Brad Rourke's Blog

Building a Different Kind of Political Candidate

January 25, 2014 · Leave a Comment

I’m in the middle of doing one of my favorite activities, something I’ve been involved in since the late 1990’s. It’s the Candidate Training Program, run by the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia.

1533885_10152639661618438_164317675_nI was a part of the design team for this program and have been involved in different ways every since. It’s a multipartisan group (D, R, I) of people who are running for their first political office. Over the course of four days, some of the top political consultants in Virginia share the nuts and bolts of running campaigns from the standpoint of planning, direct mail, fundraising, media relations, crisis management, and more. It’s top-drawer advice and is very effective: roughly a third of alumni have gone on to win races, an astronomical statistic considering that most first time candidates lose.

Here’s what makes the program different from other candidate training programs, though: It is built around ethical decision making. The design of the program is meant to elicit thoughtful reflection by the candidates on what they feel their relationship with the public ought to be. We open with an in-depth discussion of ethical decision-making principles, and then check in repeatedly throughout the weekend to unpack what the experts are saying, relating it to the kinds of relationships the candidates are trying to foster.

Over the years, I’ve written a number of blog posts from and about these sessions. Some of the notable ones are:

  1. Resistance” — things I’ve noticed candidates just don’t want to do . . . but must.
  2. Oh, D.E.A.R.” — Tips on campaign crisis management from a real pro.
  3. Free Advice For Candidates” — Just a compendium of tips I’ve heard the experts tell first-time candidates over the years.
  4. On The Lam” — A scenario for discussion that I developed and distribute, based loosely on true events. 
  5. All The News That Fits” — Another ethics scenario, again based on true events.

 

→ Leave a CommentCategories: ethics · leadership · politics

I Don’t Mind If You Shop On Thanksgiving Day

November 26, 2013 · 1 Comment

Our national, annual tradition has begun. The leaves have turned, in some parts of the country snow is falling, autumn and cooler temperatures have settled in and taken hold. Something we call the “holiday season” has arrived – a series of festivals with interesting harvest-based and pagan roots but which we have collectively imbued with other spiritual meaning. Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s – the end-of-year hat trick.

And the tradition? It’s the handwringing and backlash against those who seek to “distort” the “true meaning” of these holidays. Many will decry the massive partying of New Year’s, the removal of Christ from Christmas, and the removal of thanks from Thanksgiving.

The current example, since it’s November, is the handwringing over the encroachment of commercialism into Thanksgiving. Every year the “Black Friday” sales begin earlier and earlier. More recently, Black Friday sales have given over to Thanksgiving Day sales in stores – retailers used to take a break on turkey day but earnings pressures and consumer desires have conspired with the result that some now shop on Thanksgiving Day.

"Thanksgiving At The Trolls" by martha_chapa95 (flickr)

“Thanksgiving At The Trolls” by martha_chapa95 (flickr)

This has created an anticonsumerist backlash, with people promoting (ironically, mainly through social media which is supported through ad revenues) “buy nothing” days.

I sympathize with the sense that our consumer culture has gone off the rails, and cutting back is a good idea. But to claim that Thanksgiving is somehow a sacrosanct holiday is incorrect and actually disregards the history of the celebration.

Thanks For Bounty

Since the founding of the colonies, various (in fact, many) “thanksgiving feasts” have been held. Our archetypal such feast occurred at Plymouth Plantation and the story goes that after some lean times the colonists, with the help of the friendly natives, finally caught a break and had enough to eat. So they “gave thanks.” (At least that’s how they taught it to me at Will Rogers Elementary School.)

In fact, this “original Thanksgiving” was a three-day feast that was meant to celebrate a bumper crop. It was a party specifically built around consumption. And throughout the early days of our nation, various officials declared “thanksgivings” with frequency – almost always in celebration of something awesome happening. George Washington, for instance, declared a “day of thanksgiving” in 1789 to commemorate the “opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government.” Abraham Lincoln, in 1863, declared the final Thursday of November that year to be a national day of Thanksgiving in recognition of all that had gone well even in the midst of a catastrophic civil war which had “not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship.”

The message was not “thank the Lord for what you have,” but it was “thank Providence for this awesome bounty.” A subtle but meaningful difference.

