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Why Do They Call it the “Silent Primary”?

March 22nd, 2015 · Business Management, Personalities in the News, Politics and Politicians Gone Awry

Because there is a lot they don’t want you to know or hear.

You may not realize it, but even though the next national election is still more than a year and a half away, a virtual gaggle of candidates is already attempting to get made-up, made-over and primped (some even pimping) for the next scheduled beauty pageant we call a presidential election.

Just look at the lineup: Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, Lindsey Graham, Rick Super PacsPerry, Marco Rubio, Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal, George Pataki, Sam Brownback, Carly Fiorina and Donald Trump. And what do they all have in common? They have all declared that they are “exploring” a campaign for the Republican nomination for president. So far, the list of potential Democratic presidential candidates is a bit shorter, with only Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and maybe Elizabeth Warren in the discussion. (As I have written before, the Republicans are always more fun.)

The story we are supposed to believe is that all these potential candidates – especially the ones bearing Republican credentials – are focused on the much-ballyhooed primary season that starts with the Iowa caucuses next January. In this string of primaries from January to June, voters of both the Republican and Democratic parties are supposedly able to select their candidate for president. But it is a sham. It is stagecraft made-up to look like Jeffersonian democracy at work.

The reality is that the real primary election is already underway. It’s happening right now. And it is called the “silent primary” for good reason: It is a primary to which we are not invited to participate. It is a primary in which only huge corporations and the mightiest of the mighty wealthy are allowed to vote.

Unlike millions who will traipse to the polls for next year’s primaries, there may be less than 50 voters in this “silent primary.” But these elite voters will determine among themselves who the rest of us will be allowed to vote for next year. The ballots in this silent primary are paper, paper money, which is counted in multiple millions of dollars. The only “exploring” these 16 would-be candidates will do is to identify how many millions of dollars are pledged to them by corporations and the super-wealthy.

This so-called “silent primary” is the residue of the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision that declared corporations and the uber-wealthy were free to contribute unlimited amounts of money to a candidate. The general issue in the Citizens United case was the corrupting power of money in politics. The Supreme Court took the narrow position that money itself is not corrupting. The Court ruled that for corruption to be present there must be a quid pro quo such as specific promise to do something, i.e. a bribe. This opened the door for corporations and the wealthy to give as much money as they desired. And this created the “Super PAC” so donors could avoid the appearance of a bribe, by giving the money to a group that, in theory, the candidate does not control.

As a result, all these would-be candidates for president are scurrying around the country trying to curry the favor of these obscenely wealthy contributors. The meetings are held in secret, so who knows what is being said or promised?

Who Are These Super PAC Donors?

It has been estimated that there are about 50 billionaires and near-billionaires that organize and “vote” in this “silent primary.” Among them and the Super PACs they support, it is projected that well over one billion dollars will be raised and spent to support the winner of their own personal private primary. You can get a glimpse of which organizations and individuals donate to the Super PAC honey pot here.

For any candidate the “silent primary” is the first and most important primary of all; all the other “real primaries” are simply window dressing. If you as a candidate don’t find favor in the private “silent primary” of Super PAC donors, then for all intents and purposes your campaign is over before the big show — the public primary —  even begins.

As evidence of this, it has been reported by the media that Chris Christie, who was the early odds-on favorite for the Republican presidential nomination is losing the “silent primary” and his star is fading. Mitt Romney considered another run for president, but when an early survey of the “silent primary” voters was taken, finding little support, he abandoned his effort. We may agree or disagree with either Christie or Romney, but we will never be allowed to freely express our viewpoint because those controlling the “silent primary” have already spoken for us.

The Supreme Court may have been well intended, but the justices were just plain wrong. By defining corruption as only existing in the case of a specific bribe agreement, the Court effectively fertilized the real corruption in politics, the influence of virtually unlimited amounts of money.

