Tag Archives: Public Relations

The Tea Party is Almost Dead

I urge members of the Tea Party to actually read this before posting angry responses

Is there anything quite as fickle as public opinion?  It’s an unwieldy monster that ebbs and flows with tenacity at the slightest provocation, dangerous not for its volatility, but rather for its ability to substantively change our national agenda. The founders knew this.  It’s why they purposefully designed our three branches of government to be almost intolerably deliberative, requiring that everything one branch produces be able to pass litmus tests conducted (very slowly) by the other two branches.

Tea Party Rally

Courtesy of Politico

This designed institutional inconvenience was one of the wiser concepts implemented by our Founding Fathers.  They knew the potential dangers in getting carried away by our collective emotions.  I’m in the business of public relations.  No one knows better than I how powerful a motivator public opinion can be.

You often hear people criticize President Obama for his mild manner.  Detractors either wish he’d be more assertive and confrontational or believe that his coolness is really just a manifestation of incompetence or indecisiveness.  I’m in neither of those camps.  On the contrary, I believe that Obama’s propensity to be contemplative and even keeled is actually a shrewd political tactic.  It’s a tactic designed to allow him to outlast a political movement that many predicted would see to his political demise.  Instead, it was the inability of this movement to remain composed and contemplative that will soon lead to its eventual death; the death of the Tea Party.

Tea was so last year. Time to start a coffee party

The TEA Party, which stands for the Taxed Enough Already Party, is the manifestation of people’s shared anger, confusion and the want for resolve.  It was a group founded in response to a single issue: The Great Recession.  It has since evolved into another entity entirely that no one can seem to define, including the group itself.  Quarrelsome factions exist within its upper ranks because the party was conceived in a rush to judgment, with all of its members wanting a solution to their shared problem,  but with nobody knowing exactly how to solve it.

Under the moniker of “Taxed Enough Already,” some within the group have attempted to incorporate divisive social agendas into the party’s platform.  This has alienated the previously Independent members by forcing them to align with issues that kept them out of the Republican Party in the first place.  There is still a strong contingent of people within the party who only care about reforming our national fiscal policies and balancing the budget.  The idea of championing sweeping social reforms that are premised on significant religious undertones does not resonate with these people.  As a result, this faction has gradually shied away from the Tea Party label, wishing they’d never renounced their independence from organized political parties.

We Are Tea'd

Courtesy of "Brian Dennert here"

Roughly one year ago, when things looked bleakest for the Democrats, I remember standing in the kitchen with my father discussing the impact this new Tea Party would have on our politics.  Its rise to prominence had turned our conventional understanding of the political spectrum completely on its axis, and no one knew what the end result would be.  One thing was for sure: Democrats were scared.

The times, they are a changin

Tea Partiers were calling for a political genocide, which admittedly, they accomplished by effectively voting out some of Washington’s most tenured congressmen.  They took the position that the institution of government had been perverted over time, leading a grassroots initiative that resolved to restore integrity to the system.

The differences in how we view the role of government aside, this was a noble, honest endeavor.  However, the Tea Party of a year ago is not the same Tea Party that we see today. It hit the same roadblock that every third party inevitably runs into in a system that can only support two legitimate parties, that roadblock being staying power.

The Tea Party gobbled up everyone who was willing to defect from their political loyalties early in its grass roots campaign.  The unfortunate thing about a grassroots movement is that it starts out as a movement, an interesting and exciting thing to join, but as time goes on, it becomes an institution.  Institutions are much less appealing.  So unappealing, in fact, that we’ve limited ourselves to only two of them: the Democratic institution and the Republican institution.

The Tea Party will soon realize that in order to have a lasting impact, it’s going to have to succumb to the same fate as every third party before it.  It will have to allow itself to be absorbed into the GOP, hoping that in the best of scenarios, it can move the needle that dictates the Republican Party’s agenda slightly towards the position it aligned itself with on the political spectrum.

