(Click on Link)
Washington. June 6, 2011. Last week marked the 25th anniversary of C-span televising the live proceedings of the United States Senate. While we take it for granted today, and some apparently enjoy sitting around and watching the somewhat arcane world of Senate procedure unfold in front of them, the path to live coverage was not without controversy or conflict. And at least some of that controversy played out within my own family for years.
As Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, my father, Charles McC. Mathias, Jr. played at least some small role in bringing live television into that august chamber. Dad felt that this was vitally important and was, in fact, the duty of the Senate to do. He believed passionately that government should be accessible to the people – all of the people – and that allowing the live broadcast of the Senate’s floor proceedings, warts and all, was very much in the best interest of the nation. In fact, after a 26-year career in congress, my father always cited his role in helping to introduce live coverage of the Senate as one of his most significant accomplishments.
As someone who has spent a 25-year career focusing on how people use television and other communications channels to persuade, I couldn’t disagree more. Not with Dad’s motives, more the outcome that has resulted. He knew I felt this way and our differing points of view made for lively conversation between father and son.
Rather than making the proceedings of the “The world’s greatest deliberative body” accessible to the public at large, I contend that television has ruined the Senate forever. Rather then the great deliberation for which the chamber was known, what we are now subjected to is a grand kabuki theater of sorts. Witness, for example, the introduction of oversized charts and graphs, dutifully held by breathless staffers as their member makes his or her all important point. Or consider the dramatic wielding of proposed legislation that is “too heavy to lift” as it is thumped down on the Senate floor. These elements add flourish and drama but no real substance to the conversation. Members debate not with each other but play to the camera for greatest affect, often to the detriment of any true discourse. In today’s televised Senate, the sound bite often takes precedence over substance and, ultimately, it is the American public who is left wanting.
None of this C-Span’s fault, of course. They are merely broadcasting the feed that they receive from the Senate itself. But it’s too late to put the toothpaste back into the tube. A televised Senate has become an ingrained part of our government and culture. My Dad would be pleased. History seems to favor his point of view. I think the jury is still out.
The author is the President of Ogilvy Washington, a strategic communications consulting firm. His father, Charles McC. Mathias, Jr., was a member of congress from Maryland from 1961 – 1987.
Washington. June 7, 2010. I attended the graduation ceremony of the Lab School of Washington last Friday. 27 outstanding students, all of whom had worked so hard to make that day a reality. Really an impressive class. Lot’s of special emphasis in math and science with true accomplishments in those areas. Very strong college placement. A real honor to be there and be a part of the festivities.
The Lab School of Washington is an internationally recognized school for gifted children with learning disabilities with campuses in both Washington, DC and Baltimore, MD. The school – and its wonderful faculty – recognize and understand that some children learn differently and, therefore, need to be taught differently. It sounds fuzzy, but it is a place where magic actually happens. See the schools website at www.labschool.org.
The following are the very brief remarks I gave just before we handed the diplomas to the students. Leslie Meek’s was the graduation speaker and she did an excellent job.
Remarks of Robert Mathias
At the Graduation Ceremony
The Lab School of Washington
Prior to Conferring Diplomas
WHAT AN EXTRAORDINARY DAY!
CONGRATULATIONS TO EACH AND EVERY ONE OF OUR GRADUATES. THIS IS YOUR DAY.
CELEBRATE IT. LOVE IT. REMEMBER IT. YOU HAVE EARNED THAT RIGHT.
MY DAY CAME YESTERDAY WHEN I SIGNED THE DIPLOMAS. THIS IS A DAY I LOOK FORWARD EVERY YEAR. WITH EACH NEW DIPLOMA; WITH EACH NEW NAME THAT IS IN FRONT OF ME AS I SIGN, I AM REMINDED OF WHY SO MANY WORK SO HARD TO MAKE THIS SCHOOL SUCCCEED. A HUGE THANK YOU GOES TO OUR FACULTY AND STAFF; OUR PARENTS AND FAMILIES; OUR FUNDERS, MY COLLEAGUES ON THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES AND EVERYONE ELSE WHO HELPS TO MAKE LAB LAB. THIS IS YOUR DAY TOO.
