign policy address.

Highlighting the contrast between the young, eloquent, intellectual visionary and the wizened warrior, McCain came out swinging, “I know how to win wars. I know how to win wars,” McCain told his Albuquerque audience. “And if I’m elected President, I will turn around the war in Afghanistan, just as we have turned around the war in Iraq, with a comprehensive strategy for victory, I know how to do that.”

Sharpening his elbows, McCain said: “In wartime, judgment and experience matter. In a time of war, the commander in chief doesn’t get a learning curve.”

And more directly, he mocked his opponent, reading two Obama quotations, one back in January 2007 doubting the surge would work, and a second one a year later, acknowledging that more troops in Iraq led to more stability. “My friends, flip-floppers all over the world are enraged,” McCain chuckled.

In fact, both candidates are converging, not only about Afghanistan. Both understand that in the wake of the Bush presidency, America needs to experience an economic, diplomatic, and ideological renewal. Obama is more explicit about that – but McCain rides heavily on the fact that he was calling for what became the “surge” while George W. Bush was still blindly defending “Rummy” – Donald Rumsfeld – and pooh-poohing reports of chaos in Baghdad.

And even on Iraq, Obama is cautiously, cleverly, and responsibly, narrowing the gap between his policies and McCain’s. Obama still talks about giving the military “a new mission on my first day in office: ending this war” – an interesting choice of words considering that the traditional goal of most militaries is to win the war not just end it.

Still, analysts noted that Obama’s sixteen month timetable, now is set to begin on Inauguration Day – six months from now, and he spoke about a “residual” force remaining. Clearly, as the possibility that he just might become Commander-in-Chief grows, Obama is realizing that his rhetoric and his postures may have serious life-and-death implications.

This convergence in a campaign is good. It is not just the gravitational pull to the center we often see after primaries. It is not just the “oh, boy, I might be president” flight from irresponsibility. It is also precisely what the American people want. A Washington Post poll this week found that 78 percent of those surveyed, “said it is more important for a candidate to adjust positions to changing circumstances than to stick to his original stands (18 percent prioritize consistency).”

By this poll, more than three-quarters of the American people are more mature than most reporters and bloggers, partisans and pols. The challenge is for the candidates to show they can campaign vigorously, disagree passionately on some issues, while still reassuring the American people they understand that they both share many common values, common dreams, and common-sense policies.

Support for Israel remains a part of this consensus. Judging by this week’s exchange, as well as the more Israel-focused AIPAC speeches, the hysterical claims that Obama is going to abandon the Jewish State, or that McCain is going to so blindly support Israel there will be no constraints are both overstated.

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HNN, July 17, 2008

Barack Obama and John McCain clashed over foreign policy this week – or did they? While some headlines emphasized the two candidates’ differences -proclaiming “McCain Slams Obama on Iraq Surge,” the two also agreed on many important fundamentals – as well as key policies. Their points of overlap demonstrate that both are patriots, both are “anti-terror,” both seek an American victory in Iraq and Afghanistan. The fact that the previous sentence needs to be written, of course, illustrates the absurd extremes to which so many partisan critics take the polarizing discourse about the candidates.

Characteristically – and in fairness, due to the setting — Obama’s speech at the Ronald Reagan International Trade Building in Washington was more sweeping, more visionary, more programmatic. McCain’s response at a town hall meeting was more focused, more hands-on, more strategic.

Obama built his speech by remembering America’s Cold War containment policy, embracing George Marshall’s faith in “judgment,” mixing what we now call “hard” and “soft” power. Before finishing with an inspirational return to his history lesson, Obama demonstrated his commitment to righting the wrongs of the Bush years with a deft combination of self-sacrifice, selflessness, muscle-flexing and nation-building — in the United States and abroad. He sees foreign policy – like domestic policy – as a vehicle for national renewal, for encouraging Americans to work together and build a national sense of mission and community, while defending their nation and improving the world. Less loftily, Obama proclaimed “five goals essential to making America safer: ending the war in Iraq responsibly; finishing the fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban; securing all nuclear weapons and materials from terrorists and rogue states; achieving true energy security; and rebuilding our alliances to meet the challenges of the 21st century.”

