The Incoherency of Donald Trump

NATOThe foreign policy world is abuzz today about the latest pronouncement from Donald Trump that casts doubt on his willingness to fulfill our NATO treaty commitments.

The policies Trump puts forward are wildly outside the mainstream of any Republican or Democratic administration in the last 60 years, but what really caught my eye in the transcript of the interview – which was put out because the campaign is now claiming Trump was misquoted – is the basic incoherence of his words. At almost every point, the words Donald Trump speaks literally make no sense.

To wit (emphasis added):

“If we cannot be properly reimbursed for the tremendous cost of our military protecting other countries, and in many cases the countries I’m talking about are extremely rich. Then if we cannot make a deal, which I believe we will be able to, and which I would prefer being able to, but if we cannot make a deal, I would like you to say, I would prefer being able to, some people, the one thing they took out of your last story, you know, some people, the fools and the haters, they said, “Oh, Trump doesn’t want to protect you.” I would prefer that we be able to continue, but if we are not going to be reasonably reimbursed for the tremendous cost of protecting these massive nations with tremendous wealth — you have the tape going on?”

“In the meantime, what have we done? So we’ve kept peace, but in the meantime we’ve let North Korea get stronger and stronger and more nuclear and more nuclear, and you are really saying, “Well, how is that a good thing?” You understand? North Korea now is almost like a boiler. You say we’ve had peace, but that part of Korea, North Korea, is getting more and more crazy. And more and more nuclear. And they are testing missiles all the time.

“And we’ve got our soldiers sitting there watching missiles go up. And you say to yourself, ‘Oh, that’s interesting.’ Now we’re protecting Japan because Japan is a natural location for North Korea. So we are protecting them, and you say to yourself, ‘Well, what are we getting out of this?'”

Just so you understand though, totally on the record, this is not 40 years ago. We are not the same country and the world is not the same world. Our country owes right now $19 trillion, going to $21 trillion very quickly because of the omnibus budget that was passed, which is incredible. We don’t have the luxury of doing what we used to do; we don’t have the luxury, and it is a luxury. We need other people to reimburse us much more substantially than they are giving right now because we are only paying for a fraction of the cost.

By the way, and I know what I’m talking about is massive. If we ever felt there was a reason to defend the United States, we can always deploy, and it would be a lot less expense.

“I don’t think so, but I do give great credit to him for turning it around. You know, the first hour, it seemed like it was over. Then all of a sudden, and the amazing thing is the one that won that was the people. They came out on the streets, and the army types didn’t want to drive over them like they did in Tiananmen Square when they sort of drived them over, and that was the end of that.”

“Meetings. If I ever have the opportunity to do it, meaning if I win, we will have meetings, we will have meetings very early on.”

David, I have statisticians, and I know, like if I went to Pennsylvania, I say, “Give me the statistics on what is going on with respect to manufacturing.” Numbers — 45, 55, 65, I have states that are so bad. New England. Look at New England, what happened.

Cyber is absolutely a thing of the future and the present. Look, we’re under cyberattack, forget about them. And we don’t even know where it’s coming from.

Because we’re obsolete. Right now, Russia and China in particular and other places.

Yes. I am a fan of the future, and cyber is the future.

We have nuclear that we don’t even know if it works. We have nuclear where the telephone systems are 40 years old and they have wire that’s so corroded that they can’t call from one station to the next.”

And I hope you say that I do know my subject. And I do know it. I know it better than, I know it better than the people that do it for ——

It’s possible to puzzle out of these comments what the reader THINKS Mr. Trump is saying but the reality of the words he speaks are incoherent and nonsensical. He does not deserve the benefit of the doubt. No one should level up his words. He deserves to be judged on the basis of what he actually says and the way he says it.

– Austin

 

“I Believe…”

4917998Parsing the various ways that “establishment” Republicans support their presumptive presidential candidate is a wonderful exercise in linguistics. You can tell that most of them are using talking points that have been honed to within a micron of their rhetorical content. Even the simple word “support” is subject to a range of definitions that have come into play only in the last several months. To some, it means voting for, endorsing, campaigning for. Some say their support means voting for only. Some have yet to tell us what their support means.

A regular feature, though, of all of these tortured pronouncements is a phrase along the lines of, “I believe that Donald Trump believes that…” I’ve seen it used to justify supporting him because of vacancies on the Supreme Court, on gun rights, on abortion, on supporting the family values and religious freedom concerns of the evangelical voters, on immigration, on trade, on foreign policy. Check out Tom Cotton’s use of the phrase in The Atlantic to explain how a classic conservative hawk – someone who believes in a muscular, robust, outward-looking foreign policy – could support a man who has advocated pulling out of NATO, reneging on bilateral treaty commitments in every corner of the world, supporting the spread of nuclear weapons and wants to turn our foreign policy into a series of one-time financial transactions.

These people are deluding themselves. No one, not even Donald Trump, knows what he believes. No one, especially not Donald Trump, considers the candidate bound by anything that comes out of his mouth. Like his approach to foreign policy, Mr. Trump treats every utterance as a one-time transaction in which he will say literally anything to close whatever deal he thinks is in front of him at that very instant.

Honest to God, I think if you could book Donald Trump into back-to-back conventions – say, for example, the White People’s Party annual convention and the National Black Republicans Association – he wouldn’t skip a beat:

“Thank you…thank you…what a great crowd…wow, it’s packed in here and I hear there is a huge line trying to get in. Thank you. What a great bunch of Americans, people who want to take their country back, who want to make America Great Again. And we are going to do that, don’t you worry. You’re going to get so tired of winning, you’ll beg me to stop. We’re going to win on trade, on the military, on our police – aren’t they great? – on immigration. And that includes winning on your issues. There will never be – I guarantee you – a president who’s going to more for your people and the issues you care about than Donald Trump. I will be so good to you. Because I’ll bring back the jobs. I’ve created so many great jobs – including hiring thousands of your people – and built such a great company with the best properties that it’ll be easy. So easy.”

Of course, I am – thankfully  – not in Donald Trump’s head so I can’t say for sure that his calcified brain is wired this way, but I would submit that his entire career and his entire candidacy is built on this mindset: Donald Trump will say whatever he needs to say to get the deal, the loan, the government approval, the wire transfer, the contract, the work done, the item placed on Page Six, the interview, the caucus win, the primary votes and then – when the deal is closed – he’ll do whatever he wants.

Repeat over and over and over for more than 40 years. End up as the Republicans’ nominee.

Sad!

– Austin

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sad! Trump’s “Crowds” Ain’t What They Used to Be

Poor Donald Trump. It’s becoming increasingly apparent that he’s not as rich as he’s always claimed (my leading theory for why he won’t release his tax returns is that they would confirm this) and now he’s no longer quite as popular – even with the true believers – as he once was.

Exhibit A in this argument is a couple of photos from yesterday’s Trump “rally” in Manchester, NH – in case it’s easier to track his rallies by gaffes rather than geography, it’s the one where he made a joke about the Mexican plane and didn’t take issue with his supporter’s “heebee-jabbies” comment – that shows by my count maybe 100 people in the audience:

2016-07-01_15-57-4702tfd-trumpwomen-web1-superJumbo

What should be even more worrisome for the campaign than bad advance work (really, did the same advance team that did the garbage backdrop do this one too?), is the complete lack of energy the crowd is exhibiting. In the face of a full-on Trumping, his audience responded thusly:

Sad!

– Austin

PS – Photo credits: Top image is a screen grab from CBS, lower image and audience isolates are credited to Brian Snyder/Reuters.

 

How Trump is Making America Great

It sets my hair on fire that journalists treat Donald Trump like he’s remotely qualified to serve as president of the United States. By casting this election as simply a more extreme or unusual of politics as usual, they make Mr. Trump appear more acceptable and mainstream. He’s neither.

