Search This Blog

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Rules Have Changed

                             The Rules Have Changed

Most people don’t realize it, but the Republicans had "owned" the black vote for nearly 100 years from the time of Abraham Lincoln, through the time of Dwight Eisenhower. During this period, the majority of African Americans voted consistently for Republican presidential candidates and as well as most other political offices. Today, however, the Democratic Party "owns" the Black vote, lock, stock, and barrel. 

When a Republican candidate, at any level, obtains more than 10% of the Black vote, it’s big news. Typically the GOP portion of the Black vote is closer to 5%. How did this come about?
If one had to pick an event that caused this cataclysmic political shift, it was the nomination of Barry Goldwater, and more precisely, his vote against the 1964 Voting Rights Act. Ironically, Goldwater had an outstanding record of civil rights. He had personally taken a hand in integrating the Arizona Air National Guard and, in fact, had received commendations and awards from the NAACP. But once he was nominated and once he cast his vote, the die was cast. It was the end of any significant support of Republican candidates and understandably so.

Thomas Jefferson reputedly said that slavery was the fatal flaw of the Constitution. That was certainly true, and I believe that the failure of conservatives to be in the vanguard of the civil rights movement was the fatal flaw of the conservative movement. In hindsight, it was rank hypocrisy for conservatives to hold themselves up as the champions of individual freedom, and yet be AWOL when it came to fighting for basic human and civil rights for African Americans. As a high school and college student, I was as guilty as anyone else. 

It’s no wonder that Black Americans don’t trust conservatives. If I were in their shoes, I wouldn’t trust them either. After all, you gotta dance with the one that brung ya, and in the case of the civil rights movement, that was the liberals in the Democratic Party, not the conservative Republicans.
That doesn’t mean that I agree with big government liberals. They were wrong on the threat of the Soviet Union and they were wrong about the threat to individual freedom from big government. Liberals are wrong to cavalierly discard traditional moral values. But conservatives were wrong on the civil rights movement, no ifs, ands, or buts.

But much has changed since 1964. Today, Conservatives champion many, many causes and issues which are supported by a vast majority of the African American community. While conservatives promote vouchers that address the severe problem of failing primary and secondary schools in the poorest part of our cities, the liberals are chained to the National Education Association union, which is more interested in teachers than students. It was a liberal Democrat, Polly Williams, that championed vouchers in Wisconsin, and working in league with conservative Republicans she carried the day.

Today Black Americans work to modify a Social Security System that is clearly unfair to the members of their community, but they get no help from the Democratic Party. It is conservative Republicans that are working with them.

While Christian conservatives, both Black and White, utilize faith-based initiatives promoted by a Republican President, they face opposition from liberal Democrats.

But perhaps the picture has changed the most on the local scene where conservatives and liberals work side-by-side with voluntary organizations that help the poor and disadvantaged. It’s often surprising who you see working side-by-side in the trenches.

My wife, Kathi, and I have been involved in Joe Gibbs’ Youth For Tomorrow residential home for at-risk boys and girls for more than 20 years. We have witnessed conservative Oliver North and former Virginia Lt. Governor Don Beyer (a top fund raiser for the Democrat Party) working together without fanfare, giving of their time and resources to give these boys and girls a second chance at life. 

No, conservatives don’t deserve to be trusted by the Black community. But in their own self-interest, members of the Black community need to take a second look at individual conservative candidates to see exactly what their track record is when it comes to issues and programs that affect the Black community. As long as liberal Democrats can count on virtually all Black Americans to vote for them, they can continue to ignore the problems of failing primary and secondary schools, violence in the central city, out-of-wedlock births, etc. 

I believe it was Bob Dylan who sang, "The times they are a changing." Yes, times are changing. Being a liberal Democrat no longer guarantees concern and attention to the problems and challenges faced by Black Americans. Being a conservative Republican no longer means someone who doesn’t care about the crisis among America’s poor. Today it’s often a conservative Republican whose values and principles are more closely tied to the interests and needs of the African American community, than are those of his liberal opponent. More than 50 years have passed since the 1956 election of Dwight Eisenhower. It’s time to take a second look.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Thinking Outside the Box

                           Thinking Outside the Box
I have always admired individuals who have the ability to "think outside the box," who see perspectives of problems and opportunities that others simply can’t envision. You and I see a box, but they look at the same thing using another perspective and see that it isn’t a box at all, but rather, it is a pyramid.

