Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Obama's Most Important Bill

Barack, Barack, Barack ...

I watched part of your press conference last night. Let me first say how refreshing it is to know that we're back to having a president with the guts to go on prime time and actually take (and answer) questions from the media in a partially unscripted format. But that's also part of the problem.

The shift in your effectiveness as a communicator makes a tangible clunking noise when you switch from "canned speech" mode to "off-the-cuff." It pains me, because I can actually hear the voices in your head as you formulate your answers. When a reporter asked about your lack of effectiveness in luring Republicans to your side of the stimulus debate, your inner voice said:

"Well, what the hell am I supposed to do with a bunch of Dittohead man-children legislators who divide the world into Evil Government vs. the Sacred and Infallible Private Sector? I mean, these people say they love America, but then despise the entity that manages it. They think government shouldn't do anything but funnel money to the private sector, which in this case has completely f***ed up. So when the people they govern have a serious problem, they just shrug their shoulders and walk away. How friggin' childish and lazy is that? What a way to view the world! What an easy job! What a self-fulfilling prophecy. Jeeeeez!"
Then you wish you could have prepared a speech to answer the question, which would have sounded something like:
"Just as we must reject the false choice between protecting our environment and growing our economy, now is the time to dismiss the myopic view of government and private sector as adversaries. To the men and women elected by the people to serve this great nation of ours, I say this. If you believe in the American promise--if you believe in serving the constituents who checked your name on the ballot--don't shrug your shoulders at their pain. Don't walk away from their suffering. Don't erode their trust. And do NOT dismiss their dreams."
But in the tug of war between these two voices, the actual voice that came out sounded like this:
"Now there are some folks... aaaand I acknowledge this... there are some folks who believe, fundamentally... thaaaaat government shouldn't intervene. Aaaaaand... I don't doubt their sincerity... but if that's... what you believe... theeeeen... I'm not sure... that's a productive view... aaaaand a view that I can work with. Aaaaaand..."
You need a little bit of The Bubba, Barack. You need to acquire the skills of an improviser. This doesn't mean anticipating every question and having a pat, meaningless answer. It means anticipating every question and packaging runs and fills that can be sprinkled throughout your answer. You do have an idea of how to respond to most questions, but first you struggle with how to say it diplomatically and respectfully, then you fall prey to temptations to digress on each element of the larger point. This has to change.

Bill was a sax player. He wasn't a great one, but he knew a few blues scales and some catchy runs and riffs. Over time, he developed the ability to improvise with the press, sprinkling his actual knowledge of the issues (a knowledge you obviously share) with images, metaphors and soundbites that got his point across while creating a clear dividing line between him and his opposition. And, unlike your furrowed-brow tone, he played this particular instrument with a mischievous smile that said, "I know this is a game, and damn if I ain't good at it. Suck it, Newt."

I know you can get there. And I hope you have eight years to hone your craft.

3 comments:

The Wordman said...

I'm for Barack all the way, but I agree with your assessment of his "off-the-cuff" voice... and yes, he needs to be more of a sax player than a hoops guy. under normal circumstances, I'd pick a jazzman over a basketballer any day...

though (of course) either one's better than a pathetic, incurious, brush-clearing oaf.

Anonymous said...

Nice post. And I agree completely. Just heard the replay on MPR and it was kinda painful.

Mike said...

Excellent assessment, Conk. I was wincing during that p.c. too. Your pass at a better "inner voice" version was the Ideal Barack, and you're right...jazzin' it up Clinton-style would be just the ticket.