Consider, for example, this lead from The Atlantic:

On Wednesday, Donald Trump gave, by his standards, a restrained and subtle speech.

True, the Republican candidate referred to his opponent, Hillary Clinton, as “a world-class liar,” “maybe the most corrupt person ever to seek the presidency,” and someone whose “decisions spread death, destruction, and terrorism everywhere.” And yes, the speech was full of lies and half-truths. Yet Wednesday’s speech, delivered at an upscale hotel the candidate owns in New York’s SoHo neighborhood, was nonetheless the most focused and cohesive address he has yet given, one that laid out a cogent populist argument without resorting to overt racism or long insult-comedy riffs.

This is how “normalizing” happens. This is how we become desensitized to the awfulness of Mr. Trump’s candidacy. By giving him credit for occasionally not making racist, misogynistic, violence-inciting comments. By being quick to give credit to him for a speech that is – in parts – coherent (which are clearly written by someone else and spoken by Mr. Trump who gives this speechwriter every impression that he’s reading the words for the first time).

Mr. Trump should not be given any credit for “pivoting,” “rebooting” “moderating” or “being disciplined.” All he’s doing is pretending to be something other than he is: a shallow, ignorant, incurious, emotionally immature narcissist who is less qualified to be president than the average person on the street. (I’m not kidding about that, by the way: I think I’d take my chances with a person chosen at random from anywhere in America than Mr. Trump.) All he should be given credit for is a willingness to do anything he thinks will advance his interests at any given moment. That includes reading aloud words written by someone else. Any notion that he understands, agrees with, will be bound by those words is simply wrong.

I’ve buttonholed a couple of journalists on these points and they have uniformly 1) gotten defensive about the media’s efforts to report on the various aspects of Mr. Trump 2) hidden behind the notion that “it’s not their job” to decide who and who isn’t qualified to be president. I’ve also seen in their eyes the panicky look that says they know I’m right (or that I’ve gone stark raving crazy and they’re trapped in a conversation with a lunatic).

In normal elections – i.e. any other election in my lifetime – I would agree with them. Not this one. This election makes a higher claim on all of us to not simply do our jobs but to stand up and be counted. As the saying goes, “When your grandchildren ask you, ‘What did you do to stop Donald Trump?’ what will you say?”

That applies to journalists too.

– Austin

What We Learned From Four Debates.

1. Say what you believe.
2. Short is better than long.
3. Be specific…
4. But don’t get buried in detail.
5. What you do matters more than what you say.
6. Talking points and zingers are bullshit.
7. Don’t whine to the moderator.

So, from a communications coach who never took a debate class, here’s my view, presented at lower decibel levels than when I yelled at the TV screen over the past weeks.

1. Say what you believe. When Mitt Romney said in the last debate that Putin wouldn’t get more flexibility after the election, as President Obama had told him, “He’ll get more spine,” it was a solid hit. Romney believes that, it’s not just a message point, he believes he’s a tough negotiator. He said it with conviction and it rang true. Not true in an ultimate sense, but true in his voice, in his guts. And when Obama said several times in the second and third debates, “Governor, everything you said is just not true,” he had more color and variety and inflection in his voice than in his other points. “You’re the last person who’ll get tough on China,” Obama said, with a solid ring. Even though that was no doubt a practiced line, the president believes it, and you could tell it in the passion in his voice. The stuff he said before that was just blah-blah and he delivered it to the moderator — then he turned to Romney and said it to his face, “Governor, you’re the last…”

In my coaching, i have people start a talk or an interview with what they most believe. No warm-ups, no preliminaries, get what you care about out right away. It brings out the real person, not the practiced person or the image one has decided to project. Imagine — say what you believe. It comes out more concise, in more conversational language, and with more of the speaker’s personality and passion engaged and evident.

2. Shorter is better. Obama often went on too long. He’d make a strong point, but had to layer on more context, which obscured the original point. Romney’s “He’ll get more spine” was powerful because it was short. So was Biden’s “But I always say what I believe” when Paul Ryan said Biden knows about how words don’t always come out the way one wants them to. Romney looked the worst when he was challenged and would go into a filibuster, flooding the room with verbiage in a faster higher voice that made him sound like a kid trying to explain about the cookie jar.

Say what you have to say and shut up.

3. Be specific… Assertions with no examples or specifics to back them up are just marketing blather. I’ll cut the budget. HOW? WHAT? Obama said Romney’s foreign policy is the same as Bush’s. How much stronger to back up that assertion with “Seventeen of your twenty-four advisers on foreign policy served in the Bush administration that got us involved in a disastrous war on false pretenses. Why should we believe you’ll do any better with this crowd?”

4. But don’t get buried in detail. When Obama explained for the second and then the third time, in the first debate, how his health care board was constructed and what it would do, you knew he was toast. Too much ‘splainin’. The point is — “Would you rather have insurance companies deciding what gets covered and for how much, or representatives of patients and medical staff?”

5. What you do matters more than what you say. Obama lost the first debate before he had two sentences out of his mouth. As so many have observed, he looked down, he looked pissed, he looked like this whole thing was just too stupid for words. Watch Bill Clinton in his recent talks for Obama — the guy’s alive, having fun, smiling — you want to hear him. In the second debate, Romney walking up to the president and saying, over and over like a petulant kid, “Have you looked at your pension, have you looked at your pension…” looked like a jerk and gave the president an opening for a smartass cutting retort. Which brings us to…

6. Talking points and zingers are bullshit. Obama said “My pension isn’t as big as yours, Governor, it doesn’t take me that long to look at it.” Clever, made his supporters feel good, and probably doesn’t sway anyone. Same with “Horses and bayonets” and “The unraveling of the Obama foreign policy” and all the canned talking points and practiced zingers. They sound canned and practiced. Real people respond to people who sound like real people. Even better if they actually are real people who speak like people in my Point 1.

7. Don’t whine to the moderator. When Romney kept saying to the moderator that the president had the first answer so he should get the next one and that he should be able to finish — he looked like the dweeb running for student council vice president. And when Obama did the same, he sure as hell didn’t look like a man who could run a country or stand up to Putin or Boehner or anyone.

I’ve said many times I’d like to see debates with no moderator. The two candidates in a room, start the camera, see what happens, no rules. And in another debate have a town hall audience, they ask questions, but no moderator, see how these two people handle themselves as human beings.

I believe the more a person is himself or herself — not some practiced line-spewer — the more people respond.

But that’s just my opinion, and I could be wrong (thanks, Dennis Miller).

— Bruce Benidt

(Photo from npr.org)

You Don’t Even Have to Put Pants On

Kal Penn on Tuesday night gave the second-most-important speech of the Democratic convention. The actor and one-time youth liaison for the Obama White House gave a lively, hip speech that aimed at turning young people into voters again.

Because of so-far-successful voter suppression laws, college kids and kids who’ve moved recently will find it harder than ever to vote this fall. It is crucial to Obama’s reelection that young people jump through the suppression hoops and cast their votes.

Penn, 35, laid out what the Obama administration has already done — change that has already happened. Penn cited friends no longer fighting in Iraq, friends who have health care coverage, friends who can marry whomever they choose, friends who can afford college because Pell grants haven’t been entirely gutted — yet.

People vote their self-interests, by and large. As Democratic speakers in Charlotte lay out how RomneyRyan cuts to EVERYTHING would affect regular people, it becomes easier for people to vote for Obama. But are enough not-yet-committed people watching the Democratic convention? Are enough young people?

Nope.

Enter YouTube. Kal Penn’s speech should become a hit on YouTube — that’s where young people will hear his message. That’s where they’ll understand the stakes of this election. Twitter should rocket this thing around the world. Let it rock.

