The First Rule…
The Roman Catholic Church has violated the first rule of addressing a crisis – again.
That old and true rule: when you find yourself in a hole – quit digging.
I say this with love for my Church, but with a profound sadness about the inability of its leadership to understand how badly – and repeatedly – the now world wide sexual abuse scandal has hurt. Not to mention how inappropriate has been the response of Church leaders to a crisis that seems to grow more serious by the hour.
First, a long line of American Catholic Bishops failed to address the issues of abuse by priests dating back, in some cases, for decades. When the lawsuits began to unravel the cover ups and the media attention increased, the church took precisely the wrong stand. It circled the Catholic wagons, stonewalled, avoided responsibility and blamed the media. Eventually some Church leaders saw the light and realized their first duty was to the victims and not the institution, but in the interval much lasting damage was done.
Now the whole, awful pattern seems to be playing out again in Ireland and Germany and beyond. The Pope’s handling of the mess, and his handlers handling of the mess, prompted a well-known parish priest in Idaho, who is also a canon lawyer, to go public with a call for Pope Benedict to resign. Father Tom Faucher in Boise suggested in an Op-Ed in the Idaho Statesman that some of the problem is generational. Benedict is 82. But, there is nothing generational about failing to aggressively, sensitively and completely address this cancer on the Church. We’re talking about the safety and well being of children, after all. Even a bunch of old men must know the importance of doing that.
The real first rule of crisis communication – whether its a clergy abuse scandal or a Tylenol recall – is to simply, humbly and honest do the right thing. There is no substitute.
As USA Today noted in a recent editorial: time and again in the recent past the Church has faced a choice to protect children or protect the Church. The choice has been to protect the institution. Doing the right thing begins with admitting the obvious. This is a crisis of leadership, a failure of fundamental decency, an abdication of candor and responsibility. None of it will be fixed by blaming the New York Times or equating criticism of the Pope with the horrors of the Holocaust.
There must be a collection of Cardinals holed up deep in the inner sanctums of the Vatican who see this is just another PR problem. If only we shift the blame, they must be thinking, and spin the issue to make it about anti-Catholic sentiment all this will fade away. Nope.
The pithy, often very wise, cradle Catholic Maureen Dowd, writing in the New York Times, said what I suspect many Catholics feel: this year the Church gave up its credibility for Lent. Sounds about right.
We know how this is going to end and it will not end well. Every great crisis of responsibility and accountability has an arc, a trajectory. The crisis of confidence and leadership will continue to get worse. Responsibility will be assigned. It is only a question of how long it takes and how much more damage is done while we wait.
In the meantime, it will be said time and again that the Catholic Church has survived scandal and worse for 3,000 years. But, these times are different. This is the age of Facebook and Twitter and the 24 hour news cycle. Judgments are faster and last longer and the impacts are world wide. The only way to spin this crisis is to confront it and accept responsibility. The sooner the better.
Someone in a high position – the highest position – must say, as that patron saint of lawyers Sir Thomas More did upon the scaffold, that one can be the servant of an institution, but first one must be the servant of God.
As Maureen Dowd notes in her column today, Catholics live and believe on faith. “How can we maintain that faith, she asks, “when our leaders are unworthy of it?”
Catholics around the world wait for their leaders to do the right thing.
The First Rule…
How Good Is the Data…
The image of the just re-elected Harry Truman holding the front page of the Chicago Tribune is one of the most recognizable photos and one of the most spectacularly inaccurate headlines in American political history.
All the respected pollsters of the day – it was 1948 – got the outcome of that election wrong. Most had quit polling a week before the election certain that New York Gov. Thomas E. Dewey had a lock on the White House. It turned out to be an historic mistake that the Truman-hating Tribune was all too eager to believe as the early results trickled in on election night. Truman, of course, staged what it now considered one of the biggest comebacks in political history, likely turning the tide in the last few days of his feisty campaign.
Polling has come a long, long way since Truman’s day and even farther since the Literary Digest famously predicted Alfred Landon beating Franklin Roosevelt in 1936. In that case, the Digest relied for its self selecting sample on folks with a telephone or an automobile registration. Many Americans didn’t have either in 1936.
Yesterday I offered up some observations on the state of the current Otter – Allred race for Idaho governor that were prompted by a recent Rasmussen poll. Rasmussen’s Idaho research – he bills himself as a strictly independent pollster – was one of two or three polls on various political races that he releases every week.
