How Do We Fix It? How Bill Clinton Smashed the Passion Gap 


Unscripted comments often give us the worst moments of the Presidential campaign. Look no further than the embarrassing Republican debate in early March, when Donald Trump bragged about his penis.

But once in a while a tense, uncomfortable encounter can turn into a civics lesson.

And so it was when Bill Clinton stood up during an event for his wife in Philadelphia Thursday and faced down protesters from Black Lives Matter. They complained vigorously about anti-crime legislation that the former President signed in the early 90’s: a time when the crack epidemic led to a terrible spike in homicides, especially in African-American neighborhoods.

Instead of merely dismissing the shouts and signs of his detractors, or taking a politically correct vow of silence, he engaged them with a series of remarks about policy and the changed political landscape.

“I don’t know how you would characterize the gang leaders who got 13-year-old kids hopped up on crack and sent them out on the street to murder other African-American children,” the former President said wagging his finger. “Maybe you thought they were good citizens. She [Hillary Clinton] didn’t. You are defending the people who killed the lives you say matter. Tell the truth.”

The tone may have been somewhat hectoring, and he sort-of apologized for it the next day. But the President’s passion was real. You don’t have to agree with him or his record to be impressed by the outburst of substance.

Far too much of this campaign has been about easy slogans, from Bernie Sanders’ simplistic break-up the big banks (thoroughly dissed in a New York Times column by liberal Paul Krugman) to Trump’s build a wall and make Mexico pay.

The biggest problem Hillary Clinton has been her apparent lack of passion. It’s why she has under-performed, and also why Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio failed to catch fire. 

Voters already know that the former Secretary of State, First Lady and Senator from New York has a deeply impressive resume and an intelligent grasp of governance and foreign policy, but much of her campaign has been canned —  on auto pilot. It’s as if she thinks she can glide to victory without taking risks. Without being a fighter.
But today’s media and political environment has changed. Americans – especially millennials – are increasingly bored with complacent, canned remarks. An occasional flash of humor or even anger can be refreshing and even change minds. 

Bill may have put his foot in it sometimes, but his spontaneous outburst in Philadelphia is a lesson for Hillary and a solution for her wobbly campaign. Fix the passion gap.

If you want to convince skeptical voters that you’re not a crook, put away the script and speak from the heart.

How Do We Fix It? What Elites and Pundits Don’t Know About The Rest of Us.


The results are in from the latest batch of primaries.  Once again, the year’s most surprising trends persist: Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are doing far better than pundits, pollsters and elites had expected.

Despite a furious and well-funded campaign against him by the Republican establishment, Trump trounced his rivals in Mississippi and Michigan.  Sanders scored a major upset win in Michigan.

Both are the blame-the-other-guy-candidates.  

For Trump, it’s poor Mexican migrants who are storming across the border and taking our jobs. Or crazy Muslims who are claimed to be a danger to us all.

For Bernie, wicked Wall Street and evil billionaires are to blame for our troubles.  And it’s time to teach them a lesson, even if business is crippled as a result. 

Both are dishing out what their worried, weary, and above all distracted, followers want to hear.  

And the rest of us, who are either stunned or appalled by the election results so far, can learn something very interesting about how most people form opinions and make up their minds on the big decisions in life. 

Emotions and feelings play a much bigger role than most of us realize. 

In his recent book, “Copy, Copy, Copy,” Mark Earls, a British writer and well-known consultant on marketing, communications and human behavior talks about the  “I’ll have what she’s having” phenomenon from the 1989 movie, “When Harry Met Sally“.  That’s what the woman who’s sitting nearby says after Meg Ryan’s very public and fake orgasm. 

The widely held view that we make decisions on our own and in a rational way is a complete myth.  Instead, we vote and buy stuff by copying others – our friends, family and our neighbors.

Donald Trump is “much smarter than we give him credit for,” says Mark on our podcast. “He gets that people need to feel stuff rather than think about it.” 

Much of Bernie Sanders’ appeal is about personal integrity and authenticity. He clearly says what he believes and that may seem very refreshing, even though his left-wing policies made in a loner in the U.S. Senate. But that doesn’t matter one bit to his adoring tribe. Sanders won a stunning 80% of the millennial vote in Michigan.