The speech, BTW, was damn good. Fluid, funny, short, punchy, engaging.

Let’s hope the speech has electronic legs.

–Bruce Benidt

And Now for Something Completely Different…

Well, that was different.

I’m not much of a Rachel Maddow sycophant, but I have to agree with her that Clint Eastwood’s 11-minute performance at last night’s RNC was the most bizarre thing I’ve seen in a major party convention.  Maddow was left speechless – for once – and so was I by the surreal sight of Mr. Eastwood rambling and ad-libbing to an empty chair.  Between the mumbling and the fly-away hairdo, Mr. Eastwood came off less like Dirty Harry and more like the old guy down the block who was pretty normal and neighborly in a curmudgeonly way until the day he started cutting the lawn in his underwear with a katana strapped to his back.

His performance makes two things abundantly clear:

1) Nobody – I mean NOBODY – vetted Eastwood’s remarks.  Not even so much as a “Mr. Eastwood, what do you need with the chair?”

2) Actors without good writers to give them good material are rarely worth listening to.

You are, of course, welcome to disagree with me on this point, but I am 100% sure that Team Romney counts this as a hot mess that is stepping all over the next-day coverage of what was supposed to be “All About Mitt.” Instead, The Big Speech (which in the words of Fox’s Chris Wallace was “workmanlike” at best) has to contend with headlines like:

  • “After a Gunslinger Cuts Loose, Romney Aides Take Cover” – New York Times
  • “Ann Romney: Eastwood Did “A Unique Thing” – CBS News
  • “Clint Eastwood Riff Distracts From Successful Romney Convention” – Washington Post
  • “Clint Eastwood Speech Backfires on Republicans” – Boston.com
  • “Clint Eastwood at the GOP convention: effective, or strange?” – Christian Science Monitor
  • “Clint Eastwood’s empty chair at RNC sparks Internet buzz” – NBC News
  • “Clint Eastwood puts liberals in full panic mode” – New York Daily News
  • “Eastwood mocked for kooky speech at GOP convention” – San Jose Mercury News
  • “Clint Eastwood speech with empty chair upstages Mitt Romney at GOP convention” – Newsday
  • “Eastwood, the empty chair and the speech everyone is talking about” – CNN

And on and on and on.  As of now, Google News is serving up more than 1,500 stories related to the Eastwood speech.  Every one of them distracts, detracts from or otherwise obscures the message Romney and company were hoping we’d be talking about today but aren’t.

Check out the New York Times‘ story this morning on who was responsible for this clusterfuck:

Clint Eastwood’s rambling and off-color endorsement of Mitt Romney on Thursday seemed to startle and unsettle even the candidate’s own top aides, several of whom made a point of distancing themselves from the decision to put him onstage without a polished script.

“Not me,” said an exasperated-looking senior adviser, when asked who was responsible for Mr. Eastwood’s speech. In late-night interviews, aides variously called the speech “strange” and “weird.” One described it as “theater of the absurd.”

Finger-pointing quickly ensued, suggesting real displeasure and even confusion over the handling of Mr. Eastwood’s performance, which was kept secret until the last minute.

A senior Republican involved in convention planning said that Mr. Eastwood’s appearance was cleared by at least two of Mr. Romney’s top advisers, Russ Schriefer and Stuart Stevens. This person said that there had been no rehearsal, to the surprise of the rest of the campaign team.

But another adviser said that several top aides had reviewed talking points given to Mr. Eastwood, which the campaign had discussed with the actor as recently as a few hours before his appearance. Mr. Eastwood, however, delivered those points in a theatrical, and at times crass, way that caught Romney aides off guard, this person said.

Mr. Stevens, in an interview, said he would not discuss internal decision making but described Mr. Eastwood’s remarks as improvised.

There’s some profiles in courage there. I can hardly wait for a Romney presidency in which the aides race one another to their iPhones to rat out their colleagues – anonymously of course – when real decisions go wrong.

Couple last  night’s mess with everything else that went wrong or off-message in Tampa (cancellation of Day 1, the Christie keynote (aka “It’s All About Me”), the cult of Paul Ryan, the peanut tossers, being upstaged by his wife and Condeleeza Rice, the untruths of the Ryan speech, the Ron Paul distractions) and this was NOT a good convention for Romney. Anne Romney, maybe, but not Mitt.

Yes, the GOP talking points would have us believe otherwise, but the reality is that Mitt Romney got less out of this convention than almost anyone. Instead of a bounce, I’m expecting more of a post-convention “thud” in the next set of polls.

Oh well, there’s still the debates.  Governor Romney was pretty good in the Republican debates where he could play Snow White to the Seven Dwarfs but I’m not entirely sure he’ll come across so well in a one-on-one comparison with Obama.

– Austin

 

Vikings’ Jerry Burns Reminds Us How Badly PR Has F-ed Up News Viewing

The field of public relations has sucked nearly all the emotion, candor, color and sincerity out of news programming.

I haven’t done formal research on this, but my sense is that all of this started in the political world.  After the political handlers got done “training” their bosses and clients, the politicans became rhetorical robots.  As a result, they are now less likely to say anything politically perilous, but they are also unlikely to say anything remotely thought-provoking or candid.

The Sunday news shows are living proof.   Virtually no intelligent life can be found there.  It’s not because the guests aren’t intelligent.  It’s because the guests have all been trained.

About the same time, the burgeoning class of media trainers started to suck out what little color and candor ever existed in the world of corporate communications.  PR pros taught their bosses and clients to stay emotionally flat, avoid unflattering questions, and stay “on message” at all costs.  That is sound advice for the client, to a point, but it is absolutely lethal for audiences hoping to learn anything about a businessperson’s actual personality, insights, or intentions.

Increasingly, this rhetorical neutering reached, sigh, the sports world.  Listen to current Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier, in all his emotionally flat, cliché-ridden blandness.  “One game at a time,” “everyone do their jobs,” “you take what they give you,” “stick with our game plan.”  Blah, blah, blahtedy blah.  Like white noise, Frazier interviews numb the ear drum.

The ever-programmed Coach Frazier will never begin to hold a player publicly accountable.  For instance, when wide receiver Percy Harvin recently spent a week acting like a spoiled brat, Coach Frazier, who had to be absolutely livid, instead looked like he had been lobotomized.  I can assure you, he had been, by media trainers.

As a result of all this training, I am no more likely to watch an interview of the Vikings’ verbal Vulcan than I am to watch an interview of Mitt Romney, John Boehner, Harry Reid, or Nancy Pelosi.  I have learned from experience that none of them will ever say anything remotely genuine or unscripted.  After all, they have been trained.

If you doubt me about how bad sports interviews have become from a spectators’ standpoint, treat yourself to a walk down memory lane with former Vikings Coach Jerry Burns.

Warning:  Do not watch this with the volume up within earshot of  the kiddies, clergy or your mother:

And mind you, this was a game the Vikings won.

Put that Burns interview alongside a contemporary Leslie Frazier interview, and you will see why the NFL is now rightfully called the “No Fun League.”  Burnsy wasn’t afraid to let his real emotions out, provide somewhat frank analysis and bring his cartoon character personality to the screen.  Burns was employed in the entertainment business, and he entertained unabashedly.

If the Vikings hired me to media train Jerry Burns, I supposed I’d feel obligated to put him through Charm School.  And you know what?  F*#k me for doing it.

– Loveland

Programming note:  Thanks to a West Coast Rowdy reader for passing along the vintage video.

When Will Democrats Get Pissed Off Enough to Be Effective?

“Republicans are trying to keep you from voting. They’re trying to keep you from having any power. The people who have the most money and power in America want to keep it, and they want to keep you from screwing up the rigged game they’re running and winning.”

