Tag Archives: Political Public Relations

The Unfortunate State of the Union

Three Branches Separate, but Definitely not Equal 

I hope you all had the opportunity to catch the State of the Union on Wednesday.  If you frequent my blog, I assume you take interest in such things.  However, if you found yourself otherwise engaged watching reruns of Snooki getting knocked out on Jersey Shore, I’ll fill you in on what happened (and if you’d like the chance to watch it yourself, I’ve provided the entire speech in the video below).  Teaser: a replay of Obama’s swipes at the judiciary is equally entertaining, although admittedly less violent.  

 There was a clear focus in the 71-minute address (sixth longest in presidential history): jobs.  Obama proposed an agenda that would key in on economic growth, development of green technologies and business practices, and tax incentives to companies willing to invest in the economy –all centered on creating jobs.  Unemployment overwhelmingly dominated the early part of his speech (approximately 30 minutes), a move that seemed to please the conservative base that has eagerly awaited a shift away from healthcare. 

Speaking of healthcare, it was addressed…briefly.  Despite the issue’s pithy treatment, Obama did state that if Congress will not work to modify the healthcare system in America, he’ll consider invoking his executive power to see that changes are made. 

Now it’s getting personal

Obama addressing Congress with the State of the Union

Courtesy of the New York Times

He addressed the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, promising to repeal the 1993 policy that forbids homosexuals from serving in the military.  He also addressed what he termed “the deficit of trust,” and had strong words for a legislature that just can’t seem to get along.  Rather than summarize, I’ll let Obama do the talking. 

“We face big and difficult challenges. And what the American people hope – what they deserve – is for all of us, Democrats and Republicans, to work through our differences; to overcome the numbing weight of our politics.” 

“Rather than fight the same tired battles that have dominated Washington for decades, it’s time for something new.” 

“We have to recognize that we face more than a deficit of dollars right now. We face a deficit of trust – deep and corrosive doubts about how Washington works that have been growing for years.” 

If you think Obama sent a strong message to the legislative branch, just wait until you hear what he had to say to the Supreme Court justices seated directly in front of him. 

“With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our election,” said Obama. 

He continued “Well I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people, and that’s why I’d urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill to correct some of these problems.” 

Talk about a hung jury

Obama’s assertion ruffled the, well…ruffles adorning the robes of a few of the justices; most noticeably scathed was Justice Samuel Alito, who broke the centuries old tradition of Supreme Court stone-faced detachment during the address to noticeably mouth the words “that’s not true.”  

Now if you haven’t already received a Facebook group invite asking you to join “Team Obama” or “Team Alito,” then allow me the opportunity to persuade you before you choose. 

Much to the surprise of no one, Fox News immediately described Obama’s actions as reprehensible and unprecedented.  This opinion is based on the principle that Supreme Court justices are appointed for life in order to facilitate an environment where their decisions are uninfluenced by outside political actors who could theoretically hold them accountable for making an unpopular decision.  Traditionally, Justices go through a rigorous appointment process that makes a CIA background check look like 10-question survey.  After they’re approved, they’re on until they retire or die

Here’s where I have a beef with that logic.  Our Constitution created three “separate but equal” branches of government that would act as watchdogs in case one of the branches decided to go rogue.  This system was adopted from political theorist John Locke, who first described it in his Two Treatises of Government

Our adoption of Locke’s theory required that we account for political influence and, sadly, corruption.  The branch that protected the Constitution was the easiest target, and thus, became the only branch that is unimpeachable/un-punishable.  I have no problem with that. 

What I take issue with is the argument that their decisions cannot be criticized when, as was the case in this instance, personal political agendas dictate the course of the Court proceedings.  The Court approached the plaintiffs and asked to rehear the case nine months ago, an extremely activist move that is almost unheard of in the annals of Supreme Court history.  The 5-4 ruling essentially allows corporations the unlimited right to fund campaigns, even with stockholder shares, creating a scenario where your investments in a company could potentially be used to fund the campaign of a politician you don’t support. 

The audacity of equality

U.S. Supreme Court

courtesy of academic.regis.edu

Regardless of my feelings about the specifics of the case, the fact remains that the Supreme Court is being held in higher regard than either of the other two branches.  Critics say Obama was rude to call out the justices who were in attendance as Obama’s guests.  Does that mean the Congress should be untouchable as well?  He sure was critical of them, and supposedly, they’re on the same plane as the Supreme Court.  Does that mean Congress can’t criticize the President? 

