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“The Sunday Political Brunch” -- August 17, 2004

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(Providence, Rhode Island) – As with many states, we are getting close to the primary election here. There is a flurry of last-minute campaign ads – many of them negative – and, as always, lots of endorsements. The big question to “brunch” on this week is, "Do endorsements really matter?" The answer is: "It depends!"

“The Kennedy Name” – Former Congressman Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) came back to the Ocean State this week to endorse Angel Taveras for Governor; Seth Magaziner for General Treasurer (photo above); and, Guillaume de Ramel for Secretary of State. All three candidates are in highly-contested primaries. Obviously these aren’t household names to my readers outside of New England; and, even inside New England, only Taveras (the current Mayor of Providence) is well-known. Look, a Kennedy endorsement can help (especially among fellow Democrats), but a lot of people don’t like the Kennedy clan; so in the general election, it could cut the other way. Forty percent of Rhode Island voters are Democrats; only 10 percent are Republicans; but, 50 percent are Independents who go their own way.

“When Real News Breaks” – The downside of political endorsements occurs when real news breaks. Sadly, this week the world lost one of its great entertainers when Robin Williams committed suicide after decades of struggle with substance abuse and depression. So, while former Congressman Kennedy was out trying to back his favorite candidates, his own struggles with substance abuse and depression came back to the forefront. Kennedy is now one of the nation’s foremost advocates for treatment of those issues. Most reporters were far more inquisitive about that than about whom Kennedy was backing for any office. His endorsements were almost completely overshadowed.

“Pensacola Press” – The one thing I’ve learned over the years is that media endorsements don’t mean a hill of beans. Sorry to break the news to my own industry, but the public really resents your trying to sway the outcome of races that you purport to try to cover objectively. "Don’t take sides" means "Don’t take sides!"

I can’t remember the year (It was sometime between 1988 and 1992, when I was a reporter in Pensacola, Florida), but I think only one candidate - out of many - who was endorsed by the "Pensacola News-Journal" actually won. I mean the newspaper’s endorsements were like a curse of death. Just about everyone who got one lost!

“Boots on the Ground” – I always tell my students and my broadcast audience, “You need the four M’s to win in politics! Those four M’s are money, manpower, message, and media buzz!” If an endorsement just gives you a one-day photo op, it’s a flop! But if your endorsement brings campaign contributions, volunteers, media coverage, and an issue statement that rings true with lots of voters, then you are golden. For example, union endorsements can mean a lot, but only if members actually campaign door-to-door for you and take voters to the polls on Election Day. That’s in addition to members giving you money. Any group – union, or otherwise – that can give you actual ground troops is gold. Otherwise, an endorsement is just dust in the wind!

“Media Matters?” – In the 2000 Presidential Election, 116 newspapers and magazines endorsed Al Gore, compared to 179 for George W. Bush. Bush won the Electoral College (but not the popular vote) and became President. In 2004, Democratic nominee John Kerry won 208 newspaper endorsements, versus 190 for George W. Bush. Bush still won reelection. There’s no precise science to it, but the number of times the American public seemingly contradicts the supposedly liberal-leaning media recommendation is noteworthy. In the ten Presidential elections from 1972 to 2008, the winner of most media endorsements won seven of the ten races. It’s interesting to note that in five of those seven winning races, the majority of the media endorsed the winning Republican candidate.

“Celebrity Politics” – The honest-to-God truth about this is that political candidates – from dog catcher to President – have to win their races on their own. I point-blank asked former Congressman Kennedy about that this week. “What do you hope the Kennedy name brings to these three races?” I asked the retired Congressman.

"Listen, if it gives them a little bit more attention to their campaigns.... [but] it's really their message that the voters have to vote on," he responded, and that’s pretty honest. All politics is local, so even the famous Kennedy name does not guarantee a win.

Rhode Island College Political Communication Professor Kay Israel put it another way: "The fact is, the significance of the endorser can make a difference, but you've got to be Oprah Winfrey to have that much of an impact." In short, even Patrick Kennedy is not Oprah Winfrey!