Where are the Democrats crying out to high heaven with words like this?

“Republicans are trying to take away your vote. There’s no big vote-fraud problem. The problem Republicans are trying to correct is that black people are voting, the problem is Hispanic people are voting, the problem is you are voting and they don’t want you to. The problem is there’s a black liberal in the White House and he got there with your legal votes. That’s the problem the people with power in this country are trying to correct. And don’t let them do it!”

Come on, spit it out, tell it like it is. Enough political round-about talk. Get angry, stand up and holler, wake people up!

In my benighted state of Florida, our corporate-criminal governor Rick Scott and the Republican legislature are trying to suppress the vote three ways — by purging 50,000 and more names from existing voting rolls, by making it harder to register new voters, and by shortening the voting period. Thank God for federal courts and the Justice Department, which, from the Civil Rights movement to Watergate, have often been the only check on executive and legislative crooks.

A federal judge just struck down much of the Florida vote-restricting law, saying blocking that law would not “in any way” damage Florida. More directly, the judge wrote,”Before the adoption of the 2011 statute, the state was operating under provisions that, at least insofar as shown by this record, were working well.”

So what problem were the Republicans in Florida trying to correct? Not voter fraud, but voting.

In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker says those opposing him don’t like him standing up to the special interests.

Democrats should be standing on the rooftops hollering to the public — “The special interests are YOU! Walker is trying to screw YOU. Wake the hell up, Wisconsin. This isn’t just about unions, it’s about people who are well off trying to keep the people who have less in their place. It’s about keeping those with less power from getting more — through unions, through environmental and financial regulations that keep the powerful from doing whatever the hell they want. Don’t let them do it!”

The only Democrat I see who has fire on this issue is John Lewis of Georgia, who was beaten on the Edmund Pettus bridge and who now says with righteous fire that people died for the right to vote, his friends died for the right to vote, and we can’t let people’s right to vote be taken away.

Where’s Willie Stark when we need him? Listen to this scene from All The Kings Men, when the candidate says the powerful are treating the voters like hicks. “Well I’m a hick just like you,” he yells, and we can’t let them keep us down.

— Bruce Benidt
(I was ranting to Lisa about this stuff so loudly that I scared the cat — so I thought I’d purge myself by writing it down.)

Oops

On paper, Rick Perry entered the race as arguably the strongest contender to get the GOP Presidential nomination.

• Governors do better than members of Congress in presidential politics, particularly in a year when Congress has record-low support. Perry was a long-serving Governor who had never worked in DC.

• Southerners tend do better than northerners in a Dixie–dominated GOP party. Perry was arguably the only southerner in the field. (I think Newt feels more DC to most.)

• Republicans are seemingly more obsessed than ever with the Reagan mystique. Perry’s swagger and look was arguably the most Reaganesque.

• The economy is the paramount issue in 2012. Perry had been running a state doing relatively well economically.

• Presidential campaigns require lots of money. The darling of the Texas corporate class and national political opportunists had more money than most in the field, both for his own campaign and for pro-Perry Super PACs.

• Republican activists are very intolerant of political compromise. Perry had governed in a state so conservative than he rarely had to compromise (unlike Romney and Pawlenty, for instance).

• Being a white male Protestant conservative is a key political asset in the Republican Party. Post-Pawlenty, Perry had that advantage to himself.

Because Perry was so strong on paper, I originally thought he would win the nomination, and had the best shot against Obama. He had the longest list of important political assets.

But at the end of the day, Presidents are not picked on paper. You have to execute, and Perry just was never able to execute on a communications level. Oops.

– Loveland

A Little Too Rowdy Of A Crowd

Political communicators work day and night to control everything about political events. The stagecraft. The music. The tempo. The supporting cast. The wardrobe. The make-up. The messaging. The media coverage.

But there is one thing that seems to be increasingly difficult for political handlers to control. The audience.

At this phase of the campaign cycle, the Republican frontrunners’ campaigns are doing their best to win partisan primary and caucus voters without spooking less partisan and zealous General Election voters watching TV coverage of events. It’s a tricky balancing act under any circumstances, and the audiences at Republicans events are making it much more difficult.

The boisterous zealots bellowing forth at nationally televised Republican events are diverting attention from the front-runners’ carefully focus group tested messaging, and instead making the candidates look bloodthirsty…

intolerant…

and heartless…

These candidates look extreme by association. These are not the warm and fuzzy images that the political handlers strive to create. Long after background flags are returned to the rental company, these Gladiator-esque reactions of the Republican crowd are what many of us remember about the moment.

A winning Republican formula in the past has been to run candidates with warm-feeling personalities to mask the harsh impact of the conservative policies they support. Reagan, Pawlenty, McCain and Romney are among those who played that game especially well. But the discordant chorus at Republican events is taking the sheen off the frontrunners’ carefully managed nice guy images.

This is not an insignificant issue for political communicators in the age of extreme political polarization. If I were a Republican spin savant, I’d be spending less time obsessing about the size of the candidates’ flag pin decal, and more time on crowd control.

Loveland

Expectations for Tonight’s Debate

Political junkies looking for an excuse to avoid organizing their sock drawers will be gathered ’round the tellies and laptops this evening to watch the latest GOP presidential debate.  You can watch it on MSNBC or streaming on  Politico.  Festivities kick off at 7:00 pm CST though there’s sure to be pre-game coverage beforehand.

Tonight’s debate will feature 8 candidates and because of the Crowd’s remarkable connections, we can give you access to the last-minute advice each one is receiving from their handlers and debate coaches about what needs to be achieved, what needs to be avoided and how to get there.  Let’s listen in:

Michele Bachmann: “…what we really need tonight, Congresswoman, is for you to show that you’re still relevant to this race.  Yes, we’ve lost all the momentum we had coming out of Ames.  Yes, we’ve lost our campaign manager and our #2 manager this weekend.  Yes, there’s a danger every time you open your mouth, but your job this evening is to own the stage like you did at the New Hampshire debate in June (boy, doesn’t that seem like a long time ago?).  We’re trying like hell to get the moderators to ask you a ‘gotcha’ question about Marcus or the counseling or the farm so you can do the moral outrage thing again, but we can’t count on it.  Ignore everyone except Romney and Perry and attack them whenever possible:  Romney’s a flipflopper, Perry’s governed Texas for 11 years by selling it off bit by bit to his buddies.  Steal Palin’s ‘crony capitalism’ line if you see the opening to use it.  Hit Obama as often as possible – it might be time to bring back ‘gangster government.’  And, please, please, please…try not to knock us off-message with a ‘freelance’ answer; if it isn’t in the briefing book, please don’t say it. Oh, and claim that you’re the one true heir to Ronald Reagan’s legacy.  After all, he’s from Iowa like you!”

Herman Cain: “Herman, just go out and enjoy yourself tonight.  Our best guess is that this might be the last debate you’re invited to; your polling numbers are down there with Gary Johnson.  Because of that, the moderators are probably not going to give you a lot of openings so you’re going to have to jump in whenever you have a chance.  You’re articulate, you’re good on your feet, so just roll with it.  Who knows, we might get a “this is my microphone Mr. Green” moment that will keep us alive another month or two. Oh, and claim that you’re the one true heir to Ronald Reagan’s legacy.  You were both on the radio!”

Newt Gingrich: “Mr. Speaker, I’m not sure what to tell you to do.  I mean, just a month ago I was a volunteer in your campaign’s New Hampshire office and now I’m your campaign manager so I’m a little over my head here.  I guess you could talk about your ideas…you always have really cool sounding ideas…and maybe quote some Greek philosopher… that always sounds good.  Does your wife have any advice? Oh, and claim that you’re the one true heir to Ronald Reagan’s legacy.  After all,  he was out of office for as long as you before he won the presidency!”