The consequence of this new world of post-Citizens United politics, is that fewer than 50 people can decide who millions of voters can or cannot vote for in an election. All these wealthy donors and their Super PACs use their money and influence to determine (in secret) just who the rest of us will have the opportunity to actually vote for; as if we had a real choice.

The reality is that unless a candidate does well in the “silent primary” (it should be called the “pecuniary primary”) they will lack the funds necessary for a campaign in the modern world of politics. And this robs the rest of us of the real chance to participate in democracy. Thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United a new type of democracy is emerging in this country; what we could call a “silent democracy.” It is a system that is silent, because much like the “democracy” in Russia and China, everyone gets to vote, but who they get to vote for is determined by the power of a few that is far beyond the average person’s power to control.

If we continue to accept a democracy that condones decisions made in a “silent primary,” we will soon find our rights to a true democracy silenced.    Send article as PDF   

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E-Mails, Hillary and You

March 15th, 2015 · Business Management, Improving Your Business Leadership, Politics and Politicians Gone Awry

A lesson for all leaders: Sometimes doing the right thing can be undone by doing it the wrong way. 

For the past couple of weeks the circus spotlight of politics has been played on Hillary Clinton’s use of a private e-mail system while she served as Secretary of State. Apparently she didn’t want to use the free one at work, so she and Bill just got one of their own and commingled yoga appointments with affairs of state. Of course the Republicans went ballistic, viewing this private e-mail system as some type of nefarious secret plot on the part of Hillary.

gty_hillary_clinton_jc_150311_16x9_992Did it surprise you at all that some of the Republican senators who were the most vociferous in their attacks on the Clinton e-mail system admitted they didn’t know what e-mail is and had never sent one? On a related front, maybe the 47 Republican senators would have been better off using a private e-mail for their letter to the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei; rather than releasing it to FOX News.

But I digress. The public exposure of Hillary’s private e-mail system does raise some legitimate issues and questions. (It should be noted that the Republicans in Congress were apprised of this private e-mail system over two years ago, when Hillary turned over e-mails dealing with the Benghazi attack.) Since Clinton was conducting sensitive government activity, it is appropriate to question the security of her e-mail system. Were there communications that should have been disclosed or at least properly cataloged and preserved? Was it even legal for a high government official to use this type of private e-mail system?

In addition, the idea of a secret e-mail system resurrects and reinforces the 20-year pattern of the Clintons being less than transparent in their personal and public activities. Going back to the 1992 Whitewater scandal, all the way up to current questions about the Clinton Foundation, the Clintons seem to have had a phobia about transparency; they have released information only when forced to do so. In fairness, no wrongdoing by the Clintons (except for one minor indiscretion by Bill) has ever been shown, but this lack of openness has created the perception of shady or even illegal activity.

The same can be said regarding the current Hillary e-mail brouhaha. Hilary’s response to “e-mailgate” was late in coming and her rationale (“it was more convenient than having two phones”) has been a bit muddled and weak. Equally telling was Clinton’s comment that if she had to do it over again, she would have taken a different approach. What emerges from that confession is that Hillary may have been guilty of poor judgment, but not of violating the law. No matter how she responds though, she is still vulnerable to the accusation that she must be hiding something.

A Lesson To Learn

There is an important lesson to learn here for anyone in leadership. The reality is that people – especially critics – respond less to what a leader does than how they do it. A leader can be more successful when the focus is on what they are doing, rather than how they are doing it. But for that to happen, leaders must be transparent and willing to accept candid advice from others.

Individuals rise above others to become leaders by exhibiting commitment, talent and effort. Unfortunately, as the position and power of the leader increases, there are fewer and fewer brave souls who are willing to question or challenge their ideas and actions. This unwillingness to question the leader may be good for their ego, but it strips them of the protection they need against doing what should not be done or doing what should be done the wrong way.

