The Misapplication of “Campaign in Poetry and Govern in Prose”

Whenever I hear this phrase, I shudder.  It’s usually said as if we’re supposed to accept that candidate lying during election campaigns is fine.

Recently, CNN’s  Chris Cuomo attributed this phrase to his father, Mario Cuomo.  But out of context it can have a different meaning than his father intended.  I remember hearing Mario Cuomo speak eloquently at Stanford University about how getting rich is fine so long as you give back.  He cared about the underserved and also about the truth.

Elizabeth Kolbert of the New Yorker considered the poetry vs. prose phrase one of many melancholy ones Mario Cuomo repeated.  These tended to have a dose of reality within them gleaned from years of experience in politics.  Campaigns do involve putting one’s best foot forward from the perspective of those you wish to influence.  But this observation is not an acceptance of political duplicity.

Words matter.  The more we hear “campaign in poetry and govern in prose” as advisory, the greater the risk that lying will become acceptable even as it dupes the electorate and undermines democracy.

“Campaign in poetry and govern in prose” can be misused effectively to justify duplicity by the duplicitous among us.  When that happens, we’ve abdicated our responsibility to expect honesty from those who aspire to lead.


Updated April 14, 2017

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When Leaders Can’t Persuade

What we’re witnessing in the U.S. Congress right now is in large part an inability to persuade. Persuasion is a skill.  It’s done with people, not to them.  Two other forms of influence, manipulation and coercion, are done to people — usually by those who have never learned how to be persuasive.  The problem with forms of influence that deceive or force is that when the people at the receiving end grasp what is going on they often retaliate in kind.  Relationships suffer and so do those affected by them.

We are witnessing and paying a huge price for having elected many people to lead the U.S. who haven’t a clue how to manage disagreement.  Their motto:  “It’s my way or the highway.”  Moan as we might about the lack of bi-partisanship, at the base of the problem is the absence of persuasion as the primary tool for bridging differences and finding workable solutions.

Anyone who wishes to be an effective leader needs to learn how to be persuasive.  The best leaders acquire this skill.  They don’t simply throw their weight around.  They don’t lie and maneuver people to achieve their goals.  They recognize the high price of such tactics. Instead, they endeavor to respect the views of others who are candid.  They listen and learn.  Through discussion, they find a path forward.  They know, too, that persuasion rarely involves totally getting your way.  It means finding a way that does not burn down the building in the process.

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Heartless Healthcare — GOP Ownership of Preventable Suffering

As President Trump meets today with GOP members of Congress to encourage backing of a proposed healthcare plan that will force millions of people to drop healthcare coverage, what other conclusion is there than that the U.S. has put the heartless among us in charge?

This plan sits heavily on the backs of millions of young people who will pay less than older people but will certainly, by necessity, decide they must gamble with their lives. And on the backs of people from age 40 on who will pay hefty, even impossible premiums.  For older people this means somewhere between 3 and 5 times what younger people will pay, as well as higher costs of care.

Take it from someone who was diagnosed with breast cancer in her early thirties after it had spread. Without healthcare, I would not be writing this blog. Young doesn’t mean exempt from health challenges.  In fact, health is what enables the young to reach their potential.

Perhaps you had a parent like mine who said repeatedly, “If you have your health, you can do almost anything.” The heartless in Congress, who have exceptional healthcare coverage for themselves and their families, plan to take from millions of Americans this foundation of life and happiness –the ability to be healthy and to successfully fend off disease.

This week’s modifications of the plan serve the wealthy with tax payoffs, propose to pressure people on Medicaid to work (even though most are elderly and sick or children), and loosely throws some money at older Americans.

Call your Congressperson today before the Thursday vote in Congress. See if he or she is heartless. Don’t fall for obfuscation about additional funds being provided for one group or another. That just divides us. Tell him or her to work on improving the ACA, not reinventing the wheel for a coach that carries only the fortunate.

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Don’t Miss Fareed Zakaria’s “The Most Powerful Man in the World”

Vladimir Putin may be portrayed as amusing on Saturday Night Live, but in reality he is no fool. He may actually be the most powerful man in the world, according to Fareed Zakaria.

When you watch this probing documentary aired on CNN, you see how the media can provide information necessary to preserving democracy. We need more of this kind of outstanding journalism in place of “some-people-say” reports lacking credibility and journalists interviewing each other instead of experts.