In a nutshell: Otter appears to have a comfortable lead and Allred is still introducing himself as a first-time candidate unknown to most Idahoans. In my view, Allred may also come to regret missing a strategic opportunity during the legislative session to cast himself as the anti-Otter. While the press and many in the public, including education supporters, human rights activists, park users and those who think texting while operating a motor vehicle is a bad idea, were focused on the daily actions of the legislature and the governor, Allred hardly got up on the stage to offer a counterpoint. We’ll see if that turns out to have been a big mistake or not.
The Rasmussen poll shows Otter up 60-28.
How Good Is Rasmussen’s Research?
That is a good question regarding Rasmussen’s poll, or for that matter any poll that finds its way into the public arena. Just how good is the data?
The first thing to say about Scott Rasmussen is that he nailed the 2004 and 2008 presidential races and has a respectable record in state level contests.
Left-leaning bloggers don’t like him and accuse him of partisanship. The respected polling analyst Nate Silver noted in January that Rasmussen’s numbers “tend to be more favorable to Republican candidates and causes than most other polling outfits.” Silver is quick not to accuse Rasmussen of bias. It could be, he says, an issue with the methodology of Rasmussen surveys; he screens for “likely voters” when other pollsters don’t and Rasmussen uses automated data collection techniques that some folks question. And Silver notes, Rasmussen, who did polling work for Republicans and George W. Bush in 2003 and ’04, could be right on with his numbers even as some question his methods.
In any event, Silver’s analysis of Rasmussen’s work and methodology is worth reading, as is a piece by Mark Blumenthal in the National Journal who asks and tries to answer the question of when a poll is “partisan.” The conclusion: it is getting harder and harder to tell.
Thoughts to keep in mind as you read about polls
- Most reporting on surveys is less than adequate. Even the big news organizations like the Washington Post and CNN never seem to provide enough context as to how the survey was conducted and what was going on that might influence the results. Idaho reporters are at an even greater disadvantage in reporting on polls since they are often writing about something for which they have no first hand knowledge. An Idaho reporter gets what looks like interesting information from a Rasmussen – or soon you can bet from a more Democratic-leaning pollster – and about all they do is report the findings and add the comments from the opposing camps. When it comes to polls we need more context. We need explanation of how the surveys were conducted. What and how many questions were asked? We need more detail. We need more reporting.
- The real value in polls is contained in the “internals.” We all love the horse race question: “if the election were held today”…and those results typically get the headlines. The really valuable strategic information is always buried deeper in a good survey. How are the demographics of age, religion and gender sliced? Do Idahoans feel the state is heading in the right direction? What issues make one candidate or the other vulnerable? The horse race is fun and it tells us something, but it is far from the complete picture. I’d love to see such a survey, but that information is going to be held very close to the vest by both campaigns and pollsters like Rasmussen don’t do that kind of sampling, at least not that they make public.
- Idaho news organizations would do all political junkies and the election process a real favor if they were to develop their own research capabilities. Good research costs money, but perhaps a collection of news organizations could pool the resources – The New York Times/CBS News model – and provide the context and “internals” that would provide real value to voters and policy makers.
Lessons From Distant Campaigns
I have been deeply involved in two statewide races for governor – 1986 and 1990 – and have watched every race since from the back row. One of the surprising findings from our research in 1986 – Cecil Andrus was mounting his comeback that year after having been off an Idaho ballot for a dozen years – was that fully a third of the probable voters didn’t know the former governor and Secretary of the Interior from a bale of hay. He just didn’t register with those voters who had come of voting age or moved to the state since he had been governor in the 1970’s. In other words, the candidate needed to be introduced to these voters.
The lesson: most candidates underestimate the level of public understanding of who they are and what they stand for. This is a particular problem for first time candidates and it often proves fatal.
[A footnote: Andrus relied on Jimmy Carter’s controversial and outspoken pollster Pat Caddell for research in 1986 with mixed results. Doug Schoen, who polled for Bill Clinton, did the job splendidly in 1990. In the small world category, Scott Rasmussen touts endorsements from both Caddell and Schoen on his website. Both Caddell and Schoen often provide contrarian views at odds with national Democratic talking points and both provide commentary for FOX News. Each pollster has predicted massive Democratic loses at the polls this fall as a result of health care legislation.]