“Ten-Foot Poll Award” – Here’s the unvarnished truth. In 1998, many Democratic Congressional candidates sent back-channel messages to the White House saying they did not want President Clinton endorsing or campaigning for them amidst his own impeachment scandal. In 2006, similar messages were sent to President George W. Bush in the aftermath of the Iraq War and after the Hurricane Katrina response. Sometimes political endorsements bring a simple, “No thank you!”

How much does a political endorsement sway your decision over whom to vote? Let us know by clicking the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

© 2014, MarkCurtisMedia, LLC.

Photo credit: Mark Curtis, ABC6 News

“The Sunday Political Brunch” -- August 10, 2014

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(Providence, Rhode Island) – The big news this week was President Obama's ordering air strikes on ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) rebels and their positions in Iraq. The President, who had strongly opposed the war in Iraq and had ended it, was suddenly in a position of having to do something he did not want to do. It’s not the first time he and other Presidents have been reluctantly forced into action. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“Continuity of U.S. Foreign Policy” – Sometimes a Presidential action is strongly shaped (if not dictated) by what a previous Commander in Chief has done. With his actions, President Obama becomes the fourth consecutive U.S. leader to take military action in Iraq. Why? Well, ISIS is trying to undo previous American actions. It’s trying to topple the Iraqi government which we as a nation helped to create. For it to fall into a completely Islamic state, targeting our best interests or becoming a base for terrorists, is not something any U.S President (even one who opposed the war) can allow to happen.

“Déjà vu All Over Again” – Iraq is not the first time that President Obama has had to change course from a previous policy stance. In 2008, when he ran for President, he advocated closing the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Six years later, the prison camp is still open for business. Why? It’s one thing to campaign for President; it’s quite another to actually have the job. I am sure some of his first national security briefings were real jaw-droppers. He probably got a more accurate picture of how bad these prisoners were, and a more realistic impression of how much of a threat or target they would create if actually moved to U.S. soil.

“Khalid Sheikh Mohammed” – Speaking of Guantanamo Bay, its most infamous prisoner will actually be put on trial there. Originally, the Obama administration wanted him prosecuted in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan – the site of the 9/11 attacks which he led. Ultimately, the White House reversed course, and he will be tried by a military tribunal at Guantanamo. That was a procedure set up previously by the Bush II administration. The main concern was likely the fear that holding a trial on U.S. soil would make that trial a target for other terrorist attacks.

“On the Border” – Certainly one of the biggest stories over the past month has been the plight of tens of thousands of foreign children being illegally dropped at the U.S. Southern border. While many Americans have called for their immediate deportation, in many cases it isn’t that simple. Children claiming refugee status or political asylum are guaranteed legal representation and deportation hearings. Some of the provisions for those delays were not put in place by President Obama, but rather by his predecessor, George W. Bush. So, it’s not as simple as a liberal versus conservative issue. It’s another case where a sitting President’s policy is shaped in part by the policy of a previous President.

“The Marshall Plan” – Sometimes though, a sitting President will make a sharp change from previous policy; and it will affect many Presidents to come. Such was the case with the Marshall Plan, conceived at the end of World War II. It’s interesting to note that the Marshall Plan was a bipartisan effort by Democratic President Harry Truman and the Republican-led Congress. The goal was to rebuild Europe after World War II. Many believed that when the allies left the region devastated physically and economically after World War I, it helped create the simmering resentment against the West that allowed Hitler to amass so much support and power. The U.S. vowed never to let that happen again. This is why later Presidents spent so much time and money rebuilding places such as Iraq and Afghanistan, and bringing economic trade with Japan and Vietnam. In diplomatic terms, the U.S. policy was to make friends with a former enemy. To a large measure, that policy has paid dividends over the years.

“Why All of This Matters” – The point of today’s column is to explain the often seeming contradictions of any President’s foreign policy. Yes, he said one thing on the campaign trail and did something different once in office. Decisions are not made in a vacuum. As we’ve seen, contemporary decisions are often shaped by what was done in the past, regardless of who sits in the Oval Office. There is an attempt to have continuity and consistency in U.S. foreign policy, without major lurches to the right or left. That’s not to say major changes don’t happen, but changes are most often incremental over time.

What are your thoughts? What further actions do you think the U.S. should take in Iraq? Just let us know by clicking the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

© 2014, MarkCurtisMedia, LLC.

Photo courtesy: ABC News

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