President Obama Gets the Message

President Barack Obama gave a stunning speech yesterday in front of the “functionally obsolete” Brent Spence Bridge connecting Ohio and Kentucky. The President’s speech touting his American Jobs Act marks a sharp turnaround from the cool, professorial, unemotional Barack Obama that America has become used to, and which many voters dislike. This time, as with his recent speeches to promote the American Jobs Act, Obama is doing almost everything right regarding effective political messaging:

1.  President Obama is being partisan. Too often in this past, President Obama has bent over backwards to be maddeningly even-handed in assigning political blame to “both sides” or “some in Congress”, where the facts clearly evidenced that the problem has been Republican intransigence to anything Obama proposes, even things like payroll tax cuts that the Republicans have repeatedly favored when proposed by someone other than the President. In this speech, however, Obama was an aggressive partisan. He picked a bridge in need of rebuilding that, not coincidentally, connects House Speaker John Boehner‘s district in Ohio with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell‘s home state of Kentucky. Obama called out these Republicans by name, and called on the audience to contact their Congressional representatives and senators to “pass this bill”.

2. President Obama is using simple language. Smart politicians know that the average American voter is either simple-minded or at least too busy and distracted to respond to nuance, big words, and complex explanations. Too often, however, President Obama has been guilty of all three, and his message has often been swamped by the Republicans, who are experts at clear, simple messaging. No longer. In this speech, President Obama was simple, concise, and punchy, for example, when he said:

  • “Shipping companies try to have their trucks avoid the Bridge.
  • “It [bridge disrepair] makes your commute longer, it costs our businesses billions of dollars, you know they could be moving products faster if they had better transportation routes. And in some cases it’s not safe.”
  • “This bill is not that complicated. It’s a bill that would put people back to work, rebuilding America. Repairing our roads, repairing our bridges, repairing our schools. It would lead to jobs for concrete workers like the ones here at Hilltop, jobs for construction workers and masons, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, architects, engineers, iron workers. Put folks back to work.”
  • “How many people here would like a raise?”

3. President Obama is passionate. Part of Obama’s passion could be seen in his body language and gestures. Part of it could be heard in his effusive tone of voice. And part of the President’s passion could be heard in the words of his speech, such as:

  • “We’re the country that build the Intercontinental Railroad , the Interstate Highway System. We built the Hoover Dam, we built the Grand Central Station. So how can we now sit back and let China build the best railroads, and let Europe build the best highways, and have Singapore build a nicer airport, at a time when we’ve got millions of unemployed construction workers out there just ready to get on the job, ready to do the work, of rebuilding America?”
  • “Pass this jobs bill and put teachers back in the classroom where they belong!”
  • “Mr. Boehner, Mr. McConnell: Help us rebuild this bridge! Help us rebuild America! Help us put construction workers back to work! Pass this bill!”

4. President Obama is repeating a simple message: “Pass this bill.” It’s a slogan that the crowd picked up and chanted repeatedly during Obama’s speech. The Republicans know very well that repetition of simple phrases (think “class warfare” and “job creators”) is crucial to effective political communication.

It remains to be seen whether President Obama’s American Jobs Act will pass and will create new jobs, or, if the Republicans in Congress fail to pass it, whether President Obama and Democratic leaders in Congress will force the Republicans to pay a heavy price for doing so. But at least President Obama, finally, is giving his proposals a fighting chance.

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