Tea Party Protesters

Courtesy of The Washington Independent

Hint: The answer to the poll question is no

Third parties cannot succeed if they target our two biggest parties by contending that they should be considered of equal status. It’s like having a six year old who made his first bologna sandwich last week say to a world class chef  “your cooking ain’t so great. You could learn a thing or two from me.”

What role will the Tea Party play in our national history?  Honestly, not much of one.  It will move the GOP base further to the right once it’s been completely absorbed, the same way the Green Party moved the needle slightly left when it was consumed by the Democratic Party.  Sure, it’ll survive– in name, mostly.  But it will never again be a real player.  Three years from now, no one will be talking about the Tea Party.

6 Comments

Filed under National Politics, Public Relations, Tea Party

The Word War

Why rhetoric almost drove me away from politics

Have you ever hit a wall doing something you love?  This phenomenon is often associated with runners who have to muster up every bit of strength and intensity they can to breach an invisible barrier that threatens to derail their run.

Health Care Protest

Courtesy of Syracuse.com

Well I hit a wall (metaphorically speaking) a few weeks ago when the health care debate reached a fever pitch.  I’m usually one who appreciates the idiosyncratic aspects of the political game.  I cognitively distance myself from the rhetoric and emotion, choosing instead to observe the often comedic routine that is political posturing.  But the health care fight took all the fun out of political debating – it became downright ugly.

I’m all for using language strategically and effectively; it’s one of the reasons that I’m in public relations.  However, I draw the line at language that drives the public to behave heinously.

I know that my more conservative readers will offer their “proof” as to why I’m wrong to identify the following talking points as inflammatory lies intending to incite nothing less than riots.  Let me offer a disclaimer.  This blog post is intended to be anecdotal.  It was drafted to retell the story of my mounting frustration, so regardless of whether you dispute the validity of my claims, their effects on my psyche were very real.  With that taken care of, lets discuss what had me so darn flustered.

Remember back to the Joe Wilson scandal?  When he screamed “you lie” during President Obama’s health care address to Congress? Everybody flipped.  The GOP demanded he apologize for his inappropriate outburst and the Dems were out for his head.  That anger was fueled by an understanding that political rhetoric is all well and good, but everyone has to play by a certain set of rules in order to maintain public order.

Woman Protests Health Care

Courstesy of BigGovernment.com

Fast-forward six months, and I’ll paint you a gloomier picture where the “disenfranchised” party has determined that it would rather write its own rulebook.  Rather than expound upon some of the more egregious incidents that arose from this new dynamic, I’ll leave the wording to New York Times columnist Frank Rich.

There’s nothing entertaining about watching goons hurl venomous slurs at congressmen like the civil rights hero John Lewis and the openly gay Barney Frank. And as the week dragged on, and reports of death threats and vandalism stretched from Arizona to Kansas to upstate New York, the F.B.I. and the local police had to get into the act to protect members of Congress and their families.

How curious that a mob fond of likening President Obama to Hitler knows so little about history that it doesn’t recognize its own small-scale mimicry of Kristallnacht. The weapon of choice for vigilante violence at Congressional offices has been a brick hurled through a window. So far.

Yet it’s this bill that inspired G.O.P. congressmen on the House floor to egg on disruptive protesters even as they were being evicted from the gallery by the Capitol Police last Sunday. It’s this bill that prompted a congressman to shout “baby killer” at Bart Stupak, a staunch anti-abortion Democrat. It’s this bill that drove a demonstrator to spit on Emanuel Cleaver, a black representative from Missouri. And it’s this “middle-of-the-road” bill, as Obama accurately calls it, that has incited an unglued firestorm of homicidal rhetoric, from “Kill the bill!” to Sarah Palin’s cry for her followers to “reload.” At least four of the House members hit with death threats or vandalism are among the 20 political targets Palin marks with rifle crosshairs on a map on her Facebook page.

Click here for the full article

Rich goes on to explain the true source of the public’s discontent, drawing the same conclusion that I came to about a month ago – the conclusion that frustrated me to the point of getting out of politics altogether.  This health care debate has very little to do with health care reform.