Obviously, the rhetoric of a campaign speech does not necessarily anticipate a president’s track record in the Oval Office. But the bulk of Obama’s speech would be thoroughly acceptable to most Ronald Reagan Republicans. In particular, both Obama and McCain agreed about the need to beef up the American troop presence in Afghanistan.

In response, John McCain focused part of his stump speech in New Mexico on Obama, Afghanistan, and Iraq, rather than delivering a more formal foreign policy address. Highlighting the contrast between the young, eloquent, intellectual visionary and the wizened warrior, McCain came out swinging, “I know how to win wars. I know how to win wars,” McCain told his Albuquerque audience. “And if I’m elected President, I will turn around the war in Afghanistan, just as we have turned around the war in Iraq, with a comprehensive strategy for victory, I know how to do that.” Sharpening his elbows, McCain said: “In wartime, judgment and experience matter. In a time of war, the commander in chief doesn’t get a learning curve.” And more directly, he mocked his opponent, reading two Obama quotations, one back in January 2007 doubting the surge would work, and a second one a year later, acknowledging that more troops in Iraq led to more stability. “My friends, flip-floppers all over the world are enraged,” McCain chuckled.

In fact, both candidates are converging, not only about Afghanistan. Both understand that in the wake of the Bush presidency, America needs to experience an economic, diplomatic, and ideological renewal. Obama is more explicit about that – but McCain rides heavily on the fact that he was calling for what became the “surge” while George W. Bush was still blindly defending “Rummy” – Donald Rumsfeld – and pooh-poohing reports of chaos in Baghdad. And even on Iraq, Obama is cautiously, cleverly, and responsibly, narrowing the gap between his policies and McCain’s. Obama still talks about giving the military “a new mission on my first day in office: ending this war” – an interesting choice of words considering that the traditional goal of most militaries is to win the war not just end it. Still, analysts noted that Obama’s sixteen month timetable, now is set to begin on Inauguration Day – six months from now, and he spoke about a “residual” force remaining. Clearly, as the possibility that he just might become Commander-in-Chief grows, Obama is realizing that his rhetoric and his postures may have serious life-and-death implications.

This convergence in a campaign is good. It is not just the gravitational pull to the center we often see after primaries. It is not just the “oh, boy, I might be president” flight from irresponsibility. It is also precisely what the American people want. A Washington Post poll this week found that 78 percent of those surveyed, “said it is more important for a candidate to adjust positions to changing circumstances than to stick to his original stands (18 percent prioritize consistency).” By this poll, more than three-quarters of the American people are more mature than most reporters and bloggers, partisans and pols. The challenge is for the candidates to show they can campaign vigorously, disagree passionately on some issues, while still reassuring the American people they understand that they both share many common values, common dreams, and common-sense policies.

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JPost, July 6, 2008

Barack Obama gave another eloquent, thoughtful, thought-provoking speech this week, this time Obama and his wife Michelle,...about patriotism in Independence, Missouri. Obama knew that the July 4th holiday gave him an opportunity to undo some of the damage that Hillary Clinton’s primary campaign had done to him.

But rather than being defensive, trying to prove his loyalty to America or refuting the claim that he was not-unpatriotic, Obama did what he did best. He spoke powerfully about patriotism – love of country – in a broad expansive way.

He insisted that “no party or political philosophy has a monopoly on patriotism” – a sharp elbow aimed at critics – and then explained that patriots sometimes have a duty to dissent.

But while using the words “patriotism” and “nation” repeatedly, Obama avoided using the word “nationalism.” Nationalism is a word that sophisticates hate, as they idealize the European Union’s “post-nationalism” – forgetting how potent nationalism remains in Europe. Nationalism in popular culture is too frequently connected to fanatics who love their country so much they hate fellow citizens who disagree with them.

But both Zionists and American patriots know that nationalism, like religion, can be a force for good – or for ill. Nationalism distorted and perverted ended up degenerating into Nazism. Nationalism constructively channeled created the United States of America 232 years ago, and the State of Israel more recently.