Enter Commerce

The “holiday” finally began to be codified in 1939. For some time it had traditionally been held on the last Thursday in November. (Prior to that it had been ad hoc.) Still in the midst of the Great Depression, president Franklin D. Roosevelt declared that Thanksgiving in 1939 would be held on the fourth Thursday of November. His intention was to extend the Christmas retail season so merchants would have one more week to achieve profitability. In fact, this idea was suggested to him by the owner of the firm that would become Macy’s.

There was, of course, controversy over this move, as a tradition had grown that Thanksgiving ought to be the last Thursday of November. This backlash was driven not so much by anticonsumerist sentiment but by sports: By this time, there were many traditional sports rivalries that played out on that last Thursday, and it was inconvenient for teams to change their schedules around. There was also a partisan angle: Republicans opposed Roosevelt’s move and called the holiday “Franksgiving.” But Roosevelt stuck to his guns, and declared the next-to-last Thursday Thanksgiving.

In 1941, Congress declared the fourth Thursday to be Thanksgiving Day (this split the difference between the last-Thursday folks and the next-to-last Thursday folks, as the fourth Thursday is sometimes the last Thursday in November and sometimes the next-to-last). On December 26, 1941, Roosevelt signed the bill and for the first time the date of Thanksgiving became a matter of national law.

I don’t plan on going to the mall on Thanksgiving Day. Nor do I plan to go out on Black Friday. But not because I hold these days as sacrosanct commerce-free zones – it’s because I don’t much like crowds, to be honest.

I will give thanks this week: Thanks for the health of my family, thanks for all that has been given me, thanks that we will be together. And I will think with compassion about how it all could have gone another way for me. That’s a sentiment we might do well to hold every day.

I don’t, however, plan on covering myself in sackcloth and ashes. Our Thanksgiving tradition is specifically rooted in consumption. I’m not going to overdo it, but at the same time I’m not going to pretend that Thanksgiving is meant to be a day of abstention. It’s a feast.

(Photo: martha_chapa95 / Flickr)

→ 1 CommentCategories: culture

Movie Marketing and the Tragedy of the Commons

November 1, 2013 · Leave a Comment

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In Praise Of Effort Over Time

September 17, 2013 · Leave a Comment

A dozen years ago, I was completing my stint leading a national election-ethics project, encouraging candidates to negotiate, sign, and abide by “clean campaign” pledges. It was, as you might imagine, an uphill battle. I was excited when a group in Toledo, Ohio, picked up the idea on their own and pressed for the 2001 mayoral race — which was getting quite brutal in the context of the times — to adopt such a pledge.

For the weekly newsletter of my organization, the Institute for Global Ethics, I penned a piece titled Toledo, Cradle of Civility, which began:

Great civic movements start in the unlikeliest of places — the front section of the Montgomery bus from which Rosa Parks refused to move, the Sacramento steak house where Mothers Against Drunk Driving first met, Sproul Plaza at UC Berkeley where Mario Savio’s filibuster began the Free Speech Movement. To these history may one day allow us to add another: the restaurant in Toledo, Ohio, where a group of citizens met one night last August to discuss what they could do to demand a better quality of political campaign.

After a particularly tense debate between the mayoral candidates, the local daily newspaper, the Toledo Blade, had called on the front-runners (Lucas County treasurer Ray Kest and state representative Jack Ford) to sign a code of conduct to help keep the campaign out of the mud. To the surprise of many observers, they agreed. Brought together by the Toledo League of Women Voters, a group of citizens came together at Mountain Jack’s restaurant on the outskirts of town for the first of many meetings devoted to monitoring the code. Thus was born the Lucas County Citizens Clean Campaign Committee.

It was an effort that succeeded where many thought it would fail. By the end of the campaign, the talk radio hosts who had derided the committee were quoting it, and the Blade would only cover accusations of negative campaigning if the committee had already weighed in.

Since that time, the nascent, local effort has had its ups and downs. The Lucas County Citizens Clean Campaign Committee disbanded in 2004 under the weight of little public notice and other political interests its members wanted to pursue. Campaigns continued to increase in intensity and nastiness. But the Toledo Blade continued the effort after a fashion, calling on every mayoral candidate since then to adopt the pledge, and then holding them to its standards.