It is telling to note that in referring to the private e-mail issue, Clinton said, “It would have been better if I had simply used a second e-mail account … but at the time, this didn’t seem like an issue.” This means that Clinton did not think the issue through; not surprising considering all the other responsibilities she had at the time. It means she did not ask, “What will this action look like when it becomes public.” It also showed that she was either not seeking or not listening to advice from others. This is a trap the individuals in positions of leadership and power often fall prey to.

There is a progression in leadership that if not forcefully resisted, can result in the failure of even the strongest leaders. Early in the tenure of leadership there is a willingness to be open to a wide range of ideas and even constructive criticism. But as experience is gained, especially if that experience is one of success, there is a tendency for the leader to narrow the opening that allows divergent ideas or suggestions to enter into the mix of the leader’s thinking and acting.

This disconnect begins small but becomes compounded as the power of the leader increases and there are fewer and fewer people willing – or even allowed – to offer unembellished opinions to the leader. So either because they have succumbed to their own feeling of invincibility or the power structure has choked off divergent ideas, the leader becomes more and more isolated with his/her thoughts.

Moreover, experience and success can tempt the leader to believe they have all the answers, but yielding to that temptation is the ultimate death knell of effective leadership. And often a leader (think of Hillary Clinton and Richard Nixon here) will come to believe their mission and work is so important that they have the right to use any means to accomplish it and others will be castigated as not supportive if they question how or why the leaders do what they do.

Avoiding the “Big Man” Trap

The only way for a leader to avoid falling prey to the false invincibility of “knowing it all” is to make sure that there are always those close by who are not only allowed, but encouraged to question and challenge – not the ideas of the imagesleader—but the tactics and strategy used to achieve the objective. The leader must have enough confidence in their ability to say to others, “Look I know I’m good. You don’t have to tell me that. What I need from you is to tell me when I am off base.” In effect, a leader needs a “burr under the saddle” that will constantly question tactics and give perspective as to how actions may appear to others.

Those who serve in such roles are not malcontents or complainers. To the contrary, they may not have their own ideas for accomplishing the objective. Indeed, it works best if the individual questioning and challenging the leader has no personal axe to grind. Their value is to view the issue from a different perspective and to question and constructively challenge what has been proposed. This forces the leader to at least consider other actions and options to achieve the objective.

There is another benefit for the leader when they are always open to contrary viewpoints on tactics and strategy. Leaders will be identified as being different from others, and this builds a real bond of appreciation and loyalty from those who work for them. The followers appreciate the opportunity to have their viewpoint heard – without recrimination – and to be appreciated as offering value in the process. Invariably this creates a loyalty to the leader and a sincere desire to help the leader be successful.

And the Moral of the Story …

In the perspective of all that is actually important in the world, the fact that Hillary Clinton used a private e-mail system when serving as Secretary of State is a proverbial gnat on an elephant’s ass. As it turned out Hillary complied with the letter of the law, but did not have the sensitivity to recognize the spirit of the law. The current situation would never have emerged if someone close to her had been charged with and allowed to ask the question: “What will this look like if the private e-mail system becomes public?” If, at the start, Clinton had openly disclosed the system and allowed the State Department to install systems and procedures to monitor it, there never would have been an issue.

But this is a good lesson not just for the elite and powerful in politics, it’s a good lesson for any leader. The aura of authority and the typical corporate structure creates a “core of power” that by its nature suppresses diversity of ideas, challenge and criticism. The presence and freedom of those who can question and challenge tactics and action may at times be frustrating and an irritant for leaders, but they perform a very important function. As a leader, you may never know how many bad decisions such an open environment will prevent, but it will make all your decisions better.    Send article as PDF   

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How Come the Republicans are So Much More Fun Than the Democrats?

March 8th, 2015 · Politics and Politicians Gone Awry

The difference between a Republican and a Democratic meeting is like the difference between a three-ring circus and a chamber music ensemble performance.

