We’ve all heard the story about the emperor having no clothes. Now we’re hearing more from “the Great Communicator” who has trouble communicating his message. When Barack Obama was running for president, it was said that he had a special “mojo” that connected him with virtually any audience with which he met. When he talked about “that hopey changey stuff,” people seemed to know exactly what he meant.
Well, they didn’t; I for one certainly did not. I knew that he had an affinity for speaking as if he was in the middle of the political spectrum. However, in his heart of hearts I thought that he was a progressive. He may still be. However, it’s difficult to tell because an interesting thing happened on the way from the campaign trail to the White House.
Barack Obama used to speak in short concise phrases:
- “Yes We Can”
- “Vote for Change”
- “Change We Can Believe In”
- “Our Time for Change”
I was often frustrated with his speeches because it was never clear what change he was advocating. Nevertheless, he wasn’t Bush; he wasn’t McCain. I gladly voted for him.
Not too long after entering the White House, Barack Obama seemed to exchange the obfuscation of brevity with that of bureaucratese. Remember his health care speech of September 9, 2009. It lasted forty-seven minutes, taking 5,461 words. That one speech contained over a thousand more words than the entirety of H.R. 676, the single-payer health care plan sponsored by Rep. Dennis Kucinich and others. FDR’s entire Civilian Conservation Corps bill was only six pages long.
From all that I’ve read, Barack Obama was considered an outstanding professor when he was teaching constitutional law at the University of Chicago. My hunch is that he offered students more than slogans and less than 5,461 word lectures.
Obama taught before teachers had PowerPoints or videos to supplement their presentations. He supplemented his words with whatever a piece of chalk could write on a blackboard. As simple as a chalkboard is, it can be extremely useful. It is “text-friendly;” it lends itself to charts and diagrams; it allows students to come forward to present their thoughts alongside those of the professor.
Three things are clear:
- Barack Obama can teach
- He will be more effective if he focuses on short responses.
- He used the chalkboard as a visual aid while teaching; he can use modern modes ranging from color charts to PowerPoints to videos to enhance his presentations.
We can moan and groan about the difficulties that Barack Obama is having in communicating his message to the American people. But he has a tough task for two reasons:
- The American people as a whole are not the brightest bulbs on the face of the planet; they need all the help they can get in understanding something as simple as why unemployment benefits need to be extended.
- Republicans have a distinct advantage because it’s easier to appeal to fear than hope.
We have previously suggested that Barack Obama could use a new set of advisors to help him form policy. Let’s add to the list a few other individuals who can improve the communication skills that he needs for the “teacher-in-chief” role as president.
If you have ever spoken with anyone who was alive when Franklin Roosevelt was delivering his fireside chats, you know that the American people almost came to a standstill with anticipation to hear what he had to say. The president rarely disappointed the populace. He used the opportunity to explain policy in terms that the people could understand.
It’s time to challenge the contention that the American people cannot be reasoned with. The logic that the president uses will have to be simple in the beginning. But if the playing field is reason, Republicans are at a clear disadvantage. How exciting would it be if prior to the inanity of next year’s “State of the Union” address the president went on TV and explained in fifteen minutes or less, using visual aids, how he assesses the state of the country and what changes he proposes. It would be a good way to get back that “hopey changey mojo.”