So I was delighted when I saw this week’s Blade editorial, calling on the current candidates for mayor to agree to and abide by a pledge:

Screenshot

Click to go to article

As we have done during every Toledo mayoral campaign since 2001, The Blade is publicly challenging the general-election candidates to sign the Clean Campaign Pledge developed by the Institute of Global Ethics, a Maine-based nonpartisan group that promotes ethical behavior and integrity in public and private life.

The voluntary pledge appears on this page. Its language hasn’t changed since the institute composed it 15 years ago, but political campaigns at all levels surely have. They’ve gotten nastier, dirtier, less transparent, more polarized, and much more awash in money for go-for-the jugular TV ads.

Negative campaigning often does more to alienate voters than to educate them. And as the shameful 15-percent turnout for last week’s Toledo primary makes clear, we can’t afford to turn off any more voters.

That’s why this year’s campaign between Mayor Mike Bell and his challenger, City Councilman D. Michael Collins, needs to be civil and respectful — of the candidates as well as of voters’ intelligence. The contenders must focus on issues and ideas, rather than personal insults and toxic attacks.

. . .

In its coverage of this year’s campaign, The Blade will continue to fact-check what the candidates say, whether or not they sign the pledge. If we see bad behavior, we’ll call the candidates on it.

In past campaigns, independent citizens’ groups reviewed candidates’ compliance with the pledge they had signed, and investigated and publicized charges of violations. It would be great if similar watchdogs emerged in the remaining weeks of this campaign, but it’s getting late.

Kudos to The Blade for keeping this effort going. Culture change can be a thankless business and it takes time.

Thank you for my friend and colleague Paula Mirk for passing on the news.

 

 

→ Leave a CommentCategories: ethics · politics

Means And Ends

September 14, 2013 · Leave a Comment

Today, and for the past few months, I have been thinking a great deal about moral philosophy. I’ve observed my own convictions becoming unsteady, so I wanted to spend time considering — and articulating — what I fundamentally believe. What is the basis of right action? How do I define right action in my own case? How ought I comport myself?

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)

These thoughts bring me back to my old friend, the philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). His thinking revolutionized our approach to reason and morality. Kant’s thinking outlined a deontological ethics — meaning an ethics based on duty. An act is right not due to their particular consequences, but due to the motives of the actor.

The Categorical Imperative

Kant articulated what he termed a categorical imperative — that is, an overarching duty from which all other moral duties flow. In his 1785 Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, he formulates it in various ways. The first two are of most interest to me:

  1. Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law without contradiction.
  2. Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.

If there is a standard of behavior that I try to aspire to, it is encompassed in the second formulation above: Act as if people are ends in themselves, not simply means.

In the modern world, this often shows up as treating others — especially strangers — with dignity. Look the homeless person in the eye and greet them. Thank the server at the food truck. Make eye contact with other drivers and apologize when you cut them off.

When you consider what it really means to treat others as ends in themselves, it can become daunting. It means giving those around us the freedom to make decisions. It involves trusting others even when risky.

I see the categorical imperative as something to strive for, something ideal to try to order my life around. I know I frequently fall short. But I try.

→ Leave a CommentCategories: ethics

New Issue Guide From National Issues Forums: What Should Go On The Internet?

August 27, 2013 · Leave a Comment

I’m delighted to announce that the latest issue guide from the National Issues Forums is now available. “What Should Go on the Internet? Privacy, Freedom, and Security Online” is freshly updated for 2013 and includes new data as well as stories to illustrate key points. (Order.)

An excerpt from the introduction:

NIF_Internet_2013.cover

(Click to enlarge)

The same Internet that has given us new ways to socialize, learn, and engage in civic life has also given criminals new avenues to steal from us and scam us, often using information gleaned from public government documents now posted online….And because no one’s in charge, there’s no single authority we can call to complain.

When does our personal information become public? What data collection is acceptable? Should there be limits on what we can do online? It’s time to find a way to balance our needs to safeguard privacy, preserve free speech, and ensure security for all our citizens, young and old.

It’s time to answer the question: What should go on the Internet?

This 12-page issue guide presents three options to consider:

Option One: Protect Individual Privacy

Privacy is a fundamental American value. But the Internet has obliterated the line between public and private, forcing Americans to live in a virtual fishbowl. Our top priority must be to safeguard personal information on the Internet.