Perspective is critical when you are trying to solve a problem or trying to take advantage of an opportunity. Traditions are very important and they develop because certain practices and approaches have worked consistently well over the years. I’m a very traditional fellow, but I’ve come to realize that when things quit working as well as I would like, it’s often helpful to look at the problem from a different perspective.

My wife and I recently had the pleasure of having dinner with a friend and his wife. We happen to belong to the same church and we have all been involved in a number of church-related activities both locally and nationally. Our national church body has been around since the mid 1800’s and it faces the same sorts of challenges and opportunities that other church bodies face—changing culture, declining membership, leadership needs (both pastoral and lay), etc.

My friend, who happens to be a doctor, made a thinking-outside-the-box type of observation that "blew my mind." He said that even though medicine changes dramatically every 7 to 10 years (in terms of medical breakthroughs), they can still take a graduate of a music school like Julliard or someone with a degree in English or history and turn that person into a doctor four years later. He said they needed to give that person some chemistry, but that some of these individuals became the very best doctors because they came to the medical profession with a different perspective and with a mature passion that someone who started down the path at a younger age often did not bring.

I thought that observation was amazing. I didn’t realize that medical doctors came from such diverse backgrounds. I assumed, given the sophisticated nature of medicine, that every doctor started as a pre-med student. However when it was explained to me, it made sense. After all, how many young men or women really know what it means to be a doctor or feel a calling to be a doctor when they are just out of high school?

My medical doctor friend followed up that observation with this question: "If we can teach someone with a music degree to become a medical doctor in four years, why can’t we take someone with an engineering degree and make them a pastor in four years?" He went on to point out while there are dramatic advances and changes in medical treatment that continue to change the practice of medicine, Christian doctrine hasn’t changed in more than 2,000 years. A traditionalist would argue that you must have preparatory high schools and colleges so that an aspiring pastor can master Greek and Hebrew, among other things. But if medical schools can help music majors get the necessary chemistry, while keeping their students on top of the ever changing medical scene, why can’t seminaries provide the necessary Greek and Hebrew basics for men aspiring to become pastors?

By eliminating preparatory high schools and colleges required to attend a seminary, a church body like the one I belong to, the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, would not only open up opportunities for more pastors to be trained, but perhaps also practice better financial stewardship.

This "outside-the-box" change would eliminate the need to ask young people to make a life decision at such a tender age when they really have no idea what they want to do with their life, and do not have a true understanding of what role a pastor plays as the leader of a congregation.
Perhaps the result would reduce the number of pastors who lack the passion or the necessary God-given skills to shepherd a congregation, and produce more men who do have the passion and the skills. Perhaps we would reduce the number of pastors’ sons who are pressured into becoming pastors, while producing more laymen’s sons who feel a real calling to be a pastor. Perhaps the financial savings of such an approach would provide the funds to do a better and more effective job of fulfilling the Great Commission.

Perhaps this is the right answer to running a church body in the 21st century, perhaps not. But we need to put everything on the table when we try to lift up an organization to new heights and to meet new challenges. We need to start thinking outside the box. Tradition is a great thing, and should be treated with respect. However, sometimes the old ways just don’t work any more because the culture has changed. What’s your latest outside-the-box idea?

Monday, July 23, 2007

Is Your Integrity for Sale?

Is Your Integrity for Sale?

One of my favorite movies is Family Man, staring Nicholas Cage (2000). In fact, I think Cage is one of Hollywood’s most versatile and accomplished actors. In Family Man, Cage is supported by Tea Leoni and Don Cheadle, who is apparently Hollywood’s 21st century version of an angel. The story is a sort-of reverse adaptation of the Frank Capra classic, It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s a really great movie and if you haven’t seen it, I urge you to rent a copy.

There are lots of great scenes in the movie, but one of my favorites is when Don Cheadle, portraying a convenience store clerk, intentionally gives a young girl change for a $10 bill, although she actually only gave him a $1 bill. He’s hoping that when she realizes she received too much change she will, for her own good, come back and tell him. But when she continues on out the door, he just shakes his head and muses something about how disappointing it is when someone sells out their integrity so cheaply. While those aren’t his exact words, they capture the essence of the message.

