Tag Archives: Barack Obama

Back to Basics

Politics and PR: There’s Still Room for Both

I feel like I’ve deviated from my original intentions for this blog.  The Beltway Perspective was created for the purpose of examining political issues in the context of public relations.  I sought to establish a forum where I could separate the message from the issues, explore the communication components involved in political debates and determine how those components impact the public discourse.  Recently, it’s been all politics and no public relations.

I found myself eager to reconnect this blog with its roots.  So I embarked on a quest to find a story that represented the perfect blend between politics and PR.  I defaulted to my trusted trio: The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN, delving into those Web sites in search of the perfect story.  After an hour or so, I came upon an interesting column with the headline “Obama Needs to Flex his Political Muscle,” written by Dana Milbank of The Washington Post.

Can anyone lend the President some tape to fix his glasses?

In his column, Milbank likens Obama to a “98-pound weakling [who] gets sand kicked in his face and responds with moot-court zingers.”  He says he is bullied relentlessly by both Democrats and Republicans, but does nothing to defend himself.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown

courtesy of The Guardian

He suggests that Obama take the Gordon Brown approach to politics – you know, Great Britain’s Prime Minister who is facing allegations of “shouting obscenities at his advisers, grabbing one by the collar, punching the seatback in his car, abusing switchboard operators and even forcing a secretary from her chair when she wasn’t typing fast enough.”

Barack Obama looking dejected

courtesy of Scrape TV

Milbank proposes that if Obama were to take the “it’s my way or the… I’m going to throw this hot coffee in your face way,” his political endeavors might find a happier resolution.  While Milbank admits that Obama would be better suited to adopt a watered-down version of the Brown approach, he contends that both sides will beat on Obama’s policies until he decides to stop being the victim and adopts the role of bully.

I’ll be sending Milbank a “thank you” for helping me refocus.  He might not realize it, but he touched on one of the most fundamental questions in public relations– when does perception become reality?

Polls: Exposing  American stupidity one question at a time

According to a poll described on politico.com, “63 percent of Republicans believe Obama is a socialist; 39 percent think Obama should be impeached; 24 percent said Obama wants ‘the terrorists to win’; and 31 percent agreed with the statement that Obama is ‘a racist who hates white people.’”

The logical, well-informed individual would immediately dismiss these claims as ridiculous and irrational.  But the “reality” is that nearly a quarter of Republicans believe that Obama actually wants the terrorists to win. These people did not come to this conclusion all by their lonesome.  These beliefs were disseminated by Republican opinion leaders.

Two-step flow communication model

courtesy of /visualjournal-mares.blogspot.com

There is a communication theory that could explain this process of indoctrination.  The two-step flow model suggests that opinion leaders listen to messages from the media, interpret those messages and redistribute them to the general public.  According to this theory, public opinion is not really the opinion of the public, but rather the opinion of a select few influential individuals who dictate opinion.

Perhaps this model could better explain the relationship between opinion leaders and the public if it accounts for the fact that opinion leaders have become an extension of the media.  Fox News attempts to distinguish between its pundits and news anchors, but the reality is that the lines are intentionally blurred.  The same can be said for MSNBC and every other news network.  Glenn Beck, Keith Olbermann, Bill O’Reilly and Rachel Maddow are all associated with the news, but all can be considered political opinion leaders.

When the textbooks don’t explain it, improvise

I think the two-step flow theory needs a face-lift.  Our news is interpreted by the media that increasingly purports to convey points of view as fact, meaning that at least part of the flow of information is eliminated.  Perhaps we should rename it the one-and-one-half flow model.

This new dynamic is dangerous.  Traditional journalistic standards set up a clear line of demarcation between the reporting of news in a straightforward manner and commentary. That line has been substantially obliterated in recent years and the reality is that the media can no longer claim to be “fair and balanced.” Yet most people still believe it is.

On the surface, it would seem the Republicans have mastered exploiting this new communication model.  They know that if it sounds newsy and controversial, it will get major face time in the world of news punditry.  Thus, Obama is likened to a “black Stalin.”

Sound ridiculous?  Of course it is, and it will be exposed as ridiculous once America realizes that this is what our political conversation has become.  This is why I chose to discuss Milbank’s column.  He argues that Obama needs to become the bully.  I agree that Obama needs to become a little less complacent in his role as victim, but don’t believe that he needs to assume the role of aggressor.