With Donald and Bernie it’s not about detailed policies.  Or what might happen after Election Day. Their appeal is based on group identity and emotions. 

The sooner “rationalists” and “experts” realize that, the better.

Top: Front page of “The Economist” magazine.

President Obama’s Amazing Grace Eulogy, and the Power of Love at Emanuel AME Church

  President Obama’s “Amazing Grace” eulogy (from ABC News coverage)
It’s been a long time since you could say it was a good week for President Obama.
And for good measure, this was also one for the history books.

In addition to two sweeping Supreme Court decisions on Obamacare and same-sex marriage, the President scored a crucial win in Congress, thanks mostly to well-organized support by Republicans.  He gained full authority to negotiate a sweeping Asia free-trade agreement.  After all the gloom and gridlock of late it was enough to make your head turn.

At the end of the week Obama flew to Charleston, South Carolina to deliver a moving, rousing and eloquent eulogy to Rev. Clementa  Pinckney, who was murdered nine days before at the historic church he led.

The President is very good at this: much better at giving speeches and presiding over somber public ceremonies than the daily grind of governance.  But his even partisan critics cannot deny that Barack Obama’s heartfelt and at times profound remarks on race come from his own lived experience.

During his long address, Mr. Obama evoked the history of black America, through slavery, discrimination and violence. The crowd responded warmly with many “amens”, “yes sirs”, and standing ovations.  There were strains of the church organ and electric guitar.

To the surprise of the congregation and those watching on TV (the three legacy broadcast networks broke into their daytime programing), the President launched forth with a rousing chorus of “Amazing Grace.” His singing may be much better remembered than what he said!

But what moves me the most about what happened in Charleston and elsewhere in recent days has nothing to do with the President words or the  fuss over that blighted Confederate Flag.

It has been the stunning response of the good people of the Emanuel AME Church. After a young white man seized by racial hatred murdered their pastor and eight others in the church basement and devastated their community, they responded with words of love and even forgiveness.

Somewhat incredible you may think.  The increasingly noisy critics of organized Christian religion might stop to ponder that.

This church still stands strong and proud in the belief that love is more powerful than hate. Its open-doors policy to strangers and newcomers remains in place.  As one AME pastor in New Haven, Connecticut told a news reporter, he prefers God’s protection to security guards or surveillance cameras at his church.

One member of the congregation who stood in line for hours before the President’s eulogy said: “I want to be here to show love. You can feel the love, and see the love.”

And love was also front and center at The Supreme Court this week.  The hashtag #lovewins was tweeted more than five million times in the hours after the court’s decision was released.

Writing for the majority in same-sex marriage case, Justice Anthony Kennedy said that “no union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, devotion, sacrifice and family.”

Every year in late June the major decisions of the Supreme Court are a time for passionate debate about moral and ethical concerns raised in the U.S. Constitution.  This year the  practical importance of love is part of our national conversation. Amen to that.

Women Are Winners in Britain’s Surprising Election.  So is the UK Economy.

Laura Kuenssberg, one of the new generation of savvy, smart women commentators on British TV

London – 

There’s nothing quite as brutal as politics.  No fewer than three party leaders resigned here within hours of the UK’s surprising election.

Scores of highly experienced Liberal Democrats and Labor politicians were stunned by their defeats as they saw their high flying careers crash to the ground in a sudden and very public way.

The sensibly centrist Lib Dems, who received absolutely no credit from British voters for their crucial role in propping up the coalition over the past five years, were unfairly punished by voters. 

But this was also a refreshing election in several ways.  The number of ethnic minorities in the House of Commons rose more than 50%.   The results also mean progress for women, who won one-third of the seats in the British House of Commons.  Authoritative female commentators and political thinkers today play a far more prominent role than in years past.    

Emily Maitlis analyzed gains and losses on BBC 1.

The vote was also a defeat for the politics of envy and class resentment.  David Cameron – now the Conservatives’ Tony Blair – reached out to young, middle class voters with a positive tone and an optimistic message about the future. 