Option Two: Promote Freedom of Speech and Commerce

The Internet is a revolutionary leap forward for democratic societies and free markets. Direct or indirect censorship by concerned citizens, special interests, or government could stifle this great resource.

Option Three: Secure Us from Online Threats

The Internet is a Wild West of criminal activity that threatens our personal safety, our economic vitality, and our national security. Our top priority must be protecting our children and ourselves.

Click here to order these issue materials.

 

→ Leave a CommentCategories: internet · issue guides · kettering

Having Difficulty With Transitions

August 21, 2013 · 1 Comment

Today, in just a few hours, we are taking my daughter to college. My emotions have been on edge and I can barely get anything done. I’m so very proud and excited for her – and selfishly dreading how much I will miss her. In my interactions with people, these past few days, the most charitable thing that could be said would be that I have not been at my best.

20130821-110428.jpg

When my kids were toddlers, just beginning day care and preschool, the caregivers used to tell us that we needed to be gentle when it came to “transitions” – from home to school, from classroom to car, from playdate to reading corner. I remember thinking this sounded a little new-agey to me, the kind of pseudoscientific jargon that did no one any good.

Now, examining my own emotions and behaviors around this transition, I get it. I can adapt to anything, and I know I will adapt to this new chapter of my daughter’s life. I want to get going, so I can begin to adapt. As I wait, and the transition unfolds, I am forced to feel all sorts of feelings. There is literally nothing to be done, except get through it.

I have a new sympathy for my toddler children, lo these many years ago: they found transitions difficult.

Me too.

→ 1 CommentCategories: daily life · family

I’m Full Time at The Kettering Foundation

January 28, 2013 · 16 Comments

I’m delighted to report that, as of February 1, 2013 I’ll be a full-time staff member of the Kettering Foundation, a research foundation that studies democracy. I have had a relationship with the Foundation since 1998, and have been an Associate of theirs since 2005.

As a consequence of this, I am shutting down my firm, The Mannakee Circle Group. I’ve had wonderful clients over these years since 2003 when I struck out on my own – not only including Kettering but United Way Worldwide, The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, the Case Foundation, the Omidyar Network, Everyday Democracy, the Northwest Area Foundation, the Darden School of Business and the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership both at the University of Virginia, and more.

It’s with glad heart yet with a certain amount of wistfulness that I say “farewell” to these close friends.

I will remain an active participant in the dialogue and deliberation community, and I look forward to continuing my relationships with individuals and organizations throughout this field.

Here’s the bio that they are posting at their site (won’t be live until 2/1), which gives a sense of my duties:

Photo by Melinda Gilmore

Photo by Melinda Gilmore

Brad Rourke is a program officer at the Kettering Foundation. His work includes studies of naming and framing issues in public terms and how people make decisions and work together on shared challenges in communities. Rourke is executive editor of the National Issues Forums issue books as well as other issue books produced for public deliberation.

Rourke has written and cowritten a number of articles and op-ed pieces, appearing in print publications such as The Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, Foundation News and Commentary, Campaigns & Elections, and the Cleveland Plain Dealer. He contributed a chapter on the ethics of citizenship to Shades of Gray (Brookings Institution, 2002). He has spoken at the National Press Club, the Brookings Institution, and the Chautauqua Institution. He is listed in Who’s Who in America.

Rourke has been a Kettering Associate since 2005. Prior to joining the foundation, Rourke was president of the Mannakee Circle Group, a public issues firm with clients from a cross section of the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors. He was founder and publisher of Rockville Central, a hyperlocal news source he began in June 2007 that became the second most-read local blog in Maryland. He helped design and regularly participated as a lecturer in the bipartisan candidate training program of the University of Virginia’s Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership. Rourke was senior project manager and then director of external initiatives at The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation and vice president for public policy at the Institute for Global Ethics. He has served on the staffs of then-controller of California Gray Davis and Congresswoman Jane Harman and as deputy California campaign manager for the National Health Care Campaign.

Rourke received his BA in comparative literature from UC Berkeley.

