Bloviating Is So Last Year

“Every time you have to speak, you are auditioning for leadership.” – James C. Humes

Jamie Humes should know. He has written for Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, and Reagan. Frankly, no matter what you think about that list itself, each man on it was certainly auditioning for leadership at a particular moment—and certainly auditioning for Clio’s approval at that moment and moments to come.

As writer, historian, and public speaker Humes opens his 2002 book, Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln, “Leadership is selling. And selling is talking.” To repeat myself, he should know. And many ghostwriters, myself included, appreciate Humes’ sharing of the 21 powerful secrets of history greatest speakers.

I also appreciate the vignettes Humes shared throughout the book—particularly one featuring the thoughts of The Great Communicator, Ronald Reagan. In the chapter titled Power Button, Humes relates a discussion with speechwriter Tony Dolan about Reagan’s aversion to bloviating.

Dolan shook his head, saying, “The governor doesn’t like that kind of thing. He thinks it sounds like Senator Claghorn.” (Claghorn was a comical windbag politician on the Fred Allen radio show in the 1940s.) And it’s true, if you lard your talks with phrases like “so, my fellow citizens,” or “and so, ladies and gentlemen,” you might sound like some state senator bloviating at a county fair.

Reagan had his own test for a talk. He would imagine the way he’d talk to his barber, Jack, in Santa Barbara. He liked language that you would use in talking at the kitchen table or over the back fence.

Might be an idea for the new presidential entourage come January: a no-bloviating zone. The Donald and his underlings might want to read Reagan In His Own Hand, which was published about the same time as Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln.

The book, with a foreword by George P. Schultz, proves that the former President was not the simpleton that liberal detractors made him out to be. Schultz, who served as Reagan’s secretary of state, writes:

Reading through the essays in this book, I thought about all the times I had been with him when he spoke without notes or briefings, forcefully and clearly spelling out what would be the policy positions of the United States. Somehow he always seemed to know what to say.

To many people, President Reagan was a mystery….

The answer to that mystery may lie in these essays, which were written well before he became President. Apparently, even then, he knew quite a bit.

The new President will do well too, I suspect.

CBR contributor J.F. McKenna, a longtime West Park resident, is a business journalist, former magazine editor, and marketing-communications consultant. While at IndustryWeek magazine in the early ‘90s, he wrote a series on Total Quality Government and chaired TQG conferences across the country. McKenna and his wife, Carol, now live in Steeler Country with their dog, Lord Max. Reach him at


Warmly Ruthless Holiday Greetings

By J.F. McKenna

As the old year winds down, if not outright unravels, here’s to happy holidays and a warmly ruthless coming year.

Sure, I know such end-of-the-year sentiment won’t make me the No.1 draft pick at American Greetings in 2015. But it’s a sincere wish for the hometown and the nation, even as I review the collective disaster generated by cop-citizen controversies, a generally party-pooped economy, a well-earned wimpy image on the international stage, and a generally lousy national self-image that has replaced self-evident truths and the securing of “the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”

All that noted, you ask, why stock up on ruthlessness for the new year? A fair question deserving a reasonable response.

What initially triggered my novel holiday greeting was the reading of these lines from speechwriter and author Peggy Noonan’s Character Above All: “Ronald Reagan is always described as genial and easygoing, but [economist] Marty Anderson used to call him ‘warmly ruthless.’ He would do in the nicest possible way what had to be done. He was nice as he could be about it, but he knew where he was going, and if you were in the way you were gone. And you might argue his ruthlessness made everything possible.”

The Reagan legacy of peace and prosperity, of course, has migrated from the pages of contemporary history to the Big Book of Legendary Leadership. As even one of his successors—the current President—acknowledged, “When the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, I had to give the old man his due, even if I never gave him my vote.”

It may be a Paine to admit; but these are most certainly the times that try men’s souls. So a generous dose of so-called Reagan ruthlessness—that vision for the better America, one that must trump the vain and the venal—is my holiday wish for the nation that the 40th President called the “the exemplar of freedom and a beacon of hope for those who do not now have freedom.”