Another polling lesson for me comes from 1992 when four-term Democratic Rep. Richard Stallings, who represented southern and eastern Idaho, ran for the United States Senate, I’m going to bet Stallings’ name ID north of the Salmon River never got above 60%. I can’t prove that notion, but the election outcome demonstrated that Stallings was not able to connect with voters in that region of the state. For a guy from Rexburg, the territory north of Riggins might as well have been in another state.
The lesson: being well known in Boise doesn’t mean much in St. Anthony or Sandpoint. Statewide name recognition is a long, hard and expensive slog. You earn it with time or with money or both. It is but the absolutely first step to a successful political campaign. There is an old, old fomulation in politics that holds that every candidate must travel a cycle. First the name must be established, then who they are as a person can be developed, and finally comes the message. But it all starts with name recognition. You don’t have that you don’t have much of a political campaign.
Here’s my guess: Otter is not in quite as good a shape as the Rasmussen poll indicates and Allred is not in quite as bad a shape. Such polls measure name ID and party affiliation and not a lot more. Having said that, and with the acknowledgement that it is early in the cycle, campaigns do develop a certain rhythm and pace – call it the narrative – and this one is starting to firm up. Today it is very much Otter’s race to lose and his name ID, his long record of familiarity with Idaho voters, Idaho’s strong R tendencies and this being a GOP year all put him in solid shape to be re-elected.
A further guess: Otter will run a very traditional, tried and true Republican campaign based on presenting a united GOP front and emphasizing the party’s anti-tax stand. Couple that message – we’re Republicans and you can trust us on taxes – with a strong ground game to turn out voters and that has been enough for a GOP gubernatorial candidate to win every time over the last 20 years.
If Allred is to have any chance of pulling the big upset, he had better start running soon with the political equivalent of football’s “wishbone offense.” He needs something to revolutionize the game. He has to shake up the race in a very significant way, change the developing narrative and move the polls or he’ll find himself on the wrong side of “Dewey beats Truman.”
What to Make Of Early Polls
A new Rasmussen poll out last week, not surprisingly, shows Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter with a commanding lead over his Democratic challenger and first-time candidate Keith Allred.
Typically, the two camps had different takes on the new numbers and in a curious way, I think, both are probably right. The governor’s camp takes heart that he is ahead, perhaps quite comfortably. The poll has the race at 60-28. Allred’s campaign has a point that a horse race poll at this stage, particularly in light of all the media attention Otter has received over the last two weeks, may tell us a good deal less than meets the eye.
[Rasmussen’s results and methodology have its detractors – most from the liberal side – and I’ll look at that and offer other thoughts on polling tomorrow.]
Still, last week’s Rasmussen poll does help cement the developing storyline that Otter is the prohibitive favorite. There is a lot of time until November, but that perception is starting to set. The poll, among other things, should be a wake up call to the Democratic campaign. In would appear that the buzz Allred created with his announcement in December was temporary and this race now has many of the makings of settling into the same kind of contest Idaho Democrats have lost every four years since 1994. For example, if the Rasmussen numbers are taken at face value, Allred – a one-time independent turned Democrat – has barely begun to solidify the puny Idaho Democratic base that I think can reasonably be calculated at plus or minus 30%.
The State of the Race
In any poll right now Otter, a long-time fixture in Idaho politics with a very high name ID, will score well. He’s been in the news constantly for the last few weeks, shutting down the legislature and suing the feds over health insurance reform. In an Idaho that we instinctively know is very wary of the recently passed reform legislation, anyone pushing back against that legislation is bound to look pretty good. Legislative Republicans and the governor certainly understand that dynamic and have attempted to ride the wave. Even as many commentators predict failure for the lawsuit strategy, unless Republicans overplay their hand, even in defeat, the lawsuit may prove to be good politics in Idaho.
Additionally, the high profile critique of what has been happening in Washington has helped Otter shore up his own standing within the fractious Idaho Republican Party. The governor will dominate statewide news again this week with an announcement tour that is certain to garner much local media attention.