By avoiding the term, was Obama revealing his identity as part of the University of Chicago-Harvard elite who look down their noses at the little people who love their country? Or was he simply being a smart politician and using the popular term “patriotism” rather than the more complicated term “nationalism”?

To those who see Obama as an Ivy League elitist who will be too Jimmy Carteresque, this speech can become one more link in their chain of evidence. But the speech also confirmed the impressions of those who see Obama as a smart, savvy, and eloquent visionary. This is the Obama enigma – and we hope that the campaign, with its many tests, will prove clarifying.

Photo: Obama and his wife Michelle, left, cheer as they watch an Independence Day parade in Butte, Mont., Friday. AP

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Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, June 16, 2008.

 

The green light Ehud Olmert recently gave to Kadima party primaries marks the beginning of the end of his rule. The buildup to the primaries will also revive the debate that consumed Israelis in 2005 and 2006 about the viability relevance and value of a centrist party. In my new book Leading from the Center: Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents which I am launching this week I argue that centrism is a traditional — and essential — way of governing in the United States. Israel too would flourish with prime ministers leading from the center although the moderate impulse in Israel is weaker than in the United States.

 

The discussion about American centrism like so many discussions about American politics dates back to the Founding Fathers who established the country. As children of the Enlightenment, the Framers trusted reason and feared partisanship. They hoped America would be led by presidents who were philosopher-kings floating above the political fray hewing to what George Washington called the “middle way advancing our common cause.” As America’s first president Washington played a more realistic political game than the Founders expected. Still Washington spent much of his presidency urging subordinates and citizens to be reasonable to learn to disagree without being disagreeable and to follow a moderate path of civility and rationality in political discussion and actual governance.

 

Even as parties developed America’s governing structure as well as its founding philosophies pushed politics toward the center. With no proportional representation and “winner take all” elections giving victors full power the system encouraged the formation of two parties. Both parties tried to forge broad national umbrella organizations uniting north and south east and west. Power was not shared but concentrated especially on the presidential level. Quite simply parties needed the votes they needed the mythical 50 percent plus one a majority in the Electoral College to assume power.

 

Even after being elected, America’s greatest presidents succeeded by leading from the center. Abraham Lincoln was a pragmatist who saved the union by striking a delicate balance between Northerners committed to abolishing slavery and Northerners more passionate about preserving the union. Theodore Roosevelt taught that romantic nationalism could be the glue holding a centrist vision – and party – together. With his step-by-step incremental reforms Franklin Roosevelt maneuvered deftly between radicals demanding revolution and businessmen defending the status quo to improvise the New Deal. More recently Ronald Reagan understood that if he governed from the right he would fail but if he veered toward the center while keeping certain core principles he could restore American patriotism while reviving America’s economy.

 

American history teaches us that not all plays to the center succeed. Both Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter had surprisingly moderate policies but each of their presidencies foundered for other reasons. In Nixon’s case his anger and illegal acts did him in; in Carter’s case his pessimism and incompetence did it. Bill Clinton was also a moderate but he was a spineless centrist far too willing to sacrifice core ideals. Had Clinton fought as hard for some policies as he did to keep his presidency during the Monica Lewinsky scandal he might have fulfilled his potential rather than being remembered as a disappointing woulda, shoulda, coulda president.

 

America’s experience teaches that democracies need a muscular moderate virtuous enough to stick to defining principles nimble enough to adapt to the unpredictable circumstances any leader faces. Democracies require civility tolerance mutual appreciation of rights and liberties to thrive. Just as Al Gore has taught us to measure our own carbon footprints we need to assess a leader’s toxic footprint. A leader who leaves a democracy more divided more cynical more mistrustful has failed.

Israel lacks America’s historically consecrated moderate tradition but shares America’s need for national unity and mass civility. We often forget that Israel’s governing structures were established by Eastern Europeans emerging from autocracy and that the bulk of Israel’s population consists of Middle Eastern and North African Jews new to democracy.