Without question, a Reaganesque renewal of American commitment to freedom on the world stage must top the coming year’s agenda. Nothing continues to blur our notion of war’s frontline more clearly than the jihadists’ perversion of the old Disneyland saying “It’s a small world, after all.” Yeah—small, lethal, unmerciful and aimed right at us.

For all those in office now, as well as for all those considering leadership roles in the future, Ronald Reagan’s words from May 1993 remain a guide to future success: “Despite the spread of democracy and capitalism, human nature has not changed. It is still an unpredictable mixture of good and evil. Our enemies may be irrational, even outright insane, driven by nationalism, religion, ethnicity, or ideology. They do not fear the United States for its diplomatic skills or the number of automobiles and software programs it produces. They respect only the firepower of our tanks, planes and helicopter gunships.”

President Reagan likewise recognized that a strong nation requires a strong economy, aka free enterprise. For that chief executive, there was no substitute—especially government. And the former movie star knew first-hand the personal tragedy of a weak economy. In a town of deals and connections, he was a ruthless advocate of the American worker, the man or woman who had to bring home the paycheck.

“To me, there is no greater tragedy than a breadwinner willing to work, with a job skill but unable to find a market for that job skill,” Reagan recalled in a 1976 speech. “Back in those dark Depression days I saw my father on a Christmas Eve open what he thought was a Christmas greeting from his boss. Instead, it was the blue slip telling him he no longer had a job. The memory of him sitting there holding that slip of paper and then saying in a half-whisper, ‘That’s quite a Christmas present,’ it will stay with me as long as I live.”

And undergirding the Reagan Era’s strong nation and robust economy were always the people who cherished the values that guarantee a lasting civilization. As Reagan recalled in his autobiography, “I learned from my father the value of hard work and ambition, and maybe a little something about telling a story. From my mother, I learned the value of prayer, how to have dreams and believe I could make them come true.”

If that be the portrait of the ruthless man, the nation needs many more ruthless folks, this holiday season and beyond.

Former West Park resident J.F. McKenna is a journalist, copywriter and communications consultant. McKenna and his wife, Carol, now live in Pittsburgh, to which he serves as Cleveland’s unofficial foreign minister. Reach him at  .


‘Take Me to Our Leaders’

By J.F. McKenna

Brace yourself. As sure as summer follows spring, the call for leadership always follows the long train of crises. This time will be no different, as the nation surveys a bankrupt City of Detroit, a busted Veterans Administration, a limp economy, a dithering Congress, renegade bureaucrats, the Benghazi “mystery,” an unstable Eastern Europe and a tottering Middle East, a crippling health-care strategy, a worried and skeptical electorate, and so on. As a fellow who watched the Watergate era unfold before an incredulous America, I’ll bet my quite collectable 1978 press card on it. (Yeah, the one with the photo featuring the garish sport coat.)

As columnist George Will recently wrote, too many so-called leaders “have exaggerated government’s proper scope and actual competence, making the public perpetually disappointed and surly.” In turn, we citizens of this so-called constitutional republic have demanded the emergence of real leaders.

Can the demand be satisfied this time round?

To try to answer the question, I sought guidance from the fountainhead of managerial brilliance: the writings of the late Peter Drucker. In the pages of The Wall Street Journal nearly three decades ago, the father of modern management addressed “leadership as work.” Noting that the topic was “all the rage just now,” Drucker first disabused those Journal readers of the notion that leadership is the same as charisma.

Insisting next that performance is the essence of leadership, the business philosopher par excellence stressed the context of leadership, writing that it is “not by itself good or desirable. Leadership is a means. Leadership to what end is thus the crucial question.” To underscore his point, Drucker ticked off a few charismatic leaders who even today inspire malevolent actors on the world stage—Mao, Hitler, Stalin. Call him a name-dropper, if you will; but the good professor knew how to hammer home a point.