AS I SIGN EACH DIPLOMA, I AM ALSO REMINDED OF THE JOURNEY THAT EACH OUR GRADUATES HAS BEEN ON; THE ROAD THAT EVERY STUDENT ON THIS STAGE HAS TRAVELED. THE SIGN POSTS ALONG THE WAY READ “SWEAT’, “DETERMINATION”, “JOY,” “FRUSTRATOIN”, “LAUGHTER”, AND “LOVE.”
GRADUATES, YOUR JOURNEY WITH THE LAB SCHOOL CONCLUDES TODAY.
YOU HAVE REACHED THE END OF OUR ROAD WHERE THE FINAL SIGN READS “THE LAB SCHOOL OF WASHINGTON HAS GRANTED THIS DIPLOMA AS EVIDENCE OF THE SATISFACTORY COMPLETION OF THE ACAMEDIC WORK REQUIRED FOR GRADUTION”.
YOU KNOW THAT YOUR TRUE JOURNEY BEGINS TODAY. ENJOY IT. CELEBRATE IT. GIVE IT AS MUCH AS YOU GAVE US.
CONGRATULATIONS TO THE CLASS OF 2O10!
Just back from a great trip to Yellowstone National Park for a Board meeting of the Yellowstone Park Foundation (www.ypf.org). This is a great organization that is dedicated to the preservation, protection and enhancement of Yellowstone. YPF raises funds and distributes them in grant form to fantastic projects that the government simply cannot afford to fund. These range from trail maintenance activities to back country ranger support to really exciting and important research such as the reintroduction of the wolves to the park or the mapping of Yellowstone Lake’s bottom where all kinds of new life forms have been discovered. Our meetings like the foundation itself, are invigorating, free spirited and smart. I feel privileged to be a part of it all. The cause is great as are the people who are drawn to it. Check us out and get involved. If you want to see some fun wildlife photos, this link will take you to photos from my most recent trip ( http://gallery.me.com/robbiedob/100370)
Great article from my classmate, Seth Goldman in Inc. http://ow.ly/1ERl3
Washington. April 29, 2010. Words matter. And it’s often interesting how much they matter in a political context. Take what happened in Washington this week. As the week began Senate Republicans repeatedly moved to block movement of the Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010, even though some reform of the financial services industry is so clearly needed and more than sixty percent of Americans agree that such reform is a good thing. But the R’s wouldn’t budge. Nothing. Nada. No dice. No debate. No bill.
Then, all of a sudden, at noon yesterday, Senator Mitch McConnell announced that Senate Republicans had had a change of hart and indeed would let the bill move to the floor for debate. Why the sudden change of heart? What happened?
Words happened. First and foremost, we were treated on Tuesday to an entire day of testimony from our friends at Goldman Sachs, testimony that didn’t necessarily shine a very happy light on either Goldman itself or the industry as a whole. Regardless of Goldman’s guilt or innocence in the civil suit filed against it by the SEC, it is hard to not feel true contempt for the “Fabulous Fab” as he talked about unloading toxic securities on unsuspecting “Widows and orphans” that he “found at the airport”.
Even those who are the utmost defenders of and believers in the restorative powers of Wall Street cringe when they hear such a cold and callus depiction of “life on the street.” Fabulous Fab’s greatest irony may well be that he not only created the problem in the first place but also actually broke the log jam and paved the way for meaningful reform to occur.
Senate Republicans heard Fab and they didn’t like it. And they knew they couldn’t be anywhere near his words.
Something else happened as well. Thanks to clever Democrats, the bill got a new name. What we knew as the Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010 became the Wall Street Reform Act of 2010. If Senate bills contained art work, Fabulous Fab would have been on the cover, mocked up like a wanted poster.
The Dems quickly understood the power of words and used them to their advantage. Overnight, Republican opposition to financial reform was seen as being a vote both for Fab and for all of the ills that plagued Wall Street. That was just too much heat for the Republican Kitchen and they got out.
Words matter in Washington. And that’s a good thing.
Washington. March 28, 2010. The Affordable Health Care for America Act is indeed landmark legislation worthy of all of the ballyhoo that it is generating. The act puts into motion one of the single greatest single changes in social programming in the United States in 50 years. Virtually no American will be untouched by the bill be it through access to insurance that they never before had; the right to be insured regardless of health status or simply through the payment of the higher Medicare taxes that will be required to pay for it all. And yes, for good or for bad, this new law does redefine the role that the government will play in all of our lives as it relates to our health and healthcare.