 

The Zionist revolution was not a centrist revolution like the American Revolution and the resulting Israeli political parties were more ideological narrow and fragmented than the American parties. Israel’s founders such as David Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin came from warring ideological camps. To this day the Knesset includes a dizzying array of parties some of which question the state’s core ideals.

 

When Ariel Sharon founded Kadima he was trying to advance his career not to trigger a much-needed democratic reform or push toward civility. Wherever one stands on the question of the disengagement from Gaza there is no doubt that Sharon bulldozed over democratic norms to impose the plan on his reluctant party and on his constituents. He posed the question in various forums repeatedly ignoring the “no” answer he received.

Sharon’s successor Ehud Olmert has given centrism a bad name by his tendency to maneuver constantly to stay in power and appearing more committed to staying alive politically than leading the country effectively let alone morally.

 

Still, Sharon’s and Olmert’s Kadima party has provided an infrastructure for a badly needed push toward the center. Israeli politics does not only need to be cleansed of corruption a new civility needs to take hold among the leaders and the led. Israelis should start worrying about their leaders’ toxic footprints — and their own. A democracy needs a sense of mutuality, unity and tolerance. Too often in Israel those ideals are mocked, not just violated.

 

Israelis have long displayed national unity during times of war – and in pursuit of peace. Israel needs — and deserves — a leader who can summon that same sense of national unity and fraternity to help make the country thrive day-to-day, not just survive a crisis.

 

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HNN, June 8, 2008

Hillary Clintons’ supporters, justifiably, are devastated. She came so close to winning. Having waited so long for a Mrs. President, millions of women shared Hillary Clinton’s assumption that this year would witness that historic breakthrough. Especially in the last three months, Hillary Clinton found her groove, honing her message, campaigning effectively, winning the big states. But she could not overcome the lead she unwillingly spotted Barack Obama. More than 17 million voters later, Hillary’s camp has every right to mourn, yet little basis for claiming she endured discrimination. Clintonism – Hillary’s and Bill’s peculiar combination of pathologies – defeated Hillary Clinton in 2008, not sexism.

In 2007, many toasted the Democrats for having a viable female candidate whose fame made her far more than a gender-based candidate and a viable African-American candidate whose message made him far more than a race-based candidate. Overlooking the ugly identity politics to which Democrats in particular and Americans in general have been addicted, we hoped that the candidates would run on message and their records, not on a sense of group frustration or entitlement – and that the candidates would be judged on their merits not by the color of their skin or the combination of their chromosomes.

It is hard to quantify prejudice when both racism and sexism have been delegitimized. Our favorite tools, surveys, require honesty, while many racists and sexists know to camouflage their ugly feelings. Still, just as John Kennedy played the Catholic card cleverly, and mobilized Republican-leaning Catholics to vote for him and the Democratic Party in 1960, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama benefited from great enthusiasm among women and blacks, respectively. This mass mobilization appears to have delivered far more votes for their respective camps than were lost to prejudice.

But, as the conflict intensified, it was, alas, inevitable, that had Obama lost, some blacks would have yelled racism – just as some women are now attributing Clinton’s loss to sexism. The bills in the indictment are feeble. If the charges are limited to a handful of poorly-chosen phrases journalists and politicians used, in the heat of a campaign wordfest, America is a far more enlightened place than most Democrats acknowledge.

Clearly, the media – if we can speak in these general terms – was rougher on Hillary Clinton than Barack Obama, especially at first. But to attribute the media bias to sexism requires some evidence. Barack Obama benefited from great coverage because he offered reporters a fresh face and a great story. From the start of the campaign, Hillary Clinton’s problems had far more to do with the baggage she carried from the 1990s than the baggage she shares with her sisters in arms.

What really defeated Hillary Clinton was Clintonism. Her arrogant air of presumption, her preference for staffers better known for loyalty than competence, and her and her husband’s aggressive tactics backfired this year. Americans, it seems, are not just fed up with George W. Bush but with politics in general. And the two Clintons represent the polarizing, do-or-die, hyper-partisan, exceedingly personal politics of the baby boomers, both right and left – that both Barack Obama and John McCain repudiate by their respective ages and by the message each generates.