→ 16 CommentsCategories: kettering · portfolio

How I Make ‘Bulletproof Coffee’

December 23, 2012 · 5 Comments

As many of my friends know, for some years now I have eliminated almost all grains from my life. Save for the occasional cheat, I do not eat wheat or any other grain. I try to avoid added sugar and anything processed. My diet consists of meat (especially grass fed beef and bacon), green vegetables (broccoli, kale, spinach), and nuts (almonds). For treats I eat dried fruit like raisins, cranberries, and dates — but I am trying to reduce those.

The result of this way of eating is that your body ceases running primarily on sugar (which the body derives from carbohydrates like wheat) and instead runs on fats. It is important, therefore, to get enough healthy fats.

One way to do this is to eat a lot of grass fed butter. (Cows that are grass fed create food that is good for you and has a healthy balance of things like Omega 3 fats, etc.). David Asprey, who founded the Bulletproof Executive, has developed a great way to have a cup of morning coffee and get lots of the good stuff.

My trainer, Grant Hill, recently turned me on to Asprey’s “Bulletproof Coffee.” I am now a convert. A cup of this will charge up your morning and power you into lunchtime easy. It sounds insane, but it is quite tasty (like a latte) and way easy to make.

I could not find a good tutorial (i.e., one with step by step photos for the simpleminded like me) on how to make Bulletproof Coffee, so I thought I would post one here.

Enjoy.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 500 ml of GOOD coffee. Organic is best.
  • up to 80g of grass fed butter, unsalted. Kerrygold, at Trader Joe’s, is good. [UPDATE: Not salted, not grain fed.]
  • 1TB give or take of coconut oil (optional).

First, brew the coffee.

The kettle's on

The kettle’s on

Melitta is still the best way to get awesome coffee

Melitta is still the best way to get awesome coffee

Pour the brewed coffee into a blender.

Then get your butter and coconut oil ready:

Kerrygold unsalted butter, use about 2TBs. Coconut oil not pictured.

Kerrygold unsalted butter, use about 2TBs. Coconut oil not pictured.

Toss it all into the blender with the coffee.

Now . . . blend for about 20 seconds:

Blend for 20 seconds, until frothy.

Blend for 20 seconds, until frothy.

It will look like this when at rest:

The froth.

The froth.

Enjoy!

Yum! Tastes like a latte. Add stevia for sweetness if desired.

Yum! Tastes like a latte. Add stevia for sweetness if desired.

Let me know if you try it.

→ 5 CommentsCategories: cooking · daily life · fitness · lifestyle

This Space Is Mine

December 21, 2012 · Leave a Comment

The recent Instagram terms of service controversy has got me thinking.

Instagram Explained – via xkcd

It seems that, inexorably, we have been drawn to social media in deeper and deeper ways over the past three years or so. 2010 was the year Facebook took off and it is now the center of gravity for mainstream social media. Twitter is the second (and, for many, the true center of gravity). Other sharing services — LinkedIn, Instagram, Foursquare, Path, Google+,  and more — are not just for tech people but are part of the mainstream.

Our lives, for many of us, have an embedded component of online sharing that simply did not exist a few years ago.

Organizing Your Institution To Engage Through Social Media

Organizing Your Institution To Engage Through Social Media

All along, when leaders of organizations asked me for advice about how they should handle their interactions with social media, I have given the same advice: Establish a blog and have that be your home base. Share from there. Don’t post directly to Facebook, Twitter, etc., but instead make sure you post an article on your blog and share that. This gives you ultimate control of all content.

Good advice, and I think it is still valid.

However, like many people, I know that I have slipped more and more from that ideal as living completely within the Facebook and (to a lesser extent) Twitter ecosystems becomes easier and easier. I now post lengthy commentaries as “notes” in Facebook whereas I might earlier have written them up as posts at my blog. I post photos directly to Instagram instead of on my Picture Of The Day blog.

Instagram recently reminded the social media world of one small truth: they own their own networks. (For those who don’t know, Instagram established new terms of service that included advertising potentially using user photos; the backlash caused them to back down.) As a heavy user of social services, this does not bother me — I know it and am fine with it. However, in reviewing my own behavior, I note that I have ignored its ramifications more and more. Lots of my content is now not under my control.

So, as the year ends and a new one begins, this is an opportune time to take my own advice and post more to my blog, and then share from there. That way, if the long-feared “now you have to pay for Facebook!” event comes to pass — or, more likely, it becomes irrelevant like MySpace in some years as something new supplants it — I will be prepared.

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