President Obama in front of symbols of health care

Courtesy of Planetpov.com

Obama’s election unearthed some deep seeded unease felt by much of his opposition.  His election to the presidency radically changed our political social construct, whether we’d like to admit it or not.  It would be too easy to simplify the public’s unrest as being propagated by subliminal racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.  But the reality is that our social construct has undergone significant reforms, and not everyone adapts easily to change.  The Tea Party movement and the fervency seen in health care opposition is merely a backlash against the evolution of our society.

In identifying the source of this feud, I came to the unnerving realization that no matter what argument I brought to the table, my words would fall on deaf ears.  No one wants to debate health care.  They want to debate change.  They want to qualify every policy change as part of a grander socialist plot to destroy capitalism.  They want to polarize our nation as much as possible.  They want to feed this monster.

Health care Bill - Final Vote

Courtesy of NJ.com

But in viewing this from a historical perspective, I was reassured that the storm will subside.  We saw similar passions swell during the inception of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Medicare.  I once told a friend that this health care debate is simply a war of words that I’m losing.  Their party’s rhetoric is more effective than my own party’s, and until we figure out the right way tell the public that health care reform is really a good thing, we can never win this battle.

I was wrong.

The Democrats cannot win the fight for public support on the health care bill.  Rather, they need to win the campaign for change.  They need to construct a message that assures the American public that changes to our society can be scary, but are ultimately for the best.  There are still too many people disenfranchised in this nation.  There are still too many people discriminated against.  There are still too many people whose health care is inadequately covered.  There are still too many people worth helping for me to throw in the towel.

4 Comments

Filed under National Politics, Public Relations

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.

2 Comments

Filed under National Politics, Public Relations, Uncategorized

Obama’s Approval Rating Slips Below 50 Percent

I’ll tell you why that’s a good thing

Last week, President Obama’s approval rating slipped below 50 percent in the Gallup poll for the first time since he took office, making him the third-fastest president to fall below that bar since World War II.  Ford did it in his third month, Clinton in his fourth, and Reagan in his tenth.  I challenge anyone to argue that these men were unpopular presidents.

Long term perspectives were seldom considered by our reactionary media this week as pundits and commentators responded to Obama’s falling numbers.  Some fated him to a failed presidency.  Another argued that his numbers will “make re-election an uphill struggle.”  Susan Page of USA Today reported that others are still willing to give Obama some time to deliver on the promises he made from the campaign trail, but “not too much more.”

Only one article that I came across seemed to get it right; Domenico Montanaro, NBC News political reporter, had this to say:

“Three, taking George W. Bush out of the equation due to 9/11, every president who has ended up winning re-election since 1980 saw his approval rating drop below 50% in his first year. Moral of the story: If your goal is to get re-elected, it’s better to have your political struggles early (Clinton, Reagan) rather than later (Bush 41). Kind of like a college football season, right? Better to lose early than late. So be careful what you read into what Obama’s approval rating right now means for his presidency. There’s really no correlation between how quickly a president’s poll numbers drop and the overall success of his presidency.”

I would have to take issue with Montanaro on one component of his argument.  He proposes that there is no correlation between dropping poll numbers and presidential success, but I would argue that dropping poll numbers early in a presidency foretell future success.  Seems to defy logic, right?  I’ll explain.

If at first you don’t succeed, be sure to fail

Ronald Reagan addresses Congress

Clinton and Reagan are good examples to use, especially since they represent opposite political ideologies.  When Reagan assumed office, he shocked the political system by powering through his Republican agenda and overhauling the financial system all within his first year.  His popularity took a hit at first, but change, especially drastic change, is a taste acquired over time.

courtesy of blognetnews.com

Clinton provoked a similar stir when he signed the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 and adopted the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy during his first year in office.  His numbers fell too, but rebounded once people realized he was getting things done.  These significant government reforms made people uneasy at first, which explains both men’s fallen poll numbers.  Both resurged, however, when the public realized these presidents were willing to act and actively address the problems facing our country.