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Kiss Your Grandparents Good-Bye Under GOP Healthcare Act

Read the CBO report about the Republican healthcare plan and it’s immediately evident that especially older Americans will be hit with premiums they simply won’t be able to pay.

Next year, an additional 14 million people will be without health insurance should the GOP plan prevail.  By 2026 that number will be 24 million.  And because Paul Ryan doesn’t appear to care if older people suffer and die early, he’s pretty happy with the burden of the plan sitting on the shoulders of the aging.

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, told reporters. “Thousands of Americans will die if this legislation is passed and we have to do everything that we can to see that is defeated.”

And it gets worse.  People claiming to be pro-life are willing to let especially poor and older Americans suffer and for millions of them to die early.  To cover this horrific attack on the vulnerable and ill in society, Paul Ryan bounces around saying that people will get to choose not to have health insurance.  You can bet his family will have it.

Take it from someone who was surprised to learn she had breast cancer in her early thirties.  Choosing not to have healthcare coverage is a level of optimism no one can afford.

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Bringing An End to Some-People-Say News — No More Important Time Than Now!

I published the article below at Huffington Post in 2011 and several after it on the same subject — what I’m calling “some-people-say journalism.”

As predicted in the article, over the last several years sloppy journalism using such phrases as “some-people-say,” “many people think,” “there are those who say,” instead of identified, credible sources lowered the bar in terms of journalistic integrity.  Along with the bad habit of journalists interviewing journalists, people became used to not receiving information supported by credible, identified sources.  This helped open the door to “fake news” prevalent in the recent U.S. elections.

I’m posting this article again while President Trump is attacking the media, to remind us of our responsibility as information consumers.  And to protect responsible media, so important to a free society, from strategic attacks.  We should insist that even our favorite media keep the credibility bar high for our sake and their own.

Children do not learn to become wary of sources unless their parents and teachers share the need for that with them — by occasionally asking during advertisements and news shows “Do you think that’s true?” and “What sources did they use?”  Without such practice, children grow up gullible and are easily manipulated.

As adults, if you haven’t learned to be wary of sources, to reject “some-people-say” journalism, there’s no time like the present.  And likely there is no more important time.


HUFFINGTON POST — 10/17/2011  Kathleen Reardon, Professor Emerita, USC

On televised news this evening, expect to hear sentences beginning with “some people say” or “many people think” as a means of positioning a question for an interview or providing support for an opinion being advanced. Look for such deceptive phrases on your choice of early evening televised news, CNN and PBS too.

And what’s wrong with this practice? Aren’t we supposed to assume that we’re being led by our noses by the owners of media giants, that journalism is no longer the honorable profession it was, and this is just more evidence of how far it has fallen? Isn’t it our responsibility as viewers to sift through the hype and huckstering to find shreds of objectivity?

Certainly, we are responsible for carefully considering the sources of what we read and view. And yet, from decades of persuasion research, we know that people often process information without engaging in wariness or counterargument. At least when we hear, “According to General Colin Powell or “As Senator Webb described it today,” we know something of the political leanings of the sources. We know whether to consider them credible, intelligent, experienced, and trustworthy.

How do we know the motives of “some” people? Who are they? Where do they come from? How many of them are there? Under what circumstances were their opinions obtained? How old are they? Did anyone pay them? Do they even exist?

When will experts respond to “some people say” with, “Who might they be?” Or, “In fact, recent data indicates quite the opposite.” They could ask one of these questions: “How many people actually say that?” “Who are these people?” “Where did you find them?”

We’re into an important campaign season, one culminating with the election of the next president of the United States. As we’ve seen over and over, it’s an exercise is separating hype from truth, opinions from factual information, and political machinations from admirable political skill.

Slipping “some people say” and “many people think” into “news” is not much different from placing subliminal product messages in grocery store music. It’s deceitful. It takes advantage of consumers.

Change the channel the next time you hear, “some people say,” “many people think,” or vacuous statements in this genre. E-mail the station. Tell them to name their sources. Expect better. Insist on it!


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Article in the American Bar Association Journal – “Learning to Say ‘No'”

Here are a few tips for women in particular about refusing “junk” assignments — written by Stephanie Ward.


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