The Rasmussen poll also highlights the huge challenge facing Allred. He not only needs to introduce himself to hundreds of thousands of Idahoans, he needs to present a compelling story for why he, in a year strongly tending in the direction of Republicans, deserves their votes. Allred may live to regret not maintaining a higher profile during the contentious legislative session just ended. He might have been able to begin to more fully sketch out the rationale for his candidacy in the midst of all the attention the public and media were lavishing on budget cuts, particularly to education, and bashing the feds. This, after all, is the legislature that found plenty of time to debate meaningless memorials to Congress, but couldn’t get around to banning texting while driving. The governor concluded the session by praising the lawmakers. There is the making of a message in there somewhere.
So, taken all together the Rasmussen poll – without too much focus on the specific numbers – is probably a reasonable snap shot of where the race stands today. Otter – well known with a big lead and riding a popular wave. Allred – yet to define himself or his issues and likely having squandered a defining place on the stage during the recent legislative session.
Tomorrow…Reading the Polls
Anything to Say, Dear?
My all-time favorite cartoon appeared in the New Yorker several years ago.
In the cartoon, a fellow is settling into his big, comfortable chair with the TV remote control in hand. He says to his wife standing nearby: “Anything you’d like to say, dear, before the baseball season begins?”
While every team is in first place, before the post mortem begins on President Obama’s fastball – he’s throwing out the first pitch at the National’s home opener – and while you still have one ear tuned to the spouse it might be an appropriate moment to soak up some baseball trivia.
For example, did you know that Bullet Bob Feller, as a 21 year old fireballer with the Cleveland Indians, threw baseball’s only complete game opening day no hitter? It happened in 1940. You can look it up.
Play ball!…and, what was that dear?
The Great Rivalry Launches a New Season
The forecast for Fenway tomorrow night is fair and unseasonably warm. Good enough. It has been a long winter.
Josh Beckett vs. C.C. Sabathia as the best rivalry in baseball tees up the season.
This time of year – just before a new season unfolds – I always recall the classic comment of the great Rogers Hornsby. He holds the record for the all-time highest batting average by a right handed hitter. His .358 lifetime average is the record for the National League. He hit .424 in 1924. The guy could hit. He also loved the great game.
“People ask me,” Hornsby said, “what I do in the winter time when there is no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”
The wait is almost over.
Been There, Done That
You have to wonder why Jerry Brown would want the job. California, among the biggest economies in the world, is flat broke; $20 billion – with a B – in debt. The state has spent the last few years dismantling a world-class higher education system and the politics in Sacramento are nearly as toxic as Washington, D.C. Still, Brown is one of five former governors – Maryland’s Bob Ehrlich is the latest – who are seeking to get their old jobs back.
The Oregonian’s political reporter Jeff Mapes had a piece yesterday on the phenomenon – he was nice enough to call and visit about my experience – of just what it is about the governorship that appeals to people who have been there, done that.
The king of the northwest comeback, Cecil Andrus, has always said being governor is the best political job in the world. Andrus is the only Idahoan to be elected four times and in three decades – the 1970’s, 1980’s and 1990’s.
If one wants to work hard, push an agenda, be totally accountable, and available to the press and the public 24/7, then being governor is the best job around. But like most high quality jobs, being the chief of a state also involves serious heavy lifting and major responsibility. A United States senator is always one of a committee. He can hide behind a staff and only faces the voters every six years. A Congressman is part of a circus with 434 other, er, performers. Unless you reach a serious leadership position, the job is often conducted in relative anonymity. Not so a governor.
The job is about power when all is said and done. You can appoint people. In Idaho a governor appoints county commissioners when a vacancy occurs, they also appoint judges, department heads and hundreds of members of boards and commissions. In good times and bad, they run the budget and call out the National Guard. CQ’s Bob Berenson points out that governors elected this year will have a lot to say about reapportionment. And as for Governor Moonbeam; Jerry Brown sounds genuine when he says California’s mess is his opportunity.
What he doesn’t say is how difficult any second act can be. Comebacks are harder than they look. The successful Andrus second go round, for example, followed an extremely close election. In Oregon, John Kitzhaber’s comeback has drawn primary foes and memories of his comments when he went out the door the first time. Brown’s sometimes quirky previous tenure is sure to be sliced and diced on TV and everywhere else in California before November.
Still, given all the complication inherent in a comeback, it must seem worth it to those willing to put themselves through the process knowing full well what is really involved.
It has been said – the quote is attributed to Jay Leno – “that politics is just show business for ugly people.” Using that analogy then, there is always the possibility of another big role, even for the star who seems to have faded into the twilight. At least five “formers” are getting ready for another close up.