Nobody trusts a rookie to catch the ball

Don’t confuse long-term action with inaction.  Too many critics are blasting Obama for sitting on his hands and doing nothing.  This is simply not true.  Since taking office, Obama has:

  • Pushed relentlessly for the adoption of landmark health care legislation even in face of almost unanimous Republican opposition in both houses of Congress and resistance from Blue Dog Democrats as well
  • Banned the use of “harsh interrogation,” and ordered the closing of the Guantánamo Bay Prison
  • Repealed Bush’s environmental legislation that re-allowed industrial plants to pollute waters with previously banned toxins, among other things
  • Signed the $787 billion dollar stimulus bill
  • Announced American withdrawal from Iraq
  • Repealed bans put in place by Bush that disallowed federal funding for stem-cell research
  • Introduced the incredibly successful “Cash for Clunkers” and “First-Time Homeowners” rebates that economists are crediting as having helped facilitate our economic recovery

Take a deep breath, relax… and ignore O’Reilly

These are just a few of the more notable things Obama has done in his eight months in office, but you rarely see them mentioned in news stories.  That’s because Fox News is too busy covering the developing “bow-gate” scandal and O’Reilly is seriously contemplating whether or not Obama is Lucifer with Lou Dobbs.

Good public relations in the presidency require that you have a product to promote.  In order to have something to promote, you have to introduce social and governmental reform, and that change agitates the public.  This unease will pass, and eventually we will realize that Obama’s strategy is right on point.  Considering the fact that Bush’s approval rating fell from 91 percent in his first year to 22 percent when he left office, I think a slow start really is best.

4 Comments

Filed under National Politics

Chamber’s Attack on Green has Some Members Seeing Red

As if Iraq and Afghanistan weren’t enough, President Obama has engaged in yet another war, and this one might be felt a little closer to home. Obama’s foe?  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce Logo

Thomas Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, announced plans to spend $20 million annually for several years on a public relations campaign.  The campaign aims to discredit much of the Democrats’ agenda while promoting less regulation and other free-market principles.  This is the largest PR campaign in the organization’s history.

Donohue’s fervor, however, seems to have overcome reasonable judgment in his zeal to lead the charge against the Obama agenda.  The Chamber has adopted extreme stances that seem to defy conventional beliefs.  One of the more controversial examples is the Chamber’s official stance on global warming and environmental legislation.

Global warming ain’t all that bad…

Donohue maintains that the scientific data suggesting that global warming is the result of carbon emissions is, in fact, insufficiently researched.  He has tried to undercut environmental policy initiatives and has engaged in efforts to fight tougher air-quality laws.  He has also taken a positive view of global warming—if it does indeed exist– by claiming it could reduce the number of deaths related to cold weather.

The Chamber’s actions have evoked some unintended consequences.  Many member firms disagree with the Chamber’s official stance on these issues and have been forced to reconsider their membership in the organization.  Several notable firms have already left the group, including Nike Inc., Apple Inc., and Duke Energy Corp., claiming the Chamber’s overly partisan initiative does not resonate with their companies’ principles. Donahue vehemently maintains that he is unfazed by his critics.

Thomas Donohue

“One thing I can tell you: They can go out and chase me and chase the Chamber and put stuff in the newspaper. It only . . . drives more and more support. . . . You think we are going to blink because a couple of people are out shooting at us? Tell ’em to put their damn helmets on.”

Read the Wall Street Journal article here

“They’ve put Main Street business in a precarious place by taking a position that’s not credible and doesn’t allow them to shape legislation to their members’ benefit,” said James Rogers, chief executive of electric utility Duke Energy Corp, claiming that the Chamber has adopted an “over the top” stance on climate issues.  Duke Energy supports legislation that puts a price on carbon emissions, which is seemingly counterintuitive, considering that Duke Energy is the country’s third-biggest emitter of carbon dioxide.

Presidential perk #1: You make the rules

The Washington Post reported on Oct. 20 that the feud between Obama and the Chamber has escalated as a result of proposed health-care reforms.

“Instead of working through the Chamber, President Obama has reached out to business executives, meeting repeatedly with small groups of CEOs in his private White House dining room. He also has dispatched top aides Valerie Jarrett and Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel to corporate boardrooms.”