Remember when politics was totally boring? Back then, people were apathetic about politics because there was little perceived difference between Republicans and Democrats. It was like the politicians were speaking in an echo chamber. They put on a good show of arguing and fighting, but the politicos from both sides of “the aisle” ended up all saying and doing the same predictable thing—only louder because their governmental backup teams increased. Despite conservative Ronald Reagan’s famous rant against Democrats for favoring big government when he famously said, “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.” Yeah, sure. During Reagan’s eight years in office, the size of the federal government more than doubled!

Politics back then was like the television commercial you see over and over and over again. The message might be cute and even interesting the first time you see it. But repeated ad nauseum, it becomes an irritant. And in the end, you simply tune it out.

It’s easy to understand why. Politicians invariably would promise change – “change you could believe in” – but nothing buffoonschanged. And the unchanging promises and matching changeless results became a permanent part of the political landscape from which there was only an occasional reprieve. Watching politics was like watching an NBA basketball game: you don’t need to pay attention until the final two minutes of the game. It’s much the same in politics—except you only had to pay attention every two or four years. And then, no matter who won, the results were the same. Is it any wonder that after a while, people just tuned out politicians and politics?

A Brave New World of Politics

That’s not true today—and we can thank our lucky stars for the Republicans who have worked so hard to make politics interesting and entertaining, if not serious and meaningful. By contrast, the Democrats are their same old stodgy, boring selves; welded in lock-step conformity to the same tired story, with little intra-party squabbling. But you can’t say that about the Republicans whose performances would make fertile fodder for a reality sitcom titled, “Dysfunctional Family Run Amuck.”

The result? Republicans have made politics fun again! Sure, the fun might be macabre, like going to an NHL hockey game hoping to see a fight and being treated to a slug-fest among the players on the same team. But thanks to the Republicans rejuvenating interest in politics, the cable news networks can offer 80 percent (in the case of FOX News, 99 percent) of their content on politics, rather than the Kardashians, water-skiing squirrels or mutant pumpkins growing in Mississippi. And because of this politics is no longer only an election-year game.

Let’s Look at the Republican’s Record Winning Scorecard

Last fall the Republicans handily won the election and took control of Congress by chastising President Obama for his failure to pass legislation they had effectively blocked. The Republicans promised the voters that, if they were given full control of Congress, it would be a “new day.” They would use their majority power to show how Republicans can provide real leadership. How has it gone so far?

From the start of the new Congress the Republicans have done little except bicker and battle among themselves. On the first day of business, House Speaker John Boehner – who had led the Party to victory – was almost deposed by a revolt among fellow Boehner_2417210bRepublicans. Talk about giving inmates control of the asylum. Despite a large majority in the House and control of the Senate, the Republicans have exhibited functionally fractured leadership, because they have split up into different tribes that are more interested in fighting among themselves than doing anything positive. The Sunni and Shia in the Middle East have little on the Republicans when it comes to intramural fighting. The activity of the Republicans in Congress may not be constructive, but it certainly is entertaining. Contrast this with the boring sameness of the Democrats. The Democrats in Congress have lost ground in each of the last three elections, and yet there has been little threat to change leadership. Nancy Pelosi the House leader and Harry Reid the Democratic leader in the Senate continue on singing the same song, as if nothing has happened. How boring is that?

The Media in Cahoots with Republicans

Sometimes it’s hard not to suspect that the media is actually paying Republicans to fill a slow news day. Take last Wednesday for example: The Republicans had lost the battle to hold the funding for national security hostage, because they were enraged by President Obama’s executive order on immigration. Prime Minister Netanyahu had made his pilgrimage to Congress to hold hands with the Republicans, but he was gone.

It looked like it was going to be a slow news week, but then, right on cue, would-be Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson (Ben who?) stepped forward early in the morning to create a news cycle for the media. He claimed on CNN that being gay was a “choice.” His scientific evidence for this conclusion was that people go into jail “straight” but come out “gay.”

The next day climate change denier Republican Senator Jim Inhofe brought a snowball he had collected on the steps of the Capital into the Senate chamber and from the podium he threw it at the Democrats. It was the Republican way of scientifically proving that climate warming is a myth.