Most certainly, Drucker went on, leadership is grounded in “thinking through the organization’s mission, defining it, and establishing it, clearly and visibly. The leader sets goals, sets the priorities, and sets and maintains the standards.”

The leader “makes compromises, of course; indeed, effective leaders are painfully aware that they are not in control of the universe,” wrote Drucker, whose The Effective Executive remains a beloved business classic. “But before accepting a compromise, the effective leader has thought though what is right and desirable. The leader’s first task is to be the trumpet that sounds a clear note.”

To Drucker’s way of thinking, the true leader is the exceptional musician who knows how to create great music, but does not delude himself into thinking that he’s the whole band.

Further, Drucker argued that exceptional leaders—think those in the category of Lincoln or Churchill—understand “leadership as responsibility rather than as rank and privilege,” offering this illustration: “Effective leaders are rarely ‘permissive.’ But when things go wrong—and they always do—they do not blame others….Harry Truman’s folksy ‘The buck stops here’ is still as good a definition as any. ”

Maybe the most telling point for we the disillusioned to take from this Drucker tutorial is that “an effective leader knows that the ultimate task of leadership is to create human energies and human vision.” Better known in my old neighborhood as “all for one and one for all, all the time.”

Which gets me to thinking about a Druckeresque gentleman whom almost any American would like to invite back into a leadership role—if it were possible.

“I never thought it was my style or the words I used that made a difference: It was the content,” Ronald Reagan said in his 1989 farewell, the year after Peter Drucker’s op-ed appeared. “I wasn’t a great communicator, but I communicated great things, and they didn’t spring full bloom from my brow, they came from the heart of a great nation—from our experience, our wisdom, and our belief….”

The next time you hear a discussion about leadership, keep Drucker’s and Reagan’s words in mind. The next time you’re inclined to say “Take me to our leaders,” check the mirror first.


J.F. McKenna, a longtime West Park resident, is a veteran business journalist and marketing-communications consultant. He is a former staff editor of such magazines as Industry Week and Northern Ohio Live. His online work also appears on the site Steinbeck Now. A native of Cleveland, he and his wife, Carol, now live in Pittsburgh with their dogs, Duchess Holly and Lord Max. Reach him at .

Things Not Otherwise Noted: September Edition

By Doug Magill

In the name of the best within you, do not sacrifice this world to those who are its worst. In the name of the values that keep you alive, do not let your vision of man be distorted by the ugly, the cowardly, the mindless in those who have never achieved his title. Do not lose your knowledge that man’s proper estate is an upright posture, an intransigent mind and a step that travels unlimited roads. Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark, in the hopeless swamps of the approximate, the not-quite, the not-yet, the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish, in lonely frustration for the life you deserved, but have never been able to reach. Check your road and the nature of your battle. The world you desired can be won, it exists, it is real, it is possible, it’s yours.  Ayn Rand


Having built a monstrous batisse of government mandates and perverse incentives coupled with a gross misunderstanding of human nature and incentives, the Democrat party refuses to compromise on any portion of Obamacare.  Even though our President in a rather extra-constitutional fashion has suspended portions of it, granted waivers not to be found in the law anywhere, and pandered to the new ruling class of government workers by providing subsidies also not found in the law.

So, using the impending problem of raising our debt ceiling (which our memory-deprived President railed against while a senator), we now find ourselves at a budgetary impasse.  So?

It is news to most Americans who have been short-changed on their understanding of history (now who benefits from that?) that budget crises and government shutdowns are neither new nor particularly bothersome.  This current event is the 18th shutdown since 1976.  I can hear all of the ideology-blinded liberals whining that this is different, but it really isn’t.  The rhetoric is more heated – particularly from those same self-righteous liberals – because the media allows it, but the causes and effects are pretty much the same.  And, the results will be too.