The lessons of his success should be taken to heart by White House contenders in the 2016 U.S. campaign. The charming and easy-on-his-feet Cameron talked a lot more about wealth creation than income distribution.  But at the same time his one-nation message addressed voters’ insecurities, with promises to boost spending on Britian’s popular government-run health service.

While he did speak of more deficit reduction, the Tory leader is no libertarian.  He knows that people like their government benefits.  Unlike American Republicans and right-wing British Conservatives, Cameron put aside calls for smaller government in the future.

Labor (or, as my English friends say, Labour) seemed to be caught in the past, nostalgic for a time when large trade unions were more powerful than they are today.  While Cameron aimed for the center, Labor’s awkward leader Ed Miliband moved his party to the left, with calls for higher taxes on the wealthy and more business regulations.  Labour politicians talked about “protecting the working class,” when more Brits now see themselves as part of the middle class. 
David Cameron’s victory was more decisive than polls had predicted. 

The Conservatives’ majority means they will be able to form a most likely stable government lasting the full five years until 2020,” says IHS UK economist Howard Archer. This “should be supportive to economic activity.”  Financial markets loathe uncertainty, and they reacted positively to the clear Conservative win.

You may have noticed from my earlier blogs that pre-election polls were unanimous in predicting a much closer result.  They were flat out wrong.  In this age of big data and ever more powerful numbers crunchers, that too is encouraging.

I don’t want the polls to be right all the time.  The complexities of human behavior are often hard to fully explain or predict. And that’s one more reason why democracy and the marketplace of ideas are so interesting.

Why the UK Election May Send a Potent Message to the US in the 2016 Race for the White House.


An ad for “The Independent” at a London newsstand.


The warnings are everywhere.  Britain could plunge into political uncertainty after this election with no clear roadmap for what happens next.  
But what is all the arguing about?  The surprising thing for Americans is the issues here are very similar to the hot arguments in the U.S. 
Conservatives are for cutting government deficits, welfare reform and passing a “no new taxes” law.   The left-leaning Labor party wants higher taxes on the rich, more regulation of big business, and extra spending on health services and daycare for young children. Sound familiar?
The last opinion polls before the election suggested the two main parties would get roughly 33% of the vote each, with the centrist Liberal Democrats, Scottish Nationalists, UKIP and Greens fighting over the remaining third.  Hardly a recipe for strong government. 
Front page headline warns of post-election chaos
What’s surprising to me is that while British voters believe David Cameron’s Conservatives are better at managing the economy, he is not way out in front. While Cameron has a stronger job approval rating than Labor’s Ed Miliband, the race has been very close.
This suggests that the current government’s record of economic growth, creating more jobs, and cutting the deficit is not enough.  As in America, voters here are profoundly worried about the decline of the middle class, and growing inequality between the rich and the rest.
While UK unemployment has dropped, and education standards have improved in the past five years, the parties of the left (Labor, the SNP and the Greens) skillfully exploited class resentments and the widespread concern that globalization and technological change are more of a threat than an opportunity.
If it forms a government Labor may be damaging to financial markets, entrepreneurs and wealth creation. But the fairness issue is front and center in this election.  This vote is about values as much as it is a referendum on competence.  The same could be true next year when U.S. voters pick a new President.

Listen Up! It Could Change The World


These people are listening very closely to what’s going on around them.

They have brought all of themselves to this moment.  So did I.

Listening carefully to the musical  audio sculpture by Janet Cardiff , “The Forty Part Motet“,  now being presented at The Cloisters in New York,  got me thinking about how we listen.


What extraordinary things could be accomplished by Congress and the White House if folks simply listened to each other, and went beyond the echo chamber of their own narrow structures of belief?

What if the interviewers on Sunday morning TV, or heaven forbid, highly opinionated talk show hosts, really listened to what they were being told, and challenged their guests and callers in a way that proved that they were learning something from the experience?Wouldn’t our media landscape sound a whole lot better?

There’s a really good piece on this for journalists called The Power of Listening.  “To be a good interviewer you must learn to listen — both to others and to yourself,” writes The Poynter Institute’s Chip Scanlan.