By the way, this isn’t the first time a President has been critical of a Supreme Court decision during his State of the Union address as some would have you believe, including columnist Mary Kate Cary of U.S. News and World Report. 

“Imagine if Ronald Reagan had given a State of the Union address and turned to the justices in the front row to say that Roe v. Wade had been wrongly decided. Unlike this time, I don’t think the Democrats in the chamber would have stood and applauded.” 

Unfortunately, Ms. Cary, Reagan did just that in both 1984 and 1988, criticizing the Supreme Court for its rulings on prayer in school and Roe v. Wade.  You can find his comments in full at mediamatters.org.

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Fall From Grace: Say Goodbye to Decorum in D.C.

There is a disturbing trend sweeping over America. We’ve required our mainstream media to cater to our communal attention deficit, which has devalued the quality of our news. If you can’t fit your story into a 30-second clip complete with an explosion, murder, or sex scandal, we don’t want to know about it. That’s why a man named Joe Wilson so prominently dominated the headlines for weeks by uttering two simple words: “You lie.”


Few knew Wilson prior to September 9. He was a largely unheralded politician from South Carolina, whose greatest accomplishment to date had been assuming the role of Assistant Republican Whip. But Wilson made a dubious name for himself when he interrupted President Obama’s health care address to Congress, violating parliamentary procedure and general House decorum. Yet the aftermath of the incident has not been all that bad for Wilson, and it has been nothing short of fantastic for the Republican Party. Here’s where we tie this story into PR.

Sound Byte Over Substance

Unless you saw the actual speech, you would have no way of knowing that Obama addressed the Joint Session of Congress for about 45-minutes. That’s because every internet clip and news story covering the event has used the same two-minute video package that shows Wilson interrupting the president. What you don’t see is any coverage, commentary, or analysis on the actual content of Obama’s speech.

As a public relations student, I’ve always been encouraged to find an original approach to getting people’s attention. A standard press release accompanied with a photo package is simply too vanilla these days – it lacks the “wow” factor. For some perspective, let’s assume at this point that the Democratic PR strategy since Obama took office has been vanilla, and the Republican approach has been a rich, chocolate fudge.

Doing Whatever it Takes

Republican officials and party advocates have conducted themselves in ways that defy common decency in government. And it seems to be working. That’s because the party has people willing to take the fall in order to make the news. We’re taught in PR that every strategic approach must be focused around your key message. The Republicans have perfected theirs (universal health care bad; private health care good), while the Democrats are still trying to figure out where they stand on a public option. This Republican consensus has enabled its members to respond to any reporter with a set party line. Despite having fewer members in Congress, their message resonates much louder in the media.

That’s why outrageous demonstrations by party activists are welcomed by the Republicans. On August 17, a man known simply as “Chris” decided that Obama’s health care speech to veterans was an appropriate forum to protest Obama’s gun policy by carrying an assault rifle and handgun.

"Chris" carrying an AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle at Obama speech

"Chris" carrying an AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle at Obama speech

Although Chris is a libertarian, the Republicans used the incident as a launching pad to say “not only does Obama want to take your health care…he wants your guns too.” What response did we get from the Democrats? (Insert chirping cricket soundtrack)

Turning the Other Cheek Just Hurts Both Cheeks

When conservative Fox News broadcaster Glenn Beck rallied the ultra right, uniting them under the guise of an unwieldy, motley “tea party” that traveled the country in protest of pretty much everything, did you see any response from the Democrats? (Nancy Pelosi trying to make a frowning face when asked to comment about it doesn’t count).

Plain and simple, old politics doesn’t work. Gone are the days of spiffy white wigs and traditional etiquette. Obama has begged the media not to use its airwaves as a forum for rudeness.

“I think it’s important for the media — you know, not to do any media-bashing here — to recognize that right now, in this 24-hour news cycle, the easiest way to get on CNN or FOX or any of the other stations, MSNBC, is to say something rude and outrageous… You know, part of what I’d like to see is, is all of us reward decency and civility in our political discourse.”

Read the full article here

Stand Up on Your Hind Legs and Bray

Again, that would be splendid, but it just won’t happen. The Democratic Party needs to figure out where it stands on health care now, and start getting the media’s attention. And when these stories arise concerning gun-toting extremists and rude politicians, have an actual response. The most dangerous two word sentence in PR is not “you lie”… it’s “no comment.”

By the way, Joe Wilson was wrong. Factcheck.org determined Obama was telling the truth when he said his healthcare plan will not cover illegal immigrants. But that hasn’t kept campaign contributors from donating more than $2 million to Wilson since the incident.

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