I am the first one to admit that I’ve done some things (maybe more accurately, a lot of things) that I’m not proud of. But it disturbs me greatly to see someone sell out their own integrity so cheaply. What is integrity? Former U.S. Congressman J.C. Watts defined it as doing the right thing even when no one is looking. That is a pretty good definition. You might add that it’s doing the right thing when no one is looking, even when it is difficult. Integrity is indeed doing the right thing, not just the thing that gets you by.

Of course, the power of rationalization, the sin of pride, and just plain old greed often get in the way of integrity. Children are great at "lawyering" their excuses in an effort to get out of being responsible for something their parents are not happy about. But big kids who run companies and nonprofits often seem to be afflicted with the same problem. "Well, the contract doesn’t say exactly that," they rationalize. And, perhaps they can get by with doing what they want to do even though they know it’s not the right thing to do. But how do they sleep at night? Are they really advancing themselves? Is it really good business? Don’t they care about their own reputation? Why would they put such a low price on their own integrity? Will such a reputation benefit them and the organization they represent in the years ahead?

Lincoln was right, "Honesty is the best policy." In the long run, a company, an organization, or an individual will rise or fall in large part based on integrity. When you do the right thing, rather than simply doing the thing that gets you by, you build trust with your acquaintances, your clients, your vendors and everyone you come into contact with. In turn, that trust leads to more business, better employees and greater success. However, when you cut corners, it ALWAYS comes back to haunt you. 

But far more important than doing what is right because it gets you ahead, is doing what’s right because it’s the right thing to do. God wants us to genuinely care about our friends and neighbors and even to put their needs before ours. Ouch! In His Word He tells us not to cheat, steal or tell lies. He doesn’t tell us that obeying these things are the way to Heaven (that’s a free gift), but it does please Him when we do the right thing in every circumstance. As mortal humans it is obviously impossible for you and me to live up to that standard, but we can at least try. And when we do, it makes this a better place for all of us.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The "Unfairness Doctrine"

                    The "Unfairness Doctrine"

Lately, I’ve been reading that Al Gore and his friends at the Center for American Progress think it’s time to bring back the so-called "Fairness Doctrine." When I hear goofy ideas like this I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. 

What was the "Fairness Doctrine?" It was a law that said a radio (or TV) station had to give equal time for FREE to anyone who disagreed with an on-air editorial or a talk-radio host. That meant that radio stations had to give away air-time that others need to pay for. This law nearly destroyed AM radio, and it was anything but fair.

The market place is not perfect, but it is about as fair as is possible on this side of heaven.

Consumers (that’s you and I) get to "vote" with their dollars as to what they want to hear on the radio. It certainly is a lot more fair than letting some bureaucrat or other third party decide what’s best for you and I to hear.

But the catch is that liberals like Gore have not been successful in competing in the marketplace of ideas, so they want to force radio stations to give them time for free to get their point of view across. Obviously, the existing liberal monopoly on television, newspapers and news magazines isn’t good enough for the left. Apparently they have decided that the only way to get their way with public policy is to silence their critics through the power of government.

They have made numerous attempts to counter talk-radio through efforts like Air America, but after pouring millions of dollars into Air America, it has failed and failed again. So, what else is a liberal to do, but to use government to force people to not only listen to their liberal ideas on ABC, CBS or NBC, but also for FREE on the radio across the nation.

Of course, liberals strongly object to the idea of a biased news media, even in the face of countless studies and reports showing their bias. In fact, liberal bias exists and the fact that it masquerades as objective news makes it all the more less than honest. At least talk-radio hosts make no bones about the fact that they have an agenda and a point of view. They don’t pretend to be unbiased observers.

Nevertheless, Al Gore, in his latest book, expresses concern about the danger and threat of Americans being led astray by talk show hosts that don’t happen to agree with his perspective. He thinks something must be done and clearly he believes what must be done is the re-imposition of the "Fairness Doctrine." John Halpin, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress said that the current policy, "…does not meet any reasonable public-interest standard."