It would be easier to make the charge of sexism stick had Hillary Clinton run the kind of campaign she ran from March to May for the year-and-a-half before that. Instead, we watched an overpaid staff fritter away money, opportunities, and ultimately, a chance at victory. We watched a candidate with obvious talents and passion, fail to deliver a compelling message and try inheriting the White House rather than earning it. We watched the candidate’s husband engage in the sharp-elbow tactics and self-destructive sloppiness for which he was so famous in the 1990s, but which so many seem to have forgotten in the haze of Bush-generated nostalgia for the Clinton era. The changes in the Clinton campaign after March, in personnel, messaging and tactics implicitly acknowledge the failures before March.

Hillary Clinton has always been a fast learner, smart, able to improvise, willing to be self-critical, and effective at recovering. She displayed all those qualities in this campaign – and was rewarded with hundreds of delegates and millions of votes. That she did not start changing soon enough, or recover fast enough to surmount the lead she and her incompetent campaign staff gave Obama, is not due to sexism.

Part of breaking the glass ceiling and competing with everyone else is avoiding the tendency to attribute criticism or setbacks to bias. In fairness, Hillary Clinton has not complained about gender bias. Her disappointed supporters should follow her example, celebrating how far she came, and learning from her how to learn from mistakes and defeats not simply wallow in them.

CONSOLATION PRIZE: For all those Democrats depressed by Hillary’s loss – and for all those Republicans worried about the – dare we call it – Obamomentum I prescribe a simple Rx: watch Obama’s 2004 Democratic National Convention speech. It is hard for anyone who loves America, and loves democracy, not to be moved by his centrist, inclusive, nationalist vision. Whether he can implement it, of course, is the big question…

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HNN, June 3, 2008

We have already started rifling through our thesauruses – or more accurately scanning them – trying to find the right, over the top, description for the titanic primary battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama – extraordinary, historic, unprecedented. Both Clinton’s people and Obama’s people are invested in emphasizing just how many people voted, how intense the process was, how hard-fought the battle was. For Clintonites, this becomes a way of still trying to eke out a win, or, at very least, preserving some dignity, some bragging rights – and a shot at 2012 if Obama falters. For Obamaniacs, this becomes a way of graciously saluting Hillary and her supporters as worthy opponents, while also trying to make these last few weeks a triumphal victory over a superstar, rather than an exhausted stumble toward the finish line.

Still, as we tally up the thousands of delegates, tens of millions of votes, and hundreds of millions of dollars, most Democrats seek closure. One of the extraordinary, historic, unprecedented moves Hillary Clinton made was that she simply refused to concede defeat. As a result, she not only ended up winning many more big state primaries than Obama did, she also demonstrated the depth of her support. Had she quit in February or early March, she would have been remembered as the Ed Muskie of 2008, an over-confident frontrunner whose aides spent too much time debating who would get which West Wing office but produced as little as Muskie did in his 1972 Democratic presidential primary collapse. Instead, Hillary Clinton proved quite formidable – she and her husband angered many Democrats in this campaign, but she mobilized millions.

Today, after the final state primaries, Hillary Clinton must make a critical decision. Her impressive swing-state victories and her historic vote total have vindicated her decision to hang on for dear life these last few months. Grumbling from John Edwards’ camp that he should not have quit so soon emphasizes one of the probable legacies from Clinton’s never-say-die campaign: in the future it will be harder to get candidates to give up, and thus harder for parties to rally around one winner early in the process. But with Obama on the verge of sewing up enough delegates, with party leaders starting to beg for unity, the time has come to end the campaign.