Jon Huntsman: “Governor, we really see this as your first appearance on the national stage.  Our polling tells us that a good percentage of likely Republican voters have forgotten you’re running for president.  Even worse, among those who do they don’t like you much because you’re seen as too moderate or are out of the consideration set because you worked for the Great Satan (Obama).  Tonight, you’re going to have really show a little leg in the sense of showing the base you can hate Obama and what he’s done to our country as much as the craziest, most jingoistic candidate out there.  You know who we’re talking about.  We need you to be aggressive and energetic – here take a couple of these…no, they’re perfectly legal (somewhere) – and to work as many of these words – “failure,” “bankrupt,” “traitor,” “un-American,” “disaster” – into your responses as possible.  Oh, and claim that you’re the one true heir to Ronald Reagan’s legacy.  After all, he was a governor just like you!

Ron Paul: “Congressman, we’ve seeded the audience with as many supporters as we could get into the building – our guys have been standing on line for two weeks to get seats in the hall – so you can count on applause every time you open your mouth.  Hell, they’ll cheer if you break wind!  Just keep doing what you’ve been doing at every debate – tell the truth that we’re bankrupt as a country, that drugs should be legalized, that we should pull every troop back to the U.S. border, that the Fed ought to be eliminated and the gold standard readopted – and it’ll be great.  You can’t count on the moderators giving you equal time – remember how they ignored us after Ames – but let’s all remember that we’re really setting you up for the 2020 race. Oh, and claim that you’re the one true heir to Ronald Reagan’s legacy.  After all, for years people thought he was an extremist just like you!

Rick Perry: “Governor, I know you don’t like debate formats so I know you’re not looking forward to tonight.  And, you can expect that everyone will be gunning for you.  Even so, our goals for tonight are easy: no mistakes, no gaffes, no scary language.  Keep your answers short, serious and to the point.  We’re lapping the other candidates in the polls among likely GOP voters so this approach will also help us with another long-term goal; persuading moderates and independents you’re a viable choice.  Work the brush fires into a couple of responses – how brave the people of Texas are, how resilient they are, how much they represent the best of America, something like that – but remember – as hard as it is to believe – not everyone loves Texas.   We’re also trying to position you as the outsider who can go to Washington and fix what’s wrong there, but this is a fine line to walk; the more we talk about that, the more we remind people of George Bush.  Oh, and claim that you’re the one true heir to Ronald Reagan’s legacy.  After all, he used to wear cowboy boots just like you!”

Mitt Romney: “OK, let’s all get on the same page here: the ‘running as the defacto nominee’ strategy is no longer working.  As page 17 of the Powerpoint clearly indicates, GOP voters are still ‘unenthused’ about the Governor as the Republican nominee.  Accordingly, if you’ll flip to page 27, we’ve set ought a 5-point plan for tonight’s debate: 1) be less scripted; 2) make more use of pre-screened one-liners to convey spontaneity; 3) include at least two key messages from focus group testing in each answer; 4) smile between 1.5 and 3 times per answer depending on content; 5) attack Governor Perry as unelectable, dangerous and clone of George W. Bush. Oh, and claim that you’re the one true heir to Ronald Reagan’s legacy.  After all, he ran for president twice just like you!”

Rick Santorum: “Honey, you know the kids and I are behind you 100 percent.  We love being with you in the RV, we love all the Motel 6s we’ve stayed at when we could afford them and – if it were up to us – you’d be the nominee in a walk.  After tonight, though, maybe we could take a couple of days off?  See Disneyland?  Take the tour here?  Then we can claim you’re just like Ronald Reagan.  You could get a pin from the gift shop.”

For those looking for something to do between the guffawing and sputtering, let’s do this:  let’s count how many times each candidate says “Reagan” and let’s put our bets down about how many minutes will pass before someone invokes Nancy Reagan as an American heroine.  I’m guessing 12 minutes in and it will be Perry.

– Austin

TFlaw: Pawlenty’s Drone Assaults Continue To Fall Flat

Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty perplexed political pundits a few weeks ago when he attacked political rival Mitt Romney for passing “Obamneycare” health insurance reform, but then completely backed off the attack the next day when nose-to-nose with a smirking Romney.

I assumed Pawlenty just was off that night, or that he intentionally pulled back because he worried about being exposed as a hypocrite on that particular issue. Whatever the origins of the original retreat, I assumed that would the last such TFlaw. In fact, I expected him to be pitbull agressive to calm red meat-craving party activists who are wondering if Pawlenty is nasty enough to rhetorically dismember President Obama in face-to-face debates.

But, it looks like Governor Pawlenty has done it again, this time with his “Minnesota twin” Michelle Bachmann. Today Bloomberg reports: Continue reading “TFlaw: Pawlenty’s Drone Assaults Continue To Fall Flat”

Mini-Michele Steps Onto the Stage

Editor’s note: I just realized I’ve been spelling “Michele” with two “l”s today; this is why we should have copy editors.  Sorry.

Jeez, she’s tiny.  Everything else aside, are we ready for the first five-foot President?

I’m on a streak when it comes to catching GOP candidates declaring their candidacies; last week I got treated to Jon Huntsman in New Jersey.  Now, I’m watching Michele Bachmann’s coming out party in Waterloo.

So far, I’m underwhelmed:

  • Bad stagecraft – the flags and signage are poorly positioned for the cameras
  • Bad speechwriting – as with Mr. Huntsman’s announcement, I’m left wondering if Ms. Bachmann read this speech aloud before today
  • Bad delivery – She’s getting better as she gets into it, but her delivery is rushed and a little flat.

Let’s give Ms. Bachmann and her handlers a little break; this is the biggest stage they’ve ever played and in days of yore a lot of this would have been worked out in less of a glare (the first press conference I ever staged I set the camera angles to give a great shot right up the candidate’s nose but fortunately it was only covered by two stations in Hannibal, MO).

Biggest applause lines so far:

  • “I’m a social conservative.”
  • “I’m a member of the Tea Party.”
  • “Barack Obama will be a one-term president.” This one has become such a signature line for Ms. Bachmann that the audience did a sing-along with her as she spoke it.

She’s reminding the audience of the sacrifice of the Sullivan brothers who grew up in Waterloo and who died in the sinking of the Juneau in World War II.  This set up her call to action close for sacrifice and common purpose.

And we’re done.  Ms. Bachmann is doing the waves and hugs at the lectern to the strains of Tom Petty’s “American Girl.”  As an aside, I hope Mr. Petty gets residuals from all the politicians who have appropriated his music for political events.  Same for Mr. Springsteen.

We’ve now segued into Katrina and the Waves’ “Walking on Sunshine”. Followed by the classic “I Feel Good” by James Brown and the Stones’ “Start Me Up”  Ms. Bachmann said in her remarks that she wasn’t trying to turn back the clock, but from a musical perspective, it’s 1980 again.

Musical update.  We’ve gotten up to the 21st century – almost – with Jennifer Lopez’ “Lets Get Loud, U2’s “Beautiful Day” and Smash Mouth’s “All Star.”

This performance was quite restrained in contrast with other Bachmann outings I’ve seen – no “gangsters,” no “anti-Americanisms.”  In fact, much of the red meat one has come to expect from Ms. Bachmann was missing. All in all, however, a decent coming out, significantly better than Mr. Huntsman’s in terms of energy and excitement.  Jason Lewis, who did the introduction, will no doubt have an enjoyable second career for a while as crowd-whipper in chief.  Based on this event, the new Iowa poll and her widely praised performance in the New Hampshire debate, Ms. Bachmann has clearly been on a roll in the last couple of weeks.