The big surprise is that we haven’t had a shutdown in the last twenty years or so.  According to Andrew Stiles “At this point in Ronald Reagan’s second term, for example, the government had already shut down six times, for a total of twelve days, as a result of failed budget negotiations between the White House, a Republican Senate, and House Democrats under the leadership of Tip O’Nell (D., Mass) precisely the opposite of the dynamics that exist today. “

Guess who worked under Tip O’Neill and forgot all about this?  None other than Chris Matthews, the resident TV blabbermouth who hasn’t stopped talking to learn anything new since he first went on the air.

The avuncular O’Neill, who could play hardball politics with the best of them, managed to be involved in twelve different government shutdowns, five with Jimmy Carter, and seven under Reagan.  So, Big Daddy Tip was involved in two-thirds of government shutdowns since the current budgeting methodology has been in place.

I don’t recall anyone ever calling O’Neill a “terrorist”, or accusing him of waging “jihad” against the American people.

Ignorance is incendiary when it involves politics.

Who remembers that under Carter the government shut down because of disagreements between the House and the Senate, even though both were controlled by Democrats?  C’est ridicule!  But, of course the media doesn’t remember, or remind us of these things.

Obamacare is deeply unpopular, clearly flawed, and is the only entitlement program ever passed entirely on partisan lines with lots of backroom political bribes and in the dead of night using parliamentary trickery.  Study after study has shown it will cost a lot more than advertised, will not cure the problem of uninsured citizens, will have devastating effects on our health care system, and has already created huge disincentives for business growth and development.  Rational minds would consider fixing some of these things.  Democrats say no.

And Republicans are accused of intransigence.

We know, however, that the real goal is not Obamacare.  The liberal crusade is for total government control of health care, and this step in that direction is not to be given up.  Like so many things in the totalitarian temptation that drives liberals, efficiency and effectiveness are not to be considered when the possibility of total control can be grasped.  Those who study history have seen this before.


The impecunious Davy Crockett, an American hero, had a better picture of the role of government than those overheated windbags that occupy his place in the House of Representatives.

Davy Crockett and the Government Shutdown


It was an idea that only a liberal would love.  Let’s make a documentary (really hagiography) about Hillary Clinton in time for the 2016 elections!  Once CNN announced its plans, NBC jumped in with an idea for a mini-series with Dianne Lane as Hillary (one wonders if her role in Unfaithful was considered good background).   Producer Charles Ferguson has dropped plans for his project, and NBC has subsequently decided they weren’t interested.  Ferguson blames Media Matters, both political parties, and especially the Clintons for the insurmountable difficulties he faced.  Interestingly enough he describes a meeting with Bill Clinton where “he proceeded to tell me the most amazing lies I’ve heard in quite a while.”

CNN’s Hillary Documentary Canned


The abortion controversy is debated in ways that conceal the truth, and history.  We know that the founder of what is now Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger, believed in eugenics.  We also know that Roe v. Wade was a textbook example of judicial overreach – liberal judges and attorneys acknowledge this.  That Supreme Court decision was the result of a clear strategy by its proponents to overrule elective politics through the courts because of the consistent unwillingness of the American people to allow unlimited abortions on demand.  We are discovering that a fetus can feel long before we ever imagined it could, while medical science allows babies to be saved astonishingly early before full term.  Yet, these things are clouded by the media’s focus on the perceived needs of the mother, without really ever focusing on what effect abortion has on society, and individuals.   There has been astonishingly little exposure given to the men that supported abortion on demand, and what it means in their lives.

What Men Choose With Choice


The media also gives scant coverage to organizations that have been outraged by the mandates issued by HHS in regards to contraception.  And, effectively abortion on demand.  Pundits blithely mention religious exemptions and never mention details, or effects.  Hobby Lobby, a Christian organization, won a resounding victory against the HHS regulations in Federal Court.  There has been very little explanation of why this victory is important.  Other organizations that are religious in nature have also been affected, and have had to fight – even though it does not suit their nature, or their image.

The Fight For Religious Freedom by The Little Sisters of the Poor


Catholics rightly wonder why does this conclusion not seem obvious?