The article continues to suggest that “Obama is attempting to rewrite the rules of the game in Washington” by circumventing the Chamber when dealing with business related policies.  It is the aggregation of several extreme views promulgated by the Chamber’s PR campaign that has put the organization in the precarious position of potentially becoming marginalized.

It’s not all about you, Donohue

It seems that Donohue failed to take into account the most basic tenet of public relations before launching his campaign – you have to relate to your public. Donohue did not consider the views of the companies his organization represents.  A successful campaign must focus on representing the client and appealing to the values and needs of its target public.

In this case, Donohue so disregarded generally accepted ideas in a blatant effort to oppose Administration policies that he sacrificed credibility, losing the support of several Chamber members in the process.  Organizations must consider the negative ramifications of their public relations efforts before engaging in a campaign. Seeing how this battle is playing out in the media, it won’t be long before Donohue reigns in the troops and raises a white flag.

2 Comments

Filed under National Politics

Facebook Friend the GOP (Expect Request Confirmation in 6-8 Weeks)

Republicans dip their toes into social media, and still manage to drown

I’ve learned my first lesson as a blogger: a two-week hiatus is too long.  I’ve finally surfaced, having been bogged down by projects, PR campaigns and committee work.  Now, I’m playing catch up, reviewing the stories and controversies that came and went without my commentary.  I’ll have to let most of them slide, but there is one story that surfaced about two weeks ago that I’ve been chomping at the bit to tackle.

GOP 2.0 (still loading…)

Earlier this month, the GOP launched its redesigned Web site.  After seeing the role social media played in the Democrats success this past election, Republicans realized their campaign/communication strategies weren’t only outdated…they were artifacts.  With a focus on incorporating social media into their design, the Republicans took to the drawing board.

The GOP's redesigned Web page

So how did the launch go?  Just ask the Boston Globe, Christian Science Monitor and the Washington Post.  To use a term popularized by my social media brethren, the Web site was an “epic fail.”  Below is a list of the more egregious slip-ups:

  • The “Future Leaders” page was initially left blank.  In an effort to remedy the error, the site designers replaced the void with the word “You.”
  • Jackie Robinson is listed as a prominent Republican.  Too bad Robinson described himself as an Independent in his autobiography after he left the Republican Party when it failed to incorporate civil rights issues in its social agenda.

    Jackie Robinson

  • Chairman Michael Steele’s Gmail account login and password were accidentally posted on the New York State section of the site.  Administrative passwords and instructions for GOP.com were also posted on the page.
  • An achievement from 2004 is the most recent triumph the GOP lists on its achievements page (Bush was reelected in 2004 – this might have been intentional).
  • A Hispanic woman asked why the GOP did not offer a Spanish-translated page in the conference call section.  The respondent suggested she visit the White House Web site, informing her that they have translations there.
  • Michael Steele’s personal blog was initially called “What Up?”  Steele’s first post started with “The internet has been around for a while, now.”  Way to arrive late to the gravy train.  The blog has since been renamed to “Change the Game.”

 

Michael Steele on Meet the Press

Just how deep is that hole, Michael?

Excusing Steele’s apparent racial identity issues, the Web site’s problems transcend technical glitches.  The GOP has been two steps behind for a while now, and trying to catch up isn’t easy. The page actually crashed the day of its launch because of the influx of traffic from people visiting to make fun of the site.

I applaud the GOP for making the effort to become web-savvy, but find myself troubled that they were ever so far out of touch.  Steele’s acknowledgment that “the internet has been around for a while now” speaks volumes.  The party has been beleaguered by criticisms of being too set in its ways.  It has been accused of being the party of old white men.  While these claims are unfair, and for the most part untrue, more has to be done to break the stereotypes than giving us a malfunctioning Web site.  Championing Michael Steele, Bobby Jindal and Sarah Palin in an effort to diversify doesn’t help much either.

10 Comments

Filed under National Politics

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.

11 Comments

Filed under National Politics