Apparently both Mr. Gore and Mr. Halpin feel they are qualified to decide what is and what is not in the public interest. In truth, neither Gore nor Halpin have any concept of freedom or fairness.
What is fairness? Fairness is when I create a radio program that draws listeners, causing commercial sponsors to pay for air time, resulting in a profit for both of us. Unfairness is when you use the government to force the radio station to give you FREE time to respond to my ideas because you can draw neither an audience nor sponsors.

Suppose I own a theater that hosts musical entertainers. You are a talented musician and draw a full house, making money for yourself and money for me as a theater owner. Another person who thinks of himself as talented, but does not have an audience, complains, feeling he is at a disadvantage. So he gets government to force me to accommodate him in my theater for FREE. Just how long do you think I would stay in business? That’s really what the so-called "Fairness Doctrine" is all about.

The reality is that liberal ideas can’t compete in an open and fair marketplace, so they want to use the power of government to impose their views on you and I – they don’t want any competition. They honestly think it’s for our own good.

In fact, they believe they are a bit smarter and wiser than you and I are and that they know how to run our lives better than we do. They consider themselves to be more enlightened and more sophisticated, and therefore they should make decisions about our lives that we are just not competent enough to make.

The long and short of it is that liberals just don’t trust the common man. It’s another good reason to oppose re-imposition of the unfair "Fairness Doctrine.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

When All Else Fails, Attack the Individual

     When All Else Fails, Attack the Individual
         It’s hard to debate ideas of substance when the lack of intellectual honesty is replaced by open rudeness. In fact, as an observer of, or a participant in such a debate, it’s downright frustrating. Occasionally I turn to a cable news channel and watch one of these "shouting match" debates on a current and often important topic. Unfortunately, instead of honest disagreements on issues where everyone’s opinion is treated with respect, we too often witness vicious interruptions and hear personal attacks. 

         Admittedly, I’ve been guilty of the same thing too often. I need to stop doing that, and our politicians and pundits need to stop too. Our nation’s problems are too important to be political footballs. You and I deserve an honest and open debate on the issues. 

         The forum that came the closest to this high ideal was the long-running television show, Firing Line, hosted by William F. Buckley, Jr. It was one of those all-too-rare debate shows where the participants not only did not interrupt the other participants, but actually listened to their various points of view. Great, outside-the-box ideas were presented with clarity and with the confidence that the presenter would not be personally attacked. What a unique concept.

         Unfortunately today, when someone talks about addressing the very serious problem of failing primary and secondary education in the poor areas of our nation through the use of vouchers, he is attacked as being biased against poor people. When someone brings up the idea of giving individuals the right to invest a portion their Social Security payments for their retirement, they are accused of trying to destroy Social Security. When someone points out the devastating effect of some social program on the people it is designed to help, he is often called a racist. The list goes on and on and all of the blame for this deplorable practice certainly does not fall on one side of the aisle.

         The theory seems to be that when all else fails, attack the individual, don’t debate the issue. The next time you and I are tempted to do this, perhaps we should ask ourselves a question. Are we resorting to attacking the other individual because we really lack confidence in our own position or our own argument? Are our views so weak that they cannot stand up to scrutiny? Rather, is the truth simply that we are really unsure of ourselves and our conclusions? When we interrupt and don’t want to let someone else speak or when a speaker is shouted down, there is only one conclusion: The people doing the shouting are unsure of their own position and are afraid to have their own point of view questioned. That’s not free speech, it’s controlled speech and nothing good comes out of such a situation.

         Don’t you think it’s time to quit shouting and calling names and instead engage in civil discussions about important issues whose positive outcome can make this a better society?

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Racial Harmony

Racial Harmony

         There’s a very important new museum being built about 50 miles south of Washington, DC in Fredericksburg, Virginia, not far from the site of one of the bloodiest and fiercest battles of the American Civil War. It is the United States National Slavery Museum. While this museum doesn’t have a political agenda, it does have a humanitarian agenda—it seeks to not only tell the truth about Slavery, but to also heal the long-standing split between the black and white races. In other words, this museum is not about assigning guilt, but rather about making a case for mutual understanding and respect between individuals, regardless of race.

         As a matter of full disclosure, I need to advise you that my company, Fund Raising Strategies, is doing some work for this museum, but I must also tell you that my interest is far more than business.