“A lot of times we beat ourselves,” says Pat Stith,  a former investigative reporter for the Raleigh News & Observer. “We don’t listen. We don’t ask simple, direct, follow-up questions. We just talk, and we talk, and we talk.”

How right he is. How often have you heard a radio or TV interviewer move onto the next question on the list without asking a good follow-up question?

Yet when the microphone is put into the hands of amateurs the results can be miraculous. Storycorps proved that.

“In 50,000 interviews, nearly every time, people have cried in the interview,” said David Isay, the founder of the oral history project StoryCorps, which celebrated its 10th birthday last week.

“Listening Is An Act of Love” is the title of a wonderful collection of everyday stories  from one-on-one interviews that were recorded inStoryCorps kiosks set-up around the country over the past decade. 50,000 interviews have been collected so far.

Now these people were really listening to one another.

My first encounter with StoryCorps was when a good friend and neighbor, Louisa Stephens, asked me to go down to the booth at Grand Central Station.  It was one of about a hundred 50 minute Storycorps interviews Stephens has done at Storycorps with friends and family members.

Having someone sit down and listen carefully to you for that amount of time is deeply flattering. The experience can be transformative, with powerful results. (Business and political leaders, take note).

Which brings me back to Janet Cardiff at The Cloisters.  If you can, go there and wander among the 40 speakers that are arranged in an oval in a reconstructed 12th century Spanish chapel.  Each mounted speaker has the voice of an individual choir member who is performing a 16th century composition by the English composer, Thomas Tallis.

Along with many others who have been there I found the experience to be moving.  It was another simple reminder of the power of listening.


What Walmart & Amazon Could Teach Congress

biz cartoon
Mike Licht

Quick question. What’s the biggest difference between our business and political leaders?

One group is intensely focused on getting things done, while the other keeps repeating the same old rhetoric. I’ll leave it up to you to decide who’s who!

I was struck by these starkly different mindsets when I came across two articles in the same paper.  One was about the political paralysis in DC over health care, while the other was on the steps Walmart is taking to fight back against Amazon.

First to business.  Both these companies are corporate big dogs,  dominant on their own turf.  Walmart is the leading brick-and-mortar retailer.  Amazon is king of the internet jungle.


A growing problem for Walmart is that not only are shoppers increasingly turning away from physical stores and spending more instead on e-commerce,  Amazon is also encroaching on traditional store turf, going local with new distribution centers across the country to speed-up delivery of online purchases.

Walmart is “frantically playing catchup” by learning the technology business.

Far from its sprawling company campus in Bentonville, Arkansas, the giant retailer has set-up @WalmartLabs in Silicon Valley.  It’s spending big money on new online headquarters to attract A-list programmers and engineers so that Walmart can successfully compete with Amazon by building a better website.

Contrast this bid for reinvention, improvement and a change in culture with the stale debate among our political leaders over Obamacare.

In what was obviously a futile attempt right from the start, House Republicans voted 40 times to repeal the law.  40 separate times!

At the White House the focus until very recently was much more on the politics of health care than on the nuts and bolts of delivering a first-class website for the new federal marketplace opened October 1st.  President Obama and his aides are paying dearly for that now.

In an illuminating op-ed for the New York Times, economics professor Tyler Cowen suggested that what both sides in the Obamacare debate should be talking about is the delivery of a better system that saves money and delivers coverage to many more people.

“One of the few things Democrats and Republicans agree on is that the law is imperfect at best,” writes Cowen.  Improvements are in reach if they could swallow some pride.  “Both sides have a lot to gain, and at some point, they should realize it.”

You don’t have to agree with Cowen’s argument for moving millions of low income families  from Medicaid to Obamacare to applaud the spirit of his ideas.  At least he is seriously examining how the government delivers services to the people at a cost that taxpayers can afford.

Whether you like them or loathe them, believe that they are can-do capitalists or heartless overpaid plutocrats, that spirit of problem solving is at least something that America’s captains of industry understand.  It’s a lesson more politicians should learn.