Folks you can’t make this stuff up! Only the Republicans seem to have this innate ability to constantly make things interesting in politics. Do you think it is some genetic structure that causes them to be this way or is it a choice they make? Perhaps they enter the Republican Party as reasonable and levelheaded thinkers, but later, influenced by others in the Party, they make a conscious choice to be wacko.

Just last week Republican governor and presidential candidate Scott Walker scored a double-bagger first by saying he didn’t Walkerknow if Obama is a Christian and then by comparing the teachers’ union in Wisconsin to the terrorists ISIS. (It is true that the teachers did want to behead Scott, but still?) And just a week before that Rudy Giuliani, hungry for publicity – any publicity – in the Trump mode, accused President Obama of “not loving his country, because he was not raised to think like the rest of us.” (This from a guy who avoided service to the country he loves so much by wrangling two draft-deferments and then cajoling a federal judge to intercede on his behalf with the Draft Board to keep him out of the Army.)

The Republicans have been blessed with a long line of “intriguing” personalities and this has given them a virtual monopoly on making politics interesting. There is the dowager queen of the Republicans Sarah Palin, who proclaimed her expertise in foreign relations, because “she can see Russia from her home.” Michelle Bachmann was such a godsend to making politics interesting there are still web sites that trace her comments; such gems as, “I find it interesting that it was back in the 1970s that the swine flu broke out then under another Democrat president, Jimmy Carter. I’m not blaming this on President Obama I just think it’s an interesting coincidence.” (Just for the record, the 1976 Swine Flu outbreak she was referring to happened when Gerald Ford, a Republican, was president.) Are you keeping score? There’s still more.

Then there was Herman Cain who became a leading presidential candidate in 2012 with his famous “9-9-9” plan. Only later did we learn that 9-9-9 referred to the number of women he had been accused of harassing in the workplace. There was Christine O’Donnell, the former Republican candidate for the Senate in Delaware, who claimed in a campaign ad, “I am not a witch, I am you.” And who could forget the Republican Senate candidate from Missouri who famously claimed, “If it’s a legitimate rape the body has ways to shut the whole thing down.”

And of course, it would be unfair not to include one of the great luminaries of the modern Republican Party on this list – Donald Trump, who other than Mitt Romney is the only person I have ever seen eat pizza with a fork. This entrepreneurial head of such losers as Trump Airlines, Trump Mortgage, and Trump CasiTrumpnos, perennially threatens to throw his hat into the presidential ring. My advice: Keep the hat and put a permanent lid on that mystery hairdo of yours. (What is that thing, anyway? It is a comb-over? A toupee? A transplant?) But at least give Trump credit for being a significant contributor to the Republican effort to keep politics interesting.

And what do the Democrats have to offer to counter all this political excitement generated by the Republicans? Well, by comparison, not much. But there is Vice-President Joe Biden. He certainly has the history and proclivity to make buffoonish comments. At the passage of Obamacare, for example, a microphone picked up him whispereing into Obama’s ear, “This is really a big ‘ffen’ deal.” But the Democrats have pretty much muffled him and we only see occasional pictures of him groping the wives of newly appointed cabinet officers. (In a recent survey 43 percent of the respondents could not name the vice-president, but 84 percent identified Sarah Palin as a Republican leader.)

Of course the Democrats do have Hillary Clinton. But how can anyone, even in their wildest imagination, claim that she makes politics fresh and exciting? Talk about a repeating commercial that gets old and irritating. Clearly Hillary is the face of the Democratic Party; boring same ol’ same ol’ stuff, emails and Whitewater notwithstanding.

No, the Republicans deserve and get all the credit for making politics interesting. Without a doubt, politics would be totally boring if it were not for the Republicans. Their antics are a political train wreck that entertains in an infinite loop; you simply can’t help but pull up a chair and want to watch. Even though it is a little like watching reruns of  the”Family Feud” or the “Gong Show.”    Send article as PDF   

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