Poor Tim Pawlenty.  Like the Highlander series, there can only be one Minnesotan in this race and the very early betting on who’s head will be taken is on Mr. Pawlenty.

– Austin

A Star That Shines Half as Bright…Jon Huntsman Enters Stage Center

I was driving around yesterday listening to POTUS (the single best thing on radio for the political junkie) during Jon Huntsman’s declaration announcement.  I had several thoughts:

  • This guy needs a new speechwriter
  • This guy needs speaker training
  • The crowd sounded like it was 20 people who wandered by
  • What a rational guy
  • The Obama team is right to worry about him in the general election
  • He’ll never make it out of the primaries

While the speech seemed awkwardly worded throughout and Governor Huntsman’s delivery verged on monotonic, I loved some of the sentiment and sensibility I heard. In particular:

Now let me say something about civility. For the sake of the younger generation, it concerns me that civility, humanity and respect are sometimes lost in our interactions as Americans.

Our political debates today are corrosive and not reflective of the belief that Abe Lincoln espoused back in his day, that we are a great country because we are a good country.

You know what I mean when I say that.

We will conduct this campaign on the high road. I don’t think you need to run down someone’s reputation in order to run for the Office of President.

Of course we’ll have our disagreements. That’s what campaigns are all about.

But I want you to know that I respect my fellow Republican candidates.

And I respect the President of the United States.

He and I have a difference of opinion on how to help a country we both love.

But the question each of us wants the voters to answer is who will be the better President; not who’s the better American.

When I got home I watched the video and thought it was beautifully staged (something that is apparently a strength of Team Huntsman) but that the flaws I heard were not diminished with the addition of visuals. The crowd was small, the phrasing was goofy and the delivery was about as inspiring as a midlevel manager (I think I heard the words “manage”, “manager” and “management” about 10 times and all in a positive context) talking about the companywide cost-cutting program he was directing.  The weird “motorcycle in the desert” video was beautifully produced and way better than the usual campaign fare (not a waving flag anywhere that I remember), but didn’t add much.

There’s a backlash meme currently making the rounds that Huntsman’s candidacy is a creation of the media that wants Huntsman to be a viable candidate and of the GOP “elite” (that presumably means the “bidness” wing of the party) who does want a reprise of the Goldwater debacle. Maybe that’s right, but unless he steps up his game pretty quickly in terms of the nuts-and-bolts of delivering his message, he’ll quickly lose the attention of both.

About that message…

As I noted, Huntsman could be a viable candidate but I really, really can’t see it selling with the conservative wing of the party.  His record is impure (Cap and trade!  Climate change! Civil unions! Obama!) and his rhetoric of moderation and civility does not resonate with anyone who’s angry about the current administration and its “gangster” ways.  In relatively short order, I think the governor will have to make the hard choice of walking back his commitment to civility or accepting permanent status as a “margin of error” candidate.

I hope he picks the latter, but won’t be shocked if he picks Door #1.

– Austin

Mitta Culpa

As a crisis communications counselor, I’ve seen that the public is generally remarkably forgiving if, and only if, the wrong-doer: a) admits the wrong without lapsing into fudging language; b) apologizes in a way that actually is perceived to be sincere; c) exhibits humanity, not robotics; and d) explains specifically how they are righting the wrong, and taking steps to ensure it will never happen again. Absent those things, I’ve also seen how brually unforgiving the public can be.

Therefore, allow me to give some pro bono advice to poor Mitt Romney, who has been accused of a very, very serious crime. I’d recommend former Governor Mitt issue a heartfelt mea culpa statement that goes something like this:

My fellow Americans, I made a mistake. And it was a doozey. For reasons I can’t explain, I helped 401,000 people in my state get health coverage for their families.

I know, I know. It was heinous. Immunizations. Cancer screenings. No medical bankruptcies. I pray that God and the American people can somehow find it in their hearts to forgive me.

I don’t have a good explanation. I guess I just lost my way by spending too much time listening to sob stories from those 401,000 uninsured whiners.

To my credit, I did leave 2% uninsured. But I realize, that’s no excuse. A 98% coverage rate – the lowest in the nation – is a disgrace to me, and my family’s good name.

For that, I am deeply, deeply, DEEPLY sorry. I want you to know that I am dedicated to ignoring the two-thirds of Massachusets citizens who support my reforms. To the one-third who oppose the reforms, and are active in Republican politics, I want you to know that I hear YOU loud and clear.

I therefore, hereby denounce the 88% of physicians practicing medicine under the wretched reforms, who claim they have improved health care quality and access for my neighbors.

But that’s not all. I promise to build a statutory lock box to prevent those reforms from ever helping 98% of the American people get medical care for their families. We can’t have that.

And if you’re still pissed at me, I’ll also throw in a bonus promise to dismantle the most effective and popular health coverage initiative in America, Medicaid. Will that do it?

While I can’t undo my past wrongs, I want to ensure the American people that I get it. I won’t ever again stoop so low as to double the health coverage rate for vulnerable children.”

He attempted to put this nightmare behind him yesterday, but it was insufficient. If His Mittness will just do the right thing, I think he will be surprised to see how forgiving the American people can be.

– Loveland

Who Let The Sane Guy In?

In the din of mindless sloganeering that marks most hearings at 75 Reverend Martin Luther King Boulevard, you sometimes stumble upon the rare “holy crap, that was actually thoughtful” moments. Like the sighting of an endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker, those precious moments must be treasured.

Simon says:

– Loveland

Home Cookin’

After years of actively exploring a presidential bid, former Governor Tim Pawlenty recently shocked the world by forming a Presidential Exploratory Committee. It was a little like Merriweather Lewis announcing an Expedition Exploratory Committee in Central Oregon, but, hey, it was still exciting for the hometown rubes.

Because Pawlenty is a favorite son, I wanted to give him a little something for his journey. I don’t have skills to make him anything really nice, like a circle loom hat or crop art. But as a PR guy, I know there could be bumps in the roads, so I decided to give him my secret recipe for campaign trail comfort food.

Copyright Same Rowdy Crowd, 2011

So, run, Tim, run. Here’s hoping you make Minnesota proud. Now, what am I going to get for candidates Bachmann and Ventura?

– Loveland

Not Intended to be a Factual Statement.

Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart and others have been merciless towards Arizona Republican Sen. Jon Kyl’s assertion — on the Senate floor mind you, not over cocktails at The Phoenician — that “90% of Planned Parenthood” funding goes for abortions, when it is really only 3%. The merciless meter buried its needle though with the “explanation” from Kyl’s office that his remarks — on the Senate floor, I repeat — “were not intended to be a factual statement”.

You can’t make it up … other than when you are just, you know, making it up.

If ever there was a gift-wrapped present to merciless satirists it was that one.

But what the Kyl incident says about the Grand Old Party, and what Team Obama has clearly calculated, is what makes it so truly, deeply, lover-ly … delicious. It is well known that Obama was preparing a speech on the “debt crisis” for sometime this spring, but wanted the Republicans, in the form of their guru du jour, Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, t0 lay out their “plan” first. Why? Well, because obviously it meant that at long, long last the Tea Party-driven new Republican majority would have to get into … details. And those details would be coming from a guy the Republicans are touting as their best-est, deepest thinker on really serious adult thingies, like money.

Having won a big victory last fall on a campaign strategy of blaming Democrats for the ’08 recession and promising to “cut spending” and get a grip on the “debt crisis” (while ignoring it was largely a crisis of their own making) they never at any point hinted at whose spending they were going to cut. Just “government waste”. Which of course could be anything and nothing. What Obama, a supernaturally patient character, understood/understands is that at some point they’d have to get into the hows and the whats. The Tea Party rabble would demand actual numbers, actual blood in the dirt. He also knew that the “how” of the Republican solution would be anathema to the vast majority of voters, even the huge chunk of them that sat out the off-year election.