Nancy Pelosi Should Be Denied Communion


Unions have been vocal in their criticism of Obamacare.  The AFL-CIO convention a few weeks ago was prepared to issue a strong condemnation of the health insurance legislation, but Obama personally intervened to block the statement.  We don’t know what accommodation the President will reach with the unions, but we know that they feel betrayed.

SEIU On Strike Over Obamacare


Seymour Hersh is a liberal author who won the Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War.  He is not a fan of conservatives, and the feeling is mutual.  Yet, he is disgusted at the state of the media in this country, explaining that 90% of editors should be fired as the only way to fix journalism.

Seymour Hersh Slams US Media


Baseline Budgeting is a horror that keeps on returning, annually in fact.  Every government agency, department, and office knows that if you don’t spend the money you are allocated you will lose it in next year’s budget.  That way, every year your budget will go up.  And, what the heck, it’s someone else’s so spend it on whatever seems desirable at the time.  Though the noise has died down about outrageous government jaunts and conferences, the problem is real, and growing.  Nearly 60% of the federal budget is spent in the fourth quarter of the budget year.  And since it ends at the end of September all kinds of spending is flowing out of the scuppers of the bureaucracy.

What Budget Crisis?  The Government Keeps Spending.


Though NASA has strayed far from its original mission, there are a lot of companies that are interested in the commercial potential of spaceflight.  The administration has funded a number of efforts to assist in this, and last Sunday Orbital Sciences became the second company to successfully send a resupply mission to the International Space Station.  Today, these companies are funded by the government, so while they still represent government programs they are undoubtedly vastly more efficient than anything NASA could accomplish these days.  Elon Musk – founder of SpaceX – has found that rockets and cars can do very nicely on government subsidies.  Still, it does move us closer to the commercialization of space.

Super Sunday for Commercial Spaceflight.


I know we all wish we could go back to college at times.  And why not?  Brown University has certainly found another good way to entice students to attend class.

Bet This Is Not An Outdoor Class at Brown.


While the editorial comments write themselves, it is intriguing to attempt to understand the culture of our Saudi allies.

Saudi News: Driving Damages Ovaries.


You knew someone had to figure it out.  And why not MIT and Harvard, whose students probably dearly hope that they can find something to use to break up the tedium of droning liberal professors?

Yep, The Lightsaber Is Real.


Doug Magill is a freelance writer and voice-over talent and also co-hosts The Avenue, a radio show dedicated to culture and entertainment.  As a cancer survivor he has a number of concerns with the health insurance law misnamed the Affordable Care Act.  He can be reached at


As a Nation, It’s Time to Say, ‘Check, Please!’

By J.F. McKenna

Jack Kelly, in op-ed form, keeps me company this sunny morning in Pittsburgh. The columnist writes for both Toledo’s Blade and Pittsburgh’s Post-Gazette. Given the fact that his readership includes a Cleveland native, Kelly can claim an audience that is contiguous as well as concerned.

Like the rest of America, the region around Lake Erie continues to sag economically. That’s Rev. Kelly’s sermon this day—a column-length accounting with which all of us are far too familiar. A stubborn unemployment rate. A plague of higher energy costs. A national poverty rate now above 15 percent and heading in the wrong direction. A medium family income more than 7 percent lower than it was in 2009.

Kelly’s reportage makes me want to eat my eggs and toast faster, as a defensive reaction. So I do.

With morning news “playing” in the background, I wash down my hastily consumed breakfast with coffee and a few more paragraphs from Kelly’s column:

“Job growth in the Obama ‘recovery’ looks especially anemic compared to the Reagan recovery from arguably a worse recession. In 1982, the unemployment rate almost doubled—from 5.6 percent to 10.8 percent. The Reagan recovery lasted for 72 months, during which an average of 344,000 new jobs were created each month.

“The Obama ‘recovery’ would look even worse if it weren’t for all the Republican governors elected in 2010. According to Conn Carroll at the Washington Examiner, states with Republican governors have an average unemployment rate of 7.6 percent—1.2 percentage points lower than states with Democratic governors.