TSA pats down an old woman at an airport

courtesy of About.com

Obama is an incredibly cerebral individual, and that’s something to be admired in this nation replete with reactionaries.  I’ve argued before that we’re collectively too shortsighted; a trait that usually is to our detriment.  Bush learned the hard way that acting on emotion lands you in Iraq for the better part of a decade and results in grandma getting a cavity search every time she enters an airport.

Revenge of the nerds

Obama knows that the politicians calling for his “socialist” head will be backtracking with their tails between their legs in a few months time when the government is not handing everyone their own hammer and sickle.  Congressional representatives can survive to live another day after they’ve made fools of themselves – presidents can’t, and Obama knows that he cannot become enmeshed in this foolish game.

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Filed under National Politics, Public Relations, Uncategorized

The Attack on Patriotism

Why Patriotism and Conservatism have become Synonymous in Contemporary Politics

I am going to deviate from my usual analysis of political issues in the news, and instead discuss a broader issue that has bothered me for years.  The problem is abstract and difficult to summarize, so I will begin by posing a question that I often ask myself.

Patriotism: You're either a conservative Republican or an effing terrorist

courtesy of indrayam.com

What does it mean to be patriotic in America?  Is it an adherence to the principles conceived by our Founding Fathers in the drafting of the Constitution?  Is it the propagation of freedom and equality to every corner of the world?  Does it include the privilege to be contrarian in expressing one’s views without fear of being vilified?

These concepts may once have been almost universally regarded as being elements of patriotism, but this appears to no longer be the case.  They have instead been marginalized by petty novelty gestures.  The contemporary definition of patriotism for many people places greater importance on flying a flag than volunteering in a soup kitchen.  It requires citizens to adopt a jingoistic mindset and repudiate the idea that any other nation could be on par with their own.

It has become a word used to attack a person’s political affiliation.  I have been called unpatriotic for objecting to the war in Iraq, where some individuals have asserted that  my opposition to the war is an act of disloyalty to our soldiers.  I have been called unpatriotic for believing in legislated constraints on business practices, where objectors have asserted that unbridled capitalism is the only way to truly be free in America.  I have been called unpatriotic for suggesting that this nation was not founded on religion, but rather freedom of religion and freedom from religion.

I will put it bluntly.  While almost all Americans consider themselves to be patriotic and place great value on their love of country, in the eyes of many conservatives, only people who think as they do deserve to be called patriots.  This sad truth is evidenced by recent events.

But he’s just too liberal to be an American

President Barack Obama has come under fire on numerous occasions for not being patriotic enough.  Fox News pundits rejoiced when video surfaced of Obama not holding his hand to his heart during the national anthem, claiming it as evidence that he is secretly anti-American.

During the presidential campaign, Sen. John McCain ripped Obama for not wearing an American flag pin on his lapel.  Obama asserted that his rationale for not wearing the pin was that it had become a substitute for “true patriotism.”

I decided I won’t wear that pin on my chest,” said Obama. “Instead, I’m going to try to tell the American people what I believe will make this country great, and hopefully that will be a testament to my patriotism.”

Shirt reads "The last thing America needs is a President who is ashamed of the American flag: Nobama in 08."

courtesy of conservative-t-shirts.com

His campaign later issued this statement: “We all revere the flag, but Senator Obama believes that being a patriot is about more than a symbol. It’s about fighting for our veterans when they get home and speaking honestly with the American people about this disastrous war.”

When military service just doesn’t cut it

In Obama’s case, the consequences of the attacks were not especially devastating (although they did augment the outlandish claims that he’s an undercover Muslim extremist and foreigner).

However, the outcome for Sen. John Kerry during his 2004 presidential run was a bit more significant when the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (SBVT) launched a television attack ad that questioned Kerry’s service record during Vietnam.  The group claimed he was undeserving of his Purple Hearts, Bronze Star and Silver Star medals.  They also attacked his post-war record and accused him of being unpatriotic for protesting the war after his time in the service had ended.

The group’s advertisement was actually created by Stevens Reed Curcio & Potholm, a company that creates ads for Republican political candidates.  Investigations into Kerry’s records proved that the claims made by the SBVT were totally unfounded, but enough damage was done to ensure that Kerry could not win the presidency.

The SBVT questioning Kerry’s patriotism likely cost him the presidency.  When Sen. C. Saxby Chambliss questioned Sen. Max Cleland’s patriotism, it nearly cost the man his life.