It is pretty clear that far from shrinking from a fight over national finances, Obama relishes it. This is it. This is the central issue for 2012. His speech in Tuesday, with its campaign-perfect tone and “bring it on” rhetoric about how no one’s going to gut the social safety net, “while I’m president”, along with its emphatic defense of a liberal-progressive vision of society clearly rattled the GOP’s young Turks. (Ryan himself was in the audience at George Washington University.)  They may genuinely believe that their victory last fall gave them a mandate to eviscerate all sorts of social programs. (All of them created by liberals and all of them opposed at the time of their creation and ever since by conservatives). But outside their caucus bubble they had to know — or had to be warned by guys like John Boehner — that  there lurked a far, far different reality. A reality where the brittle rubber of “not intended to be a factual statement” hits the hot asphalt of every day life and disintegrates.

Given The Sixteen Stooges-cast of characters poised to compete against him, I doubt Obama is losing a lot of sleep worrying about any one-on-one debates. Hell, in the rally-the-base realm where, “not intended to be a factual statement” is a completely viable campaign strategy, where Donald Trump can spike to the top of the “likely Republican voters” poll by covering himself in birther lunacy, where Michele Bachmann has to be regarded as a contender because her cred with “values voters in Iowa” and where a profoundly creepy character like Rick Santorum can make news with his “exploratory committee”, Obama would have more serious competition from Larry, Moe and Curly Joe.

Still, he needed the crucible issue defined … by his opposition. The Tea Party’s late-dawning obsession with the “debt crisis” — long, long after the two unpaid for Bush-era wars, the Bushies’ unpaid for prescription drug benefit and the Bushies’ unpaid-for multi-trillion dollar tax cuts for Warren Buffett, Jay-Z and the Wall Street sharks — is the perfect issue to win reelection on. It is made even better by the haplessness — the let’s not even bother with “intended as a factual statement” — of the Tea Party tail, which is wagging the Republican dog.

A debate on money, social programs and who pays for it is perfect because it invites a serious, highly-relevant choice every voter can understand. If Ryan and the GOP candidates want to actually engage Obama on the specifics of what a voucher system means to Medicare as we know it … bring it on … please. Every pensioner in every Ft. Lauderdale condo will have their hearing aids on high gain. Likewise, those tax cuts — without which there would be no “crisis” in “debt crisis” — if you really want to go out in public again shrieking about Democrats raising “your taxes” and/or “stifling our job providers” — let us prepare a red carpet for your appearances. We’ll even do a sound check on the equipment and touch-up your eye shadow.

Perhaps the most revealing thing about John Kyl’s “Dubious Achievements”-worthy lapse into comical demagoguery is that he, like John McCain, was once regarded as a respectable, rational, albeit old school professional country club Republican.  But now, under the irresistible influence of the Tea Party zealots, for whom “factual statements” are anything that sounds good on Sean Hannity and gets a roar out of the crowd at a Tucson gun show, even he feels obligated to publicly debase himself with instantly demonstrable idiocy. (How much do you think the John Kyl of five years ago ever thought about Planned Parenthood, much less confused it as an all-abortion service?)

The “not intended as a factual statement” crowd is the controlling influence on today’s Republican party, and they have pushed out into the bright light of day a “reality-based” issue that every average voter can easily understand and on which they have clear, well-documented opinions. Barack Obama could not be happier.

And as a liberal who has been waiting for Obama to take on the big fight, I thank them.

Ten Years After — The View Out My Screen Porch

“The longer I do this the less I know.”

small business help That was my wife, Lisa’s, former career-counseling partner, Colleen Convey, talking to people at a large Minneapolis company years ago about finding work that fits you, not fitting into work. Then Colleen gave them, humbly, what she’d learned in her decades of counseling, which her years and wisdom had shaped into something simple, clear and deep.

One of Colleen’s and Lisa’s measures of job fit is — when was the last occasion where you lost track of time because you were so engaged by what you were doing? If you can find work that connects with one of those experiences (no, Austin, you can’t make a living doing that) you’ll have work that fits and fulfills.

Ten years ago Colleen’s and Lisa’s advice and support helped me leave, with manageable fear and trembling, a global PR firm to start my own little business. April 1, 2001 I went on my own, an April fool. Ten years later, I still haven’t had to get a real job and I’m still losing track of time when engaged face-to-face with my clients. The longer I do this the less I know — but I’ve become pretty clear about what I do know.

Life is short, meetings are long, presentations are mostly dreadful, most interview subjects can’t spit out in plain English why anybody might care about or benefit from what they do — so anyone who can talk with clarity and passion and examples about stuff that matters to real people is an extraordinary and compelling communicator. After a dozen years as a journalist and a dozen in PR and decades of college teaching, I have focused on training people to be clear and compelling communicators. Not by giving them a formula, but by listening to them and watching them and dragging out, through all the layers of organizational and educational and professional detritus, their own personality and passion. I help people talk about stuff that excites them or moves them — and I get paid for it. For ten years now. Good gig

It’s scary, a little, being out on your own. Most independents I know, like me, worry that the phone will stop ringing. Colleen told me that the first year on your own you worry all the time about not getting work, the second year you think the first year was a fluke, and by the third year you think this might actually work. Ten years in, I’ve embraced worry as an old friend who just croaks in the corner. I miss a good health-care plan, I miss colleagues from the newspapers and colleges and Shandwick, but god I love making an independent living from something I’m good at, saying yes or no when I want to, and now in my dotage not pretending I know more than I do.

A huge thanks is due to the people who helped me develop the skills I’ve traded on for ten years — Dennis McGrath, Scott Meyer, Mary Jeffries, Dave Mona, Sara Gavin, Dave Kuhn, Betsy Buckley, Kari Bjorhus, Steve Conway, Mary Milla, Walt Parker and so many more from the Mona Meyer McGrath & Gavin Shandwick years. And to Lisa, who encouraged me to jump with no net. And to mein guter freund Jorg Pierach, with whom I jumped in 2001 and who, like me, has withstood two economic collapses and who, unlike me, has built a gorgeous and successful agency of lively cool professionals — FastHorse. Jorg supported and supports me, with drinks and an office and unquenchable good spirit. And to Daniel Pitlik, who’s been at this for years longer than I have and is an example and mensch and sweet human being from whom I have stolen endless ideas and approaches. And to Tony Carideo, a careful and caring businessman/journalist with a philosopher’s heart and degree who’s held my hand the whole way — and whose basement is promised as Lisa’s and my retirement home.

And to my clients — who make me feel part of their teams — huge huge thanks. These are my colleagues and friends — good humans at Medtronic, Best Buy,Thomson Reuters, UPS, Amway, Cargill, Doug Kelley, GCI Atlanta the most frequent, but all of you people I light up when I see as I drag in my camera bag for another gig. The biographer Charles Neider had a formula for whom he chose as a subject for a book — could he take a cross-country train trip with that person and not want to jump the tracks mid-journey? All of my clients I’d climb on a train with — at the bar-car end of course. Some of my clients are former Shandwick colleagues who’ve moved on and kept my number, some former Shandwick clients, some former students, and all have referred me to others, which keeps me out of the bread lines.

In ten years my little business has moved its global headquarters from Eden Prairie to South Minneapolis and now to north of Tampa, where my office is a screen porch looking out on the egret fishing in the oyster bar pictured above. Huge thanks to my Minneapolis clients who keep calling on me even though I’m no longer just a half-hour away. Here near the Gulf of Mexico I’ve learned to distinguish the sharp beak-splash of a kingfisher diving into the tidal pond in our backyard from the flop-splash of fish jumping, and to recognize the twee-twee call of an osprey before I see its speckled wings and striped tail. These are important work skills, I think.