“The difference between Reagan’s success and Mr. Obama’s failure is policy, which the statistic about the governors underscores.”

To Gov. Kasich, I would offer a mouthful of thanks if I could politely. Come breakfast on Election Day—even at the risk of breaching etiquette—I’ll have to say, “Check, please!”

The time has come to make a choice. For me, for Cleveland and for points east and west. This fall’s presidential election is a referendum on stewardship, particularly economic stewardship. And, frankly speaking, the current President has proved to be a poor steward.

Likeability aside, President Obama lacks the economic literacy required for the 21st century. I’ve worked for a few bosses who oozed amicus humani generis from every pore, but couldn’t keep their businesses from tanking. They simply didn’t have the understanding and experience to keep the doors open. Mr. Obama is a member of those ranks.

Four years ago, the President promised more jobs, better schools, world-class infrastructure. All it takes is a robust economy. In one surprising indictment of the POTUS, liberal Newsweek’s Niall Ferguson writes: “Unfortunately the President’s scorecard on every single one of those bold pledges is pitiful….Welcome to Obama’s America: nearly half the population is not represented on a taxable return—almost exactly the same proportion that lives in a household where at least one member receives some type of government benefit. We are becoming the 50-50 nation—half of us paying the taxes, the other half receiving the benefits.” You don’t need a degree from the Nance College or the Wharton School to grasp that this path heads straight into a brick wall.

And as if economic illiteracy weren’t enough of a handicap in the job, Mr. Obama suffers from acute managerial incompetency. I’m not indulging in election-year name-calling, either. As many great CEOs have told me, a leader plays the hand he’s dealt, especially when he comes to the gaming table voluntarily. In the current White House, the daily schedule begins with lamentations, typically about the previous White House.

But the President’s management failings run deeper than whining. Newsweek’s Ferguson argues that “it’s the President’s job to run the executive branch effectively—to lead the nation. And here is where his failure has been greatest….The inside story…is that the President was wholly unable to manage the mighty brains—and egos—he had assembled to advise him.” Managing big egos is not a challenge exclusive to the Obama administration, but managing them effectively is a critical criterion for a nation in which, as Ferguson writes, “the central problems—excessive financial concentration and excessive financial leverage—have not been addressed.”

Many other critics have argued that the President’s crony management style is at the core of the administration’s problems. That’s hard to argue when one reads these lines from Luigi Zingales’ new book, A Capitalism for the People: “In 2010, we saw the passage of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, which was a staggering 2,319 pages long. Things were not always this way. The Glass-Steagall Act, which in 1933 separated investment banking from commercial banking, was just thirty-seven pages long….Tellingly, the Dodd-Frank bill was popularly called the ‘Lawyers’ and Consultants’ Full Employment Act of 2010.’ It may well have created more jobs than Obama’s original stimulus package did.”

Certainly the most troubling weakness of the current administration is its philosophical wrongheadedness: that unquestioned embrace of government first, last and always. A decade ago, Peter Drucker warned America about the danger, pointing out that “the challenges we will face in the next economy are management challenges that will have to be tackled by individuals. Governments will be able to help or hinder. But the tasks themselves are not tasks governments can perform….Government will not become less pervasive, less powerful, let alone less expensive. It will, however, increasingly depend for its effectiveness on what managers and professionals are doing in and with their own nongovernmental organization, and in and with their own lives.”

I stare at the plate once home to my eggs and toast. As I think about Drucker’s assessment, that empty plate is an omen: The next economy is here, with all its attendant management challenges. And when it comes to government, management starts at the voting booth—my choice, your choice, Kelly’s choice.

“Both Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama inherited bad economies,” Kelly writes. “Reagan made a boom. Mr. Obama made excuses.”

Time to say, “Check, please!”



J.F. McKenna is a business journalist, communications specialist and former editor and associate publisher of the national manufacturing magazine Tooling & Production. Reach him at .