It’s a bit tougher to claim that this guy didn’t earn his Purple Heart

Max Cleland

courtesy of tulane.edu

Sen. Cleland of Georgia, like Kerry, had received the Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Silver Star awards for his courage during the Vietnam War.  Cleland lost both legs and an arm when a grenade exploded by his feet.

Cleland entered politics in 1971 when he won election to the Georgia State Senate.  In 1996, Cleland won a U.S. Senate seat, and remained in that position until he was defeated for re-election in 2002.  He was beaten by Saxby Chambliss, who ran a controversial attack ad that featured Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein and questioned Cleland’s record on issues regarding the war.  The ad implied that Cleland, the Vietnam War vet and triple amputee, was not concerned for America’s safety.

Cleland lost the election, and was driven into a deep depression.  His fiancée left him, and he became a patient once again at Walter Reed Hospital.  There, he “cried uncontrollably for 2 ½ years,” bewildered by the fact that his service to his country had been belittled and his patriotism impugned.  Once he recovered, Cleland published a book entitled “Heart of a Patriot: How I found the Courage to Survive Vietnam, Walter Reed and Karl Rove.”

“Give me liberty, or give me patriotism,” because apparently I can’t have both

Fireworks behind the Washington Monument

courtesy of blogmedown.tv

Thomas Jefferson said that “Patriotism is not a short frenzied burst of emotion, but the long and steady dedication of a lifetime.”  America was not built on sparkling fire-crackers, homemade apple pie and magnetic “support our troops” bumper sticker ribbons.  It was built on the backs of patriots who stood up for their beliefs without admonishing others for theirs; patriots who believed in dying for their country, not just dying for a flag.

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A Prize for America

Courtesy of WWJ.950 DetroitFriday’s announcement that President Obama had won the Nobel Peace Prize seemed to take everyone by surprise. Cynics scolded the Nobel Committee, claiming the freshman President has not done enough to earn the prize. Numerous Obama supporters even found themselves a bit perplexed as to how the President managed to sweep the ballots. Some suggest there were no strong candidates this year. Others propose that Oslo was jealous that Copenhagen, Denmark, scored a visit from President Obama, and giving him a Nobel was the only way to get him to Norway. I don’t subscribe to any of these theories.

Read about the only other sitting Presidents to receive the award

I believe the Nobel Committee used the prize to send the United States a message. Simply put, the world was sick of America’s “we know what’s best for you and we’ll ram it down your throat” attitude. We have come across for far too long as a war-mongering, ethnocentric nation that uses military might as a diplomacy tool. What Obama represents is a wave of change in our relations with the rest of the world. The Nobel Committee may have awarded Obama the Peace Prize but it was the American citizens, by virtue of their support of the change of direction offered by Obama, who earned it.

A President for ALL the people

The Norwegians are sending a clear message to America. Too often, our government fails to recognize that its publics go beyond our nation’s borders. We flaunt our title as “a preeminent world power,” yet fail to act in a way that appeases our international audience. In PR, every key public deserves consideration—a lesson the Bush Administration could have better remembered.

In his short tenure, Obama has already shown that he is capable of working for the best interest of humanity. “Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future,” said the Norwegian committee. Obama realizes that our international reputation has been hurting, and with so much of our current policy focused around international relations, it would be difficult to get anything done without changing our tone.

War is never popular.

It is even less popular when you don’t have a good reason for waging it. Iraq was clearly mishandled. We went in claiming Saddam Hussein violated U.N. sanctions by possessing weapons of mass destruction and that these weapons directly jeopardized the safety of the international community. This explanation would have worked fine…had it been true. Every organization needs to value honesty and transparency above all else in its public relations.

“His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population,” said the committee. Courtesy of the Huffington Post

When you lie, your credibility is shot, and so is your reputation. For Bush, there was no recovering. After it was discovered that there were no weapons of mass destruction, the international community became distrustful of the United States. Our leader didn’t ascribe to the “basic values and attitudes” shared by most of the world’s population, so the assumption was that we didn’t, either. Obama values honesty and transparency, and the worldwide community has clearly shown that it appreciates his candor.

A new style of leadership: We’re all in this together.

Ignore the fact that Obama was nominated for the award just eleven days after the election. Rather, be proud that the world considers our most prominent person a missionary for peace. As the old adage goes, you attract more bees with honey than with vinegar. Obama has incorporated this philosophy into his international public relations strategy. I think his being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize indicates that it’s working.

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