Technology has changed in my ten years. I travel now with three video cameras (plans A, B & C — you can’t waste executives’ time and look like a fool because of equipment failures or lost luggage), the most recent a flipcam. I used to drag to sessions a bag of VHS tapes of interview and speech examples until Sue Busch at Best Buy suggested with good humor that this was one step above cave paintings, so then I switched to examples on DVD. Now it’s YouTube and Ted.com — when a client at UPS a week or so ago said he liked a local preacher’s and Tom Friedman’s speaking styles, we instantly pulled them up on YouTube on my iPhone and analyzed what made them compelling. (Even more important — I’m about to watch the Twins opener on my iPad out on the porch — is this a great country or what?)

Have I changed in ten years? I’m more willing to say no to work I’m not good at, don’t like or don’t know enough to do. Journalism training and natural arrogance have always made me comfortable challenging people, but now I’m even more willing to look at an executive and say, with I hope a blend of compassion and two-by-four, that people will rush for the exits if you talk like that. And I’m more sure I can help the person be more engaging and compelling — partly because the bar is so low in most organizations. I worry a little about not staying current, and I never pretend to be a social media guru, leaving that to Jorg and blogbuddies Mike Keliher and Jon Austin. But the core of communication, I think, is still clarity and passion and zip, no matter the medium.

Personally I remain a manic blend of daily childish optimism and long-term black-hole pessimism, but here in Florida surrounded by birdmusic and the breathing tides and clouds of the Gulf I wallow less in the daily examples of entropy. Once you know the principle that trains crash, Thoreau wrote, you don’t need to know every instance of a train crashing. So I put down the paper or the hand-held and watch a heron alight with delicate wingbeats on the cedar tree across the channel.

Enough. Thanks to all who’ve been part of this journey. And please keep calling — I need the work. And the time face-to-face with clients still flies by.

— Bruce Benidt

Talk With Us Like a Human, Mr. President

Just watched President Obama give a short talk about the tragedy in Japan.

He was awful. Flat. Dull. Unbelievable. As interesting and engaging and compassionate as a piece of typed paper.

Because he read his talk. Looking down every few seconds.

He said we’re all heartbroken about the tragedy. Reading “heartbroken” off his script. He said it reminds us we all share a common humanity, reading “common humanity” off the script.

This from a man who is one of the most riveting, compelling, commanding speakers in our recent history. It’s sad to see him tamed and broken like a wild stallion– whether by his advisors or his own sense of the weight of each word a president speaks. He’s not dancing with the one who brung him to the White House — himself, Barack Obama.

I tell my speech-coaching clients to speak at least the first few sentences of a talk without looking at any notes or slides or prompters. Know what you want to say at the beginning well enough that you can look at the audience and talk straight to them and — just talk. You engage an audience — or not — in the first few seconds of a speech. If you’re looking down — you’ve lost connection, you’ve lost the audience.

I’ve said before on this blog — lose the TelePrompTer, Mr. President. And lose the speechwriters. Now I add — lose the script. Sure, bring notes to the lectern, and nothing wrong with looking down now and then. But if you’re going to say your heart goes out to the victims in Japan, no heart is moved when you’re reading that flat statement off a script. If you’re trying to reassure us that nuclear power is safe, look us in the eyes and tell us that — don’t read it off a script.

Talk like a human, Mr. President. That’s how you lead. Words themselves are mostly flat. It’s the lift your face and voice and passion give them that lets them soar, that connects with us. Scripts and prompters and slides stifle the passion, drain the personality, kill the humanity. Leaders don’t read scripts, Mr. President, especially not in times of crisis and disaster.

Come on, you know this. What’s happened?

–Bruce Benidt

Pawlenty of Desperation

The other day, Minnesota Public Radio noted that former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty is trying out a faux southern accent on the Presidential campaign trail. For instance, MPR cited a piece in the New York Times:

The knock on Mr. Pawlenty, according to conversations with voters, is that his speeches sound sincere but do not always sizzle. At a faith forum last week in Iowa, he displayed vigor. But the next day at the Statehouse, the talk among several Republicans was that it seemed he had suddenly developed a Southern accent as he tried connecting to voters by speaking louder and with more energy.

The political blog of Radio Iowa heard it too and noted, “Pawlenty seems to be adopting a Southern accent as he talks about his record as governor.” As he spoke of the country’s challenges, he dropped the letter G, saying: “It ain’t gonna be easy. This is about plowin’ ahead and gettin’ the job done.”

Ever since I heard about this, I just can’t get this tune out of my head:

Come-n-listen to a story ’bout a man named Tim.
Poor Governeer left his state a mighty grim.
Then one day he was fixin’ to win it all,
And out of his trap come a bumblin’ “y’all…”
(Dropped “g’s” that is, political gold, real folksy!)

Continue reading “Pawlenty of Desperation”

Talk, Don’t Read, Mr. President

This is trivial, in the scope of the Haitian disaster, I know. But it’s an issue of leadership, and leadership is tested in a time of crisis.

Yesterday, President Obama talked about the Haitian earthquake and its human toll. He read from notes.

Obama expressed to the people of Haiti our “deep condolences and the unwavering support of the American people.” And he looked down on the words condolences and support. For a country so used to hardship and suffering, he said, “this tragedy seems especially cruel and incomprehensible.” And he looked down on cruel and incomprehensible.

How hard is it, for a speaker of Obama’s caliber, to just look at the cameras and talk? Just say what’s in his heart? It’s so much more effective. Obama is known to be “cool,” as in not showing emotion much. Well, this is a time to not be cool, it seems to me, but to be compassionate. No false emotion, no showing off how much you care or how much you’re affected by the tragedy. But look us in the eye and talk to us. Look those experiencing tragedy in the eye, and show them your heart.

By today, Obama was doing just that. The news clips today show him speaking more from the heart, from his experience, and not looking down. And he’s connecting more. I don’t believe he had a teleprompter going — if he did that’s kind of sad. (I’ll add a clip once it’s up on YouTube or a network site.)

It makes a big difference.

Executives, know what you’re saying well enough to not have to read it. Especially at the beginning of a talk. Especially in a crisis. Decide what you want to say, learn it, say it. Talk with us. Hard to believe someone cares when he or she is reading the words “I care.”

— Bruce Benidtemarketing nice

Beyond the Senate Health Reform Speeches

The knives are out in the Senate health reform rumble. To be sure, a vote in support of health reform is politically perilous. Voters are very nervous about how the complex proposals will impact their lives.

But political admakers are also spotlighting how a vote to KILL reform can sting politically. After all, as nervous as people are about change, this is also a nation that overwhelmingly opposes the health system status quo.

Memo to C-Span addicts: These kinds of ads, both pro-reform and anti-reform, will have more to do with what ultimately passes the Senate than the speeches being made on the Senate floor.

– Lovelandadecco payroll nice

Pawlenty’s Secret Weapon in Iowa

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty has been busy preening Presidential in Iowa, which raises an interesting question: Where will his breakthrough political moment come in the Hawkeye State?

Will Governor Pawlenty’s breakthrough come during a spellbinding address to the Muscatine County Republican Women’s Club meeting? Will it come with a well-timed anti-evolution zinger at the all-important Dallas County Republican Steak Fry and Pie Auction? Will it come the old fashioned way, by promising the most special interest tax loopholes at the first joint appearance of all the Repbulican candidates?

Or will T-Paw’s big breakthrough happen during a less conventional event at the Iowa State Fair?

It’s no secret that Pawlenty’s napeline yo-yos with the political winds. So come Iowa State Fair time, if you see Pawlenty put the breaks on barbering out back, you might want to book your hotel room for the Inaugural.

– Loveland
irs debt relief nice