It is to misunderstand both the facts and the philosophical underpinnings of the arguments on both sides to deride the process that brought us to this point in history as a failed opportunity for unity; as a missed chance to achieve the “post-partisan” utopia that then Senator Obama promised if elected to the presidency. Health care reform, the process of determining what care American citizens should be guaranteed as a right and how it should be paid for, is fundamentally a question about the role of government in people’s lives. And the role of government in our lives is the central issue that differentiates our two political parties more so than any other.
So that fact that Republicans and Democrats could find little common ground should be neither surprising nor disappointing nor any true cause for alarm. In fact, just the opposite conclusion could be drawn: Our two party system is alive and well. This time the Democrats won. Republicans will again prevail somewhere else down the line. It is the way of our nation.
Lack of bipartisanship is not the tragedy of the last sixty plus days since Scott Brown was elected to the Senate from Massachusetts or even the last 65 years if we trace the healthcare debate back to Harry Truman’s presidency. But we have witnessed a tragedy and it reared its vicious and ugly head most visibly in the days immediately leading up to Sunday’s historic vote. While our two party system may be alive and well, the healthcare debate has also provided a troubling lens through which we now see what an intolerant nation we have become. We are both uninterested in and unable to hear the views of the other side. Worse yet, if we do not agree with them, it now seems a requirement that we also must assume that their motives are fundamentally flawed as well. While both sides are guilty, it is those who opposed the bill that truly appear to have blood on their hands.
This intolerance was evident when the “N” word was used to threaten and deride Rep. John Lewis, a member of congress who almost gave his life during the great crusade for civil rights in another generation, merely because of his belief that the this bill should become law. This intolerance was evident when Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II, who also happens to be African American, was physically spat upon because of his support for the bill. And it was evident when Rep. Barney Frank, an openly gay member of congress, had hateful epitaphs thrown at him because his view of the role of government differs from those who opposed the bill.
“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” And with those words last January, Rahm Emmanuel, The President’s Chief of Staff, shed significant light on how the Obama administration was planning to approach perhaps the greatest economic and political challenge seen by any modern presidency: How to fix our ailing economy. But as we now watch our new President define a monumental agenda that would be a challenge to achieve in times of peace and prosperity, much less today’s hazard filled environment, some are starting to wonder if the crisis isn’t being wasted after all.
In our business, when we counsel our clients on how to manage and communicate in a crisis environment, we espouse a fairly simple and straightforward approach. Define the crisis. Explain what has happened. Clearly articulate what has been done to stop the damage and prevent further harm. Discuss the steps that will be taken to gain an understanding of what caused the event to happen in the first place so that subsequent occurrences can be prevented. And finally, address the future and the environment that the client, its employees, shareholders, customers and other stakeholders will be operating in once the crisis has passed.
One of the more misunderstood and misguided aspects of the 2008 presidential campaign is Senators McCain and Obama’s effort to out lobby each other. Or, more aptly put to unlobby their campaigns and rid themselves of the negative perception and potential for scandal that mere association with lobbyists can inflict upon a campaign and its candidate. Both Senators have put strict sounding policies in place to protect them from the evils that lobbyists do. But is this frenzy to be lobbyist-free necessary? Are lobbyists truly such morally vacant and powerfully persuasive individuals that the presidential campaigns – and the candidates – need to be protected from their evil and influence? History and practice suggest that the answer is no.
Lobbying, or “the process of petitioning the government to influence public policy,” has been part of American politics from the very beginning. History points to a man named William Hull who was hired in 1792 by veterans of the Revolutionary War from the Commonwealth of Virginia to lobby Congress for additional compensation for their war services.
One can, in fact, find the roots of modern day lobbying embedded within the U.S. Constitution. A read of the Federalist Papers, the footnotes to our constitution, reveals the early groundwork for what we know as lobbying today. In Federalist 10, James Madison writes about how “factions” should petition the Congress to resolve differences in a peaceful manner. Madison’s factions are nothing more or less than the earliest incarnations of the various “special interests” that lobbyists represent today. Madison’s vision has come to fruition today and in a significant way.