         It’s not that this museum will wipe out racism. Unfortunately, racism of all types will never leave us. It is a part of the human condition from the Fall. After all, racism is simply the hatred of a class of individuals without any reason or logic. Racism is simply sin. In the Bible we are told that "He who hates his brother is a murderer" (1 John 3:15). You can’t wipe out racism any more than you can wipe out sin, but can’t we stop dividing folks along racial lines for political gain or to boost our own esteem?

         This business of judging people by the class they belong to will tear our nation apart if left unchecked. It’s what white racists have done to black Americans for too many years. It’s what the news media did to my former client, Richard Jewell. Even today, Richard suffers public castigation when strangers falsely single him out as the "Atlanta Bomber," although the reality is that he was the hero that saved many lives during the Atlanta Olympics.

         People are individuals, not groups. On this earth, each of us deserves to be judged by our own individual actions, not by the color of our skin, the size of our bank account, our age, our weight, or any other personal characteristic. It’s exactly what Dr. Martin Luther King was talking about and it’s what the Christian religion teaches. We must be held accountable for our own actions, but not for the actions or words of others. 

         Of course we are all frail, imperfect human beings, so before you strive to get the spec out of someone else’s eye, be sure you get the log out of your own eye. If we will all consider our own imperfections and strive to avoid giving offense, as well as strive to avoid taking offense, this would be a much better place in which to live.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Don’t Let Anyone Make You a “Victim”

                       Don’t Let Anyone Make You a "Victim"
         I have always gotten great thrill and inspiration from individuals who overcame great obstacles to achieve success. One of my favorites is Jim Abbott, who was an outstanding pitcher in the Major Leagues for ten years, with four different teams. What Jim accomplished was impossible because he only had one hand. How can you play Little League with one hand? But through hard work, determination and God’s blessing, Jim became a major league star.

         Jim is the kind of person that inspires millions of others with disabilities and handicaps of all types to persevere and succeed. Jim simply refused to become a victim, and that’s what you need to do if you are going to reach beyond what seems possible.

         It appears that you and I live in the age where everyone is seeking to be a victim so that they can get some sort of edge in life. But the reality is that anyone who thinks of themselves as a victim is already at a disadvantage. The kid who tries out for a baseball team, who is short and perhaps a bit overweight, will not make the team if he thinks of himself as a victim of circumstances. The student who thinks of herself as just a "C" student will never get that "A" until she starts thinking of herself as an "A" student.

         I have a wonderful and very accomplished daughter who is a well-respected nurse. Years ago, when she was attending junior high school, she, along with all the girls in the school, was sent to a special convocation. At this event the girls heard a lecture by a cranky middle aged lady who, according to my daughter, tried to convince them that they were "victims" who were disadvantaged, just because they were girls. I heard second hand that there was little likelihood that they would succeed in society. Now, I wasn’t there at the convocation, but clearly that was the message these girls "heard."

         Just a few days before I heard about this event from my daughter, I happened to read a very interesting article in Forbes magazine about a lady who started out as a secretary at brokerage house, but today owns and operates her own brokerage company. Now, that’s the right message for young ladies, and all of us to hear. There are always obstacles. Some of us have greater obstacles than others, but we can do it. We can overcome the hurdles and obstacles and succeed. But we will never do it thinking we are "victims."

         One more story. For many years my company worked with a very large bank and we had a terrific representative from that bank that worked with us. He was responsive, sharp and service oriented. He just happened to be black.

         One day he told me about an experience at his college. At this predominately black college he met a number of other very talented black students. He said he worked hard to get good grades to make sure he had the best possible skills to market. One day, as he told it, several of his black friends chided him for working so hard. They said, "Why are you working so hard, no one will ever hire a black person like you." How sad, these talented and smart folks let someone else convince them that they were "victims," so they gave up. The truth is that once they believed they were "victims," the battle was lost.

         So don’t do it. Don’t let anyone convince you that you are a victim because of your height, your weight, your background, the side of the tracks you come from, your race, your gender or any other category that you seem to fall into. This is the United States of America and you have more opportunity here to succeed than anywhere else in the world. Do it. Don’t miss you chance.