Ending the campaign when there remains even a slight chance of winning – a knock- out Obama scandal, a sudden shift in super-delegate sentiments – violates Hillary Clinton’s deepest instincts and most enduring political lessons. She frequently has recalled that when she was young, a neighboring girl bullied her, reducing Hillary to tears. Her mother, Dorothy Rodham, banned young Hillary from the house, refusing to give refuge to a coward. Hillary went out, walloped her rival, and earned the respect of the boys – and this girl’s eventual friendship. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s marriage to Bill Clinton has been a decades-long exercise in refusing to quit, no matter how personal the hurt, no matter how public the humiliation. And throughout the 1990s, both Hillary and Bill Clinton distinguished themselves as public figures who frequently beat the odds by hanging on – from eventually winning as the “Comeback Kid” in 1992 to defying widespread calls for his resignation during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, then seeing Bill emerge as a presidential rock star in and out of office, while Hillary ended up as a powerful New York Senator and leading presidential candidate.

While there is nothing like winning, there are better and worse ways to lose. If Hillary Clinton concedes gracefully now that the last vote has been cast, and works enthusiastically for an Obama victory, she may restore some of the Clinton sheen that this vicious primary battle tarnished. Talk about the Clintons’ 2012 strategy – sabotage Obama so she has a shot four years later – the absurd claim that by remembering that Bobby Kennedy ran in June she was calling for Obama’s assassination – both reveal how angry Obama Democrats are with the Clintons.

Hillary Clinton must make the right, gracious, conciliatory moves, sooner rather than later. If she does it right, she will position herself as the next-in-line to lead the Democratic party if Obama falls, or continue to be a power-player in Washington during an Obama Administration. There are second acts in presidential politics. Ronald Reagan lost a heartbreaker in the Republican nomination fight in 1976 – but he did okay after that, I think. Moreover, she will help rebuild the Clinton legacy and restore some of the Clinton magic that has dissipated amid the stench of sweat and bile this extraordinary, historic, unprecedented campaign generated.

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HNN, May 25, 2008

Hillary Clinton’s supposedly controversial invocation of Robert Kennedy’s assassination was not only benign, it was precisely the kind of thing historians do all the time. Trying to explain why she did not think it unreasonable to remain in the presidential race, Senator Clinton first noted that her husband’s successful 1992 campaign ran until June. Then, logically, reasonably, she mentioned the most famous June primary in American history, Robert Kennedy’s surprise win in California, which was followed by his assassination.

The fact that we are approaching the fortieth anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination, and that his surviving brother Ted Kennedy has been in the news lately, made Clinton’s mention even more reasonable. As she mentioned while backpedaling, she — along with many other Americans – has certainly had the Kennedy family on her mind lately.

Whether pro-Hillary or not, historians in particular should defend Hillary. Historians frequently refer to previous incidents to explain current behavior. To perceive hidden agendas in such analogizing is unreasonable. True, Robert Kennedy was tragically assassinated that June; but he also was running in a race that remained wide open that month too. Senator Clinton was in no way calling for an assassination or warning of one. Simply writing that previous statement emphasizes how absurd the charges are. Analogies by nature are selective. The analogizer has the right to pick or choose within reason, as Senator Clinton did in this case.

The real question, of course, is why people are so quick to pounce on Hillary Clinton’s words and impute such horrific motives to her. The answer points to one of the big surprises of this campaign season: the way the partly anticipated Clinton-fatigue has morphed into Clinton-disgust. Democrats who were the chief enablers of Bill Clinton’s hardball politics in the 1990s now profess surprise at both Clintons’ hardball tactics. The cheers have turned into jeers. Clearly, it is one thing when Democrats play tough with Republicans; that seems to be okay. But seeing the Clintons deploy their characteristic sharp-elbow tactics against a fellow Democrat – -and an idealistic African-American Democrat at that – has led to this Democratic wake-up call, slowed Hillary Clinton’s momentum at critical moments, and badly tarnished Bill Clinton’s legacy.

Still, in a long list of Clinton curveballs, sleights-of-hand, manipulations and lies, Hillary Clinton’s innocent Kennedy comments don’t rank. But, for most candidates, when even harmless comments cause massive headaches, that usually is one more sign that it is time to call it quits. So far, Hillary Clinton has refused to read any of those signs. Whether that obtuseness ultimately leads to victory or to even more backlash remains to be seen